Essay about Rebellious to Responsible in John Updike's A&P

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The lives we live today encompass many moral aspects that would not have been socially acceptable fifty or more years ago. John Updike’s short story, A&P, addresses these issues of societal changes through a 1960’s teenager point of view. This teenager, Sammy, spends a great deal of his time working at a local supermarket, observing customers, and imagining where his life adventures will take him. Through symbolism and setting, Updike establishes the characters and conflicts; these, in turn, evolve Sammy from an observational, ignorant teenager, promoting opposition to changing social rules, into an adult who must face reality.
This short story, first published in 1961, stirs up controversy and still continues to be debated today.
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As a teenage boy, he mentally cannot help but to romantically desire, and admire, this trio who all confidently walk around in their swimsuits. Of course, this action of wearing swimsuits as opposed to regular clothes was not deemed acceptable, and the manager soon takes notice and asks the girls to leave. By this point, Sammy has observed the girls for quite sometime. Instead of referring to them as “these three girls”, as he originally did, he now refers to them as “my girls” (Updike 981, 95), because he feels emotionally connected to them through his own observations (Kellner N. pag.). As the manager continues to harass them, Sammy feels as though he has no choice except to quit his job. He deems this acceptable in his own mind because it is an act of defiance and a way of protecting “his girls”. Updike’s portrayal of each character is the audience’s first glimpse of symbolism in its purest form. Updike purposefully does not give his characters names in the traditional sense, rather, he has Sammy assign appropriate “names” according to the character’s actions. The leader in the group of girls, as Sammy names her “Queenie”, was the epitome of seduction. She floats around the store with her swimsuit straps pulled down slightly off of her shoulders and holds her head high, which exudes confidence. Queenie obviously knows she has power and status, as described by Sammy, “[She] turned so slow it made my stomach rub the inside of my apron” (Updike 983).

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