A & P Symbolism Essay

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How Symbols and Characterization Affect Theme in “A&P” It is common for young people to rebel against the norms of society, often without thinking about the consequences. In his short story “A&P,” John Updike illustrates a young man working at a grocery store, a normally boring job until three girls in bathing suits walk in. Sammy is intrigued by them and their rebellious nature due to the modesty standards at the time. In response to the manager getting onto them for their lack of clothing, Sammy quits in protest, trying to impress the girls, who don’t even notice. Updike uses the symbolism of the grocery store, the bathing suits, and the other employees in conjunction with the characterization of the girls, Lengel, and Stokesie, in “A&P” …show more content…

The grocery store symbolizes the social “norms” within a society and Sammy’s fear of living a boring and mundane life. While watching the girls shop, Sammy describes the grocery store and everything in it using bland, generic language. As he watched, he noticed that “the girls were walking against the usual traffic (not that we have one-way signs or anything) -- were pretty hilarious. You could see them, when Queenie's white shoulders dawned on them, kind of jerk, or hop, or hiccup, but their eyes snapped back to their own baskets and on they pushed. I bet you could set off dynamite in an A & P and the people would by and large keep reaching and checking oatmeal off their lists and muttering ‘Let me see, there was a third thing, began with A, asparagus, no, ah, yes, applesauce’ or whatever it is they do mutter.” (A&P) The store brought Sammy no excitement, which is displayed in his disdain for the store and the people in it. Instead, Sammy criticizes the boring and unappealing way the store runs, and those who shop there, showing his desire to not be like them, and to live a life that is not considered normal and mundane. The bathing suits are a symbol of rebellion and freedom. As Sammy stares at the girls he notices how wildly out of place they appear, stating that “it's one thing to have a girl in a bathing suit down on the beach, where what with the glare nobody can look …show more content…

The characterization of the girls showed the young man’s desire to break away from the track his life currently is on. As the young man sees the girls he perceives each very differently, “There was this chunky one, with the two-piece -- it was bright green and the seams on the bra were still sharp and her belly was still pretty pale so I guessed she just got it (the suit) -- there was this one, with one of those chubby berry-faces, the lips all bunched together under her nose, this one, and a tall one, with black hair that hadn't quite frizzed right, and one of these sunburns right across under the eyes, and a chin that was too long -- you know, the kind of girl other girls think is very "striking" and "attractive" but never quite makes it, as they very well know, which is why they like her so much -- and then the third one, that wasn't quite so tall. She was the queen.” (A&P) The perceived attitude of the girls, especially the “queen” showed Sammy’s view on independence and breaking away from what was seen as proper. This attitude excites Sammy and makes him consider why he isn’t rebelling to prevent a bland, uncolorful future. The characterization of Stokesie shows Sammy’s fear of becoming like him. Sammy realizes that even though their aspirations were different, they have a lot in common. He notes that “Stokesie's married, with two babies chalked up on

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