Summary Of Sexism In John Updike's A & P

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John Updike’s “A&P” demonstrates through several methods the struggle that unwritten principle can place on women in their search for individuality and personal freedom from oppression. Sammy’s thoughts demonstrate this very concept, as well as Queenie’s actions as an independent woman, and the unfair and morally unjust establishment of a woman’s place by the oppressive male characters. With these ideas, Queenie is clearly represented as an innocent feminist who is ultimately shunned by her male oppressors. Sammy, the typical male totalitarian, is very much condescending towards the story’s female characters, automatically assuming ignorance on the part of them. His lack of understanding towards women exhibits itself on the very first page,…show more content…
Sexist though he may be, even Sammy recognizes her independence: “She didn’t look around, not this queen, she just walked straight on…” (1). Even in the way she walks, Queenie exhibits confidence and individuality; she shows a complete disregard for the reactions of others, focusing instead on her own needs and responsibilities. She seeks no male approval for her actions; she merely does as she pleases. This clearly disturbs the regular clientele of the A&P: “All this while, the customers had been showing up with their carts but, you know, sheep, seeing a scene, they had all bunched up on Stokesie […] I could feel in the silence everybody getting nervous…” (4). The customers of the A&P, consisting largely of old housewives and husbands, do not show acceptance of Queenie’s views; they would rather conform to social norms. As such, they avoid her, as if they fear her views will spread like a disease. Never taught to think for themselves, these people would rather avoid such change, and continue living their lives in mindless obedience of the social norm. They are unable to accept Queenie or the other two girls, merely because they are “unique in all aspects of their beings: walking, down the aisles, against the grain, going barefoot and in swimsuits, against the properly attired clientele” (“An Analysis of John Updike’s A&P”). Because the girls,…show more content…
Upon Queenie’s arrival in the store, Sammy notes the reaction of the other women to her appearance: “A few houseslaves in pin curlers even looked around after pushing their carts past to make sure what they had seen was correct” (2). In referring to the other women as “houseslaves,” Sammy indicates that they are enslaved by society, within the walls of their homes. Their sole purpose in life is to clean the house and feed the men; as such, they clearly envy Queenie. Wandering the aisles of the A&P in her swimsuit, against the flow of the regular customers, she embodies everything that they have ever wanted to be: strong, independent, and free from social norms. This idea of female freedom, however, is not embraced by the male characters, who feel it threatens their masculinity: “It was they who were embarrassing us” (4). When Lengel, the “kingpin” of the A&P takes notice of the girls’ actions, he quickly steps up to protect his masculinity. In removing the girls from the A&P, he is attempting to put them back in their established place. As one critic noted, the male characters feel that “Either women were to stay in one place and allow themselves to be walked on as ‘houseslaves’ or mothers or they were to provide their sexual services when men so desired” (Douglass). The male characters expect
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