The short story A & P written by John Updike, the famous American short story writer and literary critic, is a psychological literary work as it develops the theme of human relations in our society where all the people are divided into classes and have different status. John Updike’s main idea is to represent an inexperienced young man in the complex every day situation and to show his feelings and emotions. The author decided to choose a grocery store as a setting for this short story because it is a place where people of all the classes of our society can make purchases. It is easy to make a spontaneous decision but the consequences can be rather serious.
My goal in this paper in to examine this short story in the context of its historic and cultural backdrop.
In order to achieve this goal, it is necessary to explore the situation which took place in this story and the behavior of the main characters. It is very important to understand that the role ofĀ American society in the economic system where people of different status have different opportunities and different rights.
Sammy is a young man of 19 years old who works at the grocery store as a cashier. He is considered to be a protagonist in this story because he tries to rebel against the norms of the society. He quits his job which is too monotonous for him because he wants to show his protest against his boss’ behavior. Sammy’s boss treated three young girls with disrespect because he did not like the way they were dressed. (Saldivar 21)
The grocery store plays an important role in the story. It is a so called symbol of unity of all the people. It unites the people of different status because they came to this store with one and the same goal ”“ to buy some products. Sammy gives the following description of this place: “we’re right in the middle of town, and if you stand at our front doors, you can see two banks and the Congregational Church and the newspaper store and three real estate offices”¯. (Updike 24)
The above mentioned description proves the fact that this grocery store is visited by the people of all classes of our society: upper, middle and lower ones. The fact that the girls came to the store in their swimming suits shows that they are ill-mannered people who do not understand that to come seminude to the store which is situated in the center of the town is immoral. (Saldivar 32)
The other very important thing which concerns historic and cultural backdrop is the behavior of the main character, the young man Sammy. We cannot say that Sammy is a cultivated man. His descriptions of people who make purchases in the grocery store prove the fact that he is a person of law cultural level. He calls the customers “sheep”¯, compares the store where he works to “a pinball game”¯ and compares his fellow Stokesie to “the fuselage”¯ of the plane. He says: “All the while the customers showing up with their carts, but, you know, sheep, seeing an scene, they had all bunched up on Stokesie, who shook open a paper bag as gently as peeling a peach, not wanting to miss a word”¯. (Updike 45)
It is clear that Sammy is not satisfied with his work which is monotonous and boring. That is why his spontaneous decision to leave his job was a reaction of his inner feelings and emotions. For Sammy, these three girls in the swimming suits are like nice pictures on the products which he sells in the store. His spontaneous decision to defend the girls who are not like the other girls is the same if he chooses a product which is packaged better. Sammy even calls one of the girls Queenie. He finds her very attractive, and he is ready to do everything for her in order to attract her attention. Sammy realized that these girls were not “sheep”¯. They belonged to the upper class because they did not follow the rules established by the society. (Saldivar 22)
The cultural aspect plays an important role in the story. The author wants to show that the society in 1960s is changing. People begin to ignore the established rules. Money makes the world go round. Sammy’s boss who told the girls to leave the store because they were not appropriately dressed is a person of old rules. Sammy is a representative of the young generation who approves the girls behavior. (Peck 43)
It is clear that Sammy’s sexual desires also played an important role in his behavior. However, this fact is not the only reason of Sammy’s leaving. He hates his job, he hates his status in the society and the above mentioned situation helps Sammy to show his personal freedom. Sammy wants “to join the group of girls whose social position allows them considerably more freedom than his own”¯. (Caldwell 19)
The author of the short story A & P touches upon the theme of life choice. Sammy, a young man who has no experience in his life and who does not understand the major principles of his society becomes more mature. One of the critics said that the short story A & P is “primarily a story of initiation, as young boy moves from innocence to experience”¯. (Peck 2)
In conclusion, it is necessary to say that in the story A & P, John Updike managed to show the society of 1960s which was divided into different classes and a young man Sammy who had a great desire to change his current status and to get freedom in his decisions. Speaking about the story in the context of historic and cultural backdrop, it is very important to mention that the author could show his readers that a person of a lower class is ready to change his position by means of changing his cultural values. Sammy decided to defense three girls whose behavior was immoral because he wanted to become their friend. He wanted them to pay attention to his action but he did not succeed in it. He wanted them to notice his heroism in protecting their honor but they ignored his action. Sammy is both a victim and a winner in this situation. First of all, he is independent in his decision as he leaves the job he hates. Secondly, he has got great hardships in the future as he has no job and his principles are not interested to anyone in his society.