A&P | Study Guide

John Updike

Get the eBook on Amazon to study offline.

Buy on Amazon Study Guide
Cite This Study Guide

How to Cite This Study Guide

quotation mark graphic


Course Hero. "A&P Study Guide." Course Hero. 9 Feb. 2017. Web. 28 June 2022. <https://www.coursehero.com/lit/A-P/>.

In text

(Course Hero)



Course Hero. (2017, February 9). A&P Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved June 28, 2022, from https://www.coursehero.com/lit/A-P/

In text

(Course Hero, 2017)



Course Hero. "A&P Study Guide." February 9, 2017. Accessed June 28, 2022. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/A-P/.


Course Hero, "A&P Study Guide," February 9, 2017, accessed June 28, 2022, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/A-P/.

A&P | Discussion Questions 41 - 50


How does Sammy refer to other people in "A&P," and what can readers infer from this?

With the exception of his coworkers, Sammy addresses no one by their names. Since he lives and works in a small town, it seems unlikely that he has had no opportunity to learn their names. This stresses the distance between him and the other people, whether A&P customers or the workers outside in the street. At one point Sammy speaks of "women with six children and varicose veins mapping their legs," but usually he doesn't even call people men or women. He dehumanizes them: the workers in the street are "free-loaders" rather than men. "House-slaves in pin curlers" turn to look at the girls in the aisles. Sammy refers to the woman in the parking lot as "a young married screaming with her kids" not as a young woman or a young mother. The effect on the reader of this distance between Sammy and those around him is to emphasize how superior he feels to them. It also expresses his lack of empathy for them. The three girls he treats differently, bestowing a name on each and drawing conclusions about them as people from their looks and actions. But though Sammy gives the girls names and imagines individual identities for them, he still stereotypes them by lumping them together with all other "girls," whom he does not recognize as thinking individuals like himself. He never does learn—or request—their real names.

What happens earlier in the story that foreshadows Sammy's decision to quit his job at the end of "A&P"?

There are three moments earlier in the story that alert readers that something out of the ordinary will happen at the end. The first occurs when the girls enter the store, exciting the interest of everyone around them and upsetting the store's atmosphere of propriety. Second, Sammy sees McMahon "patting his mouth and looking after [the girls] sizing up their joints." Suddenly and unexpectedly—since Sammy has been doing the same thing since he first caught sight of them—he feels sorry for the girls. If his attitude had not changed, he might not have cared so much when Lengel told them off. The final foreshadowing occurs when Sammy warns readers that "the sad part of the story" is coming. Because he says his "family says it's sad" but that he doesn't think so, readers gather that he does something to sadden them. They can't predict Sammy will quit, but they know he will do something to sadden his parents that relates to the girls.

In "A&P" which character is right—Sammy or Lengel?

Lengel is probably right regarding the girls. He treats them fairly, does his job with regard to his employer, and shows concern for his customers who might have been embarrassed and made uncomfortable by the girls' lack of propriety in dress. He also treats Sammy in a fatherly, fair way, trying to talk him out of quitting rather than getting angry with him. Lengel is a patient, good-hearted man. In his attitude toward the store customers, his lascivious ogling of the three girls, and his judgment that Lengel has embarrassed the girls, Sammy may be acting immaturely. Yet he is right in recognizing that he does not belong in the A&P. He considers its rules unfair and at least some of its product poorly made. From his comments about the customers, it seems that he should not be working in a service job. So it's possibly right for him to quit but wrong about why he needs to do so.

In "A&P" why does Sammy describe his apron, his bow tie, and his white shirt?

After the girls disappear without noticing he has quit his job in support of them, Sammy feels he has to follow through on his decision to resign. "Once you begin a gesture it's fatal not to go through with it," he says. But his heart isn't 100 percent in it. He has just admitted that he doesn't want to hurt his parents. Suddenly, his actions take on a weight, an importance that they didn't have before. Every day at the end of his shift, he has taken off his apron and bow tie; but this will be the last time he does so, which gives the action a new significance. Normally, Sammy probably wouldn't think about his name being "stitched in red on the pocket" of the apron, but he notices it this time. It identifies him by name as a worker at the A&P, an identity he is about to reject. The apron and the bow tie are symbols of his job, and he has to give them up with the job. The white shirt is his, but as he leaves, he thinks about his mother having ironed it the night before so he could wear it to work the next day. She won't have to do that tonight, so that is another ending, another symbol of his quitting. This time it affects not just him but his mother. These realizations support what Lengel has just said: Sammy will "feel this [decision] for the rest of [his] life."

In "A&P" why are Updike's two descriptions of how the door of the store opens so different?

The first time Sammy describes the door opening, it is when the girls are leaving. He doesn't want them to go; he hoped they'd "stop and watch" him standing up for them. Instead, they keep walking as "the door flies open and they flicker across the lot to their car." The words fly and flicker emphasize the speed at which events move from Sammy's perspective. Both verbs seem light and quick; they have no lasting weight or reality, and the girls simply vanish without acknowledging Sammy. The second time the door opens, Sammy describes it much differently: "the door heaves itself open." He makes it sounds as if the door had to struggle to open because it now opens slowly and heavily. Sammy himself "saunter[s]" through it—also a slow movement. When he gets outside, he stops and looks back into the store. Whereas the girls "flickered across the lot," he doesn't move at all, standing there as if he is suddenly weighted down. The moment emphasizes the seriousness of his decision to leave the A&P for his young life.

