A&P | Study Guide

John Updike

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A&P | Symbols



Sammy refers to the regular A&P customers as "sheep," which is a metaphor that draws attention to their sameness or herd behavior. The sheep are blind conformists; they all travel in the same direction, doing the same things: pushing their carts, crossing items off their shopping lists, muttering, and avoiding looking at the girls in bathing suits. Later they are "bunched up" at Stokesie's register to avoid the agitation at Sammy's as Lengel confronts the girls. By calling them "sheep," Sammy reduces the customers to beasts that act on herd instinct rather than thinking of them as individuals. In contrast, Sammy wants to break from the herd by acting as an individual.

Manager's Office

Sammy remarks that Lengel hides behind his office door. But in the reality of the store, there is more to it than that. The office door separates Lengel from his staff and his customers. His office is a symbol of his position and authority. Lengel is the character with the power to enforce the rules of propriety within the A&P—he has the power to humiliate the girls, and he has the power to make Sammy's life difficult for quitting his job. In fact, Stokesie aspires to this same position and authority by hoping to become store manager himself one day. For Sammy, however, Lengel's office represents Lengel's avoidance of life and its vitality: Lengel, characterized as an insect, "is about to scuttle into the door marked MANAGER behind which he hides all day."

Fancy Snacks

The three girls come into the A&P to buy herring snacks. Sammy draws conclusions about their lifestyle based on this purchase. The snacks symbolize the girls' upper-crust homelife, which is borne out by the way Queenie sounds when she speaks to Lengel: "'We are decent' ... Fancy Herring Snacks flashed in her very blue eyes." Sammy pictures a cocktail party with the herring snacks on toothpicks and contrasts this with his parents' parties, where the guests drink lemonade or, "if it's a real racy affair," beer in cheap glasses. Within the story, people's social classes and associated habits are defined by their consumer purchases.

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