A&P | Study Guide

John Updike

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A&P | Quotes


She's one of these cash-register-watchers ... I know it made her day to trip me up.


Sammy's resents how customers treat him as a cashier, which shows this statement about the older woman who tells him off for ringing up her HiHo crackers twice. It is typical of his description of customers that he doesn't see their side of the story—especially not an older woman wearing too much makeup. Yet, when the customer is an underdog—and a beautiful one wearing just a bathing suit—he finds it easy to take her side.


You could set off dynamite ... and the people would ... keep checking oatmeal off their lists.


Sammy sees the A&P customers as stuck in a rut they don't want to get out of. One symptom of that is focusing on their shopping lists and ignoring everyone and everything around them, no matter what.


There's people in this town haven't seen the ocean for twenty years.


Even though their town is only five miles from the ocean, people don't go there. This is another observation Sammy makes that emphasizes how set in their ways the locals are—and how unusual it is to see three girls in bathing suits in town, much less in the A&P.


Poor kids, I began to feel sorry for them, they couldn't help it.


After staring at the girls himself and indulging in a few jokes about them with Stokesie, Sammy has a sudden change of heart when he sees McMahon, the middle-aged man who works behind the meat counter, ogling them. He sees that, once the girls are in the store, they can't avoid being stared at lasciviously by the men or in shock by the women. This realization is the beginning of the end for Sammy; once he sees the girls as victims, he will inevitably disapprove of Lengel's comments, which will lead to Sammy quitting his job.


Girls, this isn't the beach.


Rather than say exactly what he means, Lengel states his disapproval of the girls' appearance indirectly by drawing attention to the context in which their clothes would be appropriate. He believes there is a place for everything and everything should stay in its place. Bathing suits belong at the beach and not in the A&P. Anything else isn't proper.


My mother asked me to pick up a jar of herring snacks.


Queenie doesn't state what she means directly, which is that it's not the girls' fault they're in the A&P in bathing suits. That's what they were wearing when her mother sent them to the store. If Lengel doesn't like what they are wearing, he should blame her mother and not them. Moreover, the girls are doing a favor for Queenie's mother, which is a good, and appropriate, thing to do. He should take that into consideration, too, but he does not as his position does not permit him to.


Policy is what the kingpins want. What the others want is juvenile delinquency.


Lengel has just told the girls that it's store policy for customers to have their shoulders covered when shopping. Sammy sees the issue of policy as a sort of class divide between the kingpins—the older folks with the power to say how things have to be done versus the rest, who have to rebel to do things their way.


I say 'I quit' to Lengel quick enough for them to hear ... their unsuspected hero.


Sammy's immediate goal in quitting is to impress the girls, as this sentence makes clear. His reasons for going through with it and the likely consequences of his decision are more complex.


It was they who were embarrassing us.


Lengel's statement is the crux of the matter. Sammy—at 19—sees the girls' point of view, but no one else's. Lengel's perspective is more mature. He tries to tell Sammy that what the girls wore while shopping affected everyone in the store and even affected how customers might view the A&P.


Once you begin a gesture it's fatal not to go through with it.


Lengel tries to talk Sammy out of quitting by reminding him it will hurt his parents, who are friends of Lengel's. Although Sammy realizes this is true and already slightly regrets his impulsive decision to quit, his pride won't let him change his mind. He made a gesture in support of those he called "my girls," and now he must follow through on his decision.


I felt how hard the world was going to be to me hereafter.


Having quit, Sammy ends the story with this realization. He looks into the shop and sees Lengel doing Sammy's job. Sammy finds himself caught between his comfortable, safe past and an uncertain, challenging future.


A government neutral in the field of religion better serves all religious interests.

William O. Douglas

Douglas argues the 1st Amendment means the government can't take any stance, positive or negative, on a particular religion. This statement recalls the free exercise clause of the 1st Amendment, which states the government cannot "[prohibit] the free exercise" of any faith. To Douglas, choice in religious beliefs is an essential element of freedom.


Public money devoted to payment of religious costs ... brings the quest for more.

William O. Douglas

Why shouldn't the government fund religious activities, even if the activity seems innocent? Douglas raises the example of government funding for children's transportation to a religious school. No one is forced to practice a particular faith because of this action. But the government's act of giving money implies a silent support for the school and the religion it represents. Why is the government giving money to this school and not another religious school? Every time the government shows favoritism in this way, Douglas says, it creates division and conflict. In retrospect, he says, he would have agreed with the minority opinion in Everson v. Board of Education.


Relevant to the issue here ... is the history of the religious traditions of our people, reflected in countless practices of the officials and institutions of ... government.

Potter Stewart

This excerpt from Justice Potter Stewart's dissenting opinion argues the country's "religious traditions" can't be separated from government institutions. Courts open with prayer. The pledge of allegiance to the flag and the national anthem include references to God. These practices and documents are essential to the country's sense of identity and unity. Stewart wants to prove religious language is already woven into the fabric of the nation. He argues that the school prayer, reflecting this language, is a symbol of American heritage and not a requirement to conform to a faith.


'We are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being.'

William O. Douglas

In their statements both Justices Douglas and Stewart use this quotation from another court case, Zorach v. Clauson. American public institutions, such as courts and schools, "presuppose," or assume, there is a "Supreme Being" similar to the God of many religions. This assumption affects the language used in official ceremonies and on documents, many of which mention God. Douglas uses the quotation to support the verdict. The court can't stop religion from being a part of American life, Douglas believes, but the court can define the constitutional limits of the government's role in promoting faith. Conversely, Stewart uses the quotation to criticize the verdict. The language of faith is essential to the American identity, he argues. Even though not every American is religious, the country's institutions can still acknowledge a belief system as part of their history.

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