In "A&P" what does Updike mean by "outside the sunshine is skating around on the asphalt," and how does this metaphor reflect the mood of the story?

Updike uses this metaphor to show readers what the parking lot looks like on this hot summer day. Because the sun has heated up the asphalt, the air just above it is less dense than usual and refracts light differently. This creates a mirage that looks as if there were water on the asphalt. The word skating evokes images of rapid movement on ice, which is, after all, frozen water. The air above the surface also visibly moves, adding to the illusion that the pavement is wet. Since the day is hot enough to create this mirage, it is likely oppressive and in stark contrast to the air-conditioned atmosphere and the predictable reality of the A&P. It also recalls the imagery used to describe Queenie's "clean bare plane of the top of her chest down from the shoulder bones like a dented sheet of metal tilted in the light," as if Sammy has stepped a little closer to a brighter and uncertain world by leaving his job.

How does Sammy feel when he's standing in the parking lot of the store in "A&P"?

Up until the moment he gets into the parking lot, Sammy is in the thick of events. He feels a part of the fabric of the A&P; he knows its structure and its routines. He is important to the A&P customers; he is their last stop in the store as he rings up their purchases. On this particular day, he was in the middle of a confrontation that made him a center of attention for Stokesie, Lengel, and the customers. When he quit, he seemed to himself to be even more important as a defender of the girls. But suddenly, in the last paragraph, this changes. Sammy looks back, "over the bags of peat moss and aluminum lawn furniture," through the windows of the store and recognizes that no one is paying attention to him at all. He can see that Lengel is upset from his posture ("his back [is] stiff, as if he'd just had an injection of iron"), but the manager is working, not watching Sammy. For the first time since he came to work there, the A&P will be getting along without Sammy, and it doesn't seem to need him at all. This is perhaps his first lesson in the process of becoming an adult in the world.

What does Sammy mean in "A&P" when he says, "I felt how hard the world was going to be to me hereafter"?

Sammy lives in a small town, and it will soon become common knowledge that he quit his job at the A&P for no apparent reason. This may make it hard for him to get another job. Moreover, people in the town witnessed how he sided with girls who were oddly dressed; this may affect his reputation. His parents could also be affected by his actions. Their friendship with Lengel may become strained, and their reputation may also suffer in the conservative environment. Sammy may also intuitively realize that going against social conventions and proprieties as he has chosen to do means that, in a new way, he is now on his own and has to define his own course in life. This can be a challenging position to be in. It requires bravery and fortitude to stand up for what you think despite social pressure and being at risk to yourself.

In what ways is Sammy an unreliable narrator in A&P?

Sometimes the narrator of a story cannot be fully trusted. This is especially true of first-person narrators. The narrator may be hiding something from the reader, as in the case of Agatha Christie's The Murder of Roger Akroyd, in which the murderer narrates the story and tries to hide the clues that indicate he committed the crime. Or readers may doubt the narrator's sanity as in Henry James's The Turn of the Screw. Often, first-person narrators, like humans in general, fail to recognize some crucial aspect of their own character or the characters of people around them, or let their assumptions about others get in the way of a more objective viewpoint. Sammy is not trying to hide anything, and he's perfectly sane. But he is young, naive, and inexperienced. He's also completely self-centered and thus totally confident that his interpretation of the people and customs around him is correct. Therefore, while readers may appreciate the humor of his narration, they may also see what he doesn't: that the customers are not "sheep" or "pigs in a chute," but other human beings. In the not-too-distant future, the "young married screaming with her children" could be his own wife. The stumbling old bum buying pineapple juice could be his aging mother or father. The "house-slaves" could have more individuality and complexity than he gives them credit for. It is his age and sheltered upbringing, more than anything else, that make Sammy an unreliable narrator.

How would Updike's original ending for "A&P," in which Sammy goes to the beach looking for the girls, have changed the effect of the story?

Sammy's quitting his job is the action that the whole story leads up to. The final image of him standing alone in the blazing hot parking lot looking back at a chapter of his life that is now irrevocably over is an enduring one that stays with readers. The girls are a catalyst for this change in Sammy's life, not the focus of the story themselves, and they vanish as the story ends, leaving him, appropriately, on his own. But if there were three more pages of Sammy heading off to the beach to look for the girls, all that would change. This would alter the climax of the story, and therefore weaken the seriousness of Sammy's decision to quit his job and its powerful effect on readers. Now, instead of ending with Sammy's realization that his life has changed dramatically and that he stands on his own, the story would continue to focus on his fascination with the girls. The themes established in "A&P" would also be affected. With a change in setting to the beach, the symbolism associated with the A&P would lose at least some of its importance. The girls' impropriety would also disappear when they are on a beach full of other scantily clad people. Now Sammy might be the one out of place, which is a different case entirely because as originally written it is not about his sensuality but rather the effect of the girls on his young values.

Cite This Study Guide

information icon Have study documents to share about A&P? Upload them to earn free Course Hero access!