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The Turning Point in John Updike's A & P Essay

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The Turning Point in John Updike's A & P

John Updike's short story "A & P" reveals nineteen-year old Sammy, the central character, as a complex person. Although Sammy appears, on the surface, as carefree and driven by male hormones, he has a lengthy agenda to settle. Through depersonalization, Sammy reveals his ideas about sexuality, social class, stereotypes, responsibility, and authority. Updike's technique, his motif, is repeated again and again through the active teenage mind of the narrator Sammy.

Sammy is, like most young men, object-minded. The object of his mind is the female body. Although his upbringing and the fact that he is at work do not allow him to voice his admiration for the girls in bikinis at the A & P, he lets
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Queenie's selection of fancy herring snacks had become her status symbol. Sammy contrasted the queen's social circle with his own family's, where guests were served lemonade and cheap beer "in tall glasses with 'They'll Do It Every Time' cartoons stencilled [sic] on" (29). The perceived class difference was perhaps not all bad, however. It could be seen as a buffer in a situation such as Sammy's. If the object of his affection did not return his attention, Sammy was still free to admire and desire her from a distance, with little threat to his own ego.

Sammy's typical teenage focus on youthful good looks measured all women against the youth-culture standard, an impossible standard for all but those in their prime. Sammy could not see his customers as the reason for his employment. He certainly did not see their humanity, or their value as mothers and wives. He brought new creativity to stereotypes, seeing his customers as "houseslaves in pin curlers" (28) or "young [marrieds] screaming with [their] children" (30). His youth, along with his lack of life-experience, had not yet afforded him the opportunity to know anyone of the opposite sex as either partner or helpmate. His hormones colored everything he thought about; they forced the label of sexual or asexual on every female he laid eyes on, based on the attractiveness of the female's "scoops of vanilla" (30) or "soft-looking can"
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