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A&P | Study Guide

John Updike

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Course Hero. "A&P Study Guide." February 9, 2017. Accessed May 29, 2023.


Course Hero, "A&P Study Guide," February 9, 2017, accessed May 29, 2023,


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John Updike

Year Published



Short Story


Comedy, U.S. Supreme Court Case

At a Glance

  • In the groundbreaking case Engel v. Vitale, the Supreme Court established that it is unconstitutional to require public schools to use religious rituals composed or financed by the government.
  • During the 1950s New York State public schools allowed teachers and students to recite a brief prayer, including a reference to God, each morning. Even though students could remain silent or leave during recitation, several parents sued the school district in 1958 to end prayer in public schools.
  • When the case reached the Supreme Court in 1962, the majority ruled in favor of the parents, reversing lower court decisions. The justices decided the prayer violated the establishment clause in the 1st Amendment of the U.S. Constitution: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion."
  • Relevant, too, was the 14th Amendment, which prohibits states from violating citizens' rights—meaning state law cannot violate federally protected rights, including those granted by the Bill of Rights.
  • The verdict created controversy. Many Americans believed prayer was appropriate in schools and didn't want the court to dictate how religion should be practiced. Others agreed with the decision—and still do.
  • The case is a turning point in the ongoing debate about religion's place in American government and society.

Perspective and Narrator

"A&P" is told in the first person by Sammy, a 19-year-old cashier with a limited teenaged point of view. Although his point of view is restricted, he shows growth or change over the course of the story.


The narrator of "A&P" switches between present and past tense.

About the Title

A&P is the name of the grocery store that serves as the setting of the story. A&P was the largest retail chain in the United States throughout the 1950s and 1960s.


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