Working with classic short stories – A&P Themes by John Updike

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Once you read John Updike’s short supermarket story you are hit by many different themes. You could say it is the decadence of the girls who go against society’s norms by wearing their bikinis in the supermarket; or there is also Sammy, a shop worker, who could well have made a rash and stupid decision to leave his job.  Both of these themes are justified although I believe that the main theme in this passage involves how mundane life can be. This is shown in the supermarket which is turned upside down with the entrance of the three scantly clad girls.

Within the first paragraph we get an idea of the two worlds Sammy is faced with. On the one hand Sammy has a welcome female distraction that he can not keep his eyes off as he rings up the same product twice on the cash register. This is contrasted by the lady he is serving as we find out she is a ‘witch’ of about fifty who sees his mistake and gives him ‘hell’. Sammy rudely comments that she would notice the mistake as she had been doing the same thing week in week out for forty years.

Sammy alludes further to the dullness of the supermarket when he refers to the shoppers as ‘sheep pushing carts down the aisles’ and how they walk around the shop following each other even though there are no one way signs. Of course the girls clash with this almost robotic movement of the shoppers by going against the flow of traffic.

Furthermore we find the manager with some decisions to make. Sammy comments that he is a ‘pretty dreary’ figure.  He does not help alleviate the mundane feel of this place as his attitude to the girls does not raise a smile on his face. He comes straight out and tells them ‘this isn’t a beach’ He gives them a ‘sad superintendant stare’ as he reprimands them for not being decently dressed. We again see Sammy’s contrast to the situation as he raises a smile which his manager notices and does not like. The manager compounds his dull attitude by commenting to the girls that it is the ‘company policy’.

Finally, the boredom and monotony of the supermarket is ultimately shown as Sammy quits his job. The experience of the day has told Sammy to seek a more interesting profession.


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