In John Updike’s short story “A&P,” the narrator is an impulsive nineteen-year-old boy named Sammy who is a grocery checker in a conservative town. While observing his customers, he finds himself fascinated by a trio of girls in bikinis. This is interesting because to Sammy these girls are appealing, but in reality they are going to cause more harm for him than good. Throughout the story Updike uses symbolism to show how the trios of girls are going against everyday social rules and characterization to show the power of desire.
It is obvious that the girl’s swimsuits are an important symbol of rebellion. These swimsuits symbolize the rebellious attitude the girls have towards the everyday social rules of Sammy’s conservative town. From the time the girls walk in the doors of the store, they draw everyone’s attention. For example the narrator describes the disturbance the girls are causing by explaining the customer’s response to seeing the girls in the store. “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….
A few houseslaves in pin curlers even looked around after pushing their carts to make sure what they had seen was correct. ” (Updike 260). This is important because the trios of girls are rebelling against having to wear the usual clothes of their social class, therefore, the girls would be considered rebels and no longer be a part of the “sheep community” that they live in. The narrator is seen as a judgmental person when he is describing all of the customers in the store. Just as soon as Sammy sees the girls he begins to judge the first girl that catches his eye. “The one that caught my eye first was the one in the plaid green two-piece.
She was a chunky kid, with a good tan and a sweet broad soft-looking can with those two crescents of white just under it, where the sun never seems to hit, at the top of the backs of her legs. ” (259). He points out that none of the girls have shoes on, and he describes the differences between the three girls from their heads to their toes. He also points out that one girl is their leader, and refers to her as “the queen. ” While watching the girls walk around the store, Sammy, sees the other employees doing the same thing. He even says that the butcher went on to size the girls up and had to pat his mouth as they walked away.
Sammy then looks around the store and refers to the customers as sheep. He does this to show that in the community people do not stray from tradition, and that they never plan to. Seeing all of this makes Sammy quickly realizes that if he followed tradition that being a perverted old butcher would be his future that was picked by his social class. This causes Sammy’s epiphany of if he does not choose to be rebellious against the everyday society all he could look forward to is a life that society believes he deserves. This realization causes a desire of change for Sammy because now he is able to see what his future would hold.
When Sammy sees his boss insulting the trio of girls he quits his job on impulse. This is important because now Sammy will be considered a rebel instead of a sheep, which is going to make his life much harder from there on. Updike’s use of characterization and symbolism make this story intriguing. He makes the reader understand the importance of following the social class rules, and shows that there will always be a consequence for your actions if you choose to go against the everyday norm of the town. He also shows that desire is a powerful thing that usually ends with a negative consequence.