“A&P” is a short story by John Updike narrated by Sammy, a youthful worker in an “A&P” grocery store in a small town. On a regular working day, Sammy sights three girls who are dressed scantily, and their attitudes and action make Sammy lose his job. Before meeting the girls, Sammy’s life is simple, and it is mirrored with that of the store, in the sense that they were both dull and dependent on what is described as an artificial light. The arrival of the girls disrupts the life in the store and convinces Sammy that there is more to life than just the store, so he decides to quit his job.
John Updike as the author has used some elements such as descriptive words and colourful imagery to help the reader connect with the story. One of the major themes in this story is social conformity, and it can be said that it is with the help of themes that the author achieved to create his story as reliable as possible. The idea of social conformity is described through the paper especially the setting where the supermarket is located, which is in 1961. The social conformity as a theme is illustrated in the different groups of people in the story.
Social conformity refers to the type of social influence whereby one is inclined to change their behaviour or belief so that he or she can fit within a group. Being the dominant theme in the story, social conformity is encountered from the very beginning of the story when Sammy is introduced, and the setting is described as well. The story is set in a store that is five miles away from the nearest beach in northern Boston, and the author describes the residents of the town as people who behave like sheep, meaning that they are so accustomed to social conformity whereby they do everything together.
Anything that is different in this town is something that is out of their social conformity. A better example of this is the way people were looking at Queen and the apparent discomfort that is aroused among the residents when the girls walk through the supermarket. It is quite contrary to the fact that the town is only five miles from the beach but still, the residents are not comfortable with people wearing beach bikinis. This shows that they are not influenced by what they have but rather, the beliefs that they live by every day.
Despite the fact the town is only five miles from the nearest beach, the residents of the town are surprised by seeing the girls who wore only their swimwear, and this is indicative of the social value which is conservative. “We’re north of Boston and there’s people in this town haven’t seen the ocean for twenty years” (Updike 104). The town’s location also contributes to the theme of social conformity in regard to its conservative nature of the residents, but this is put in a sense that it is in contrast to what one would expect from a town that is only a few miles away from the beach. People in the town to frown upon anything that causes a shift in the paradigm of the town, and this is evident when Lengel, the manager addresses the girls to dress nicely the next time they visit the store.
The social environment setting of the story is illustrated by the difference in the social class and the generation gap. The girls represent both the middle class and upper class in the community, while the “A&P” team and Sammy as well represent the lower class. Even in this segregation, it is easy to encounter social conformity because the girls do not have to care about what are the opinions of other on them, and this is evident on how the girls are dressed.
They are not bothered by what people think of them or their dressing code, and this is clearly seen when Queen is retrieving cash from her two-piece bathing suit, showing she is more liberal in her way of thinking and living life. On the other hand, the lower-class act and think in the same manner, as they are all conservatives, and this is clear from the image they possess towards the girl, their characters and their way of dressing. Sammy, the main character, is an example of the lower class and he is awed by the girls as this is the first time that he encounters something out of the ordinary. This opens up his eyes to the fact that his life is tied down to the beliefs of the community and that he has never done anything because he wanted to, but rather because it is what is supposed to be done.
Lengel, in contrast, represents the older generation that defines the conservative nature of the town and the residents, and it is this generation that is stubborn on maintaining their old time traditions. Towards the end of the story, Lengel reprimands the girls that they should dress in a conservative manner as that it is the way things are done in that town. Sammy who is a representation of the younger generation, in his revolt is seen to be liberal, but at the same time, this can be defined avoiding one conformity just to join another, because of his desire to be free as the girls.
People are divided and classified within a social setting to show wealth and relations of status in the society. Sammy is a working-class young man and who lives like any other working class person lives, his life is shaped by what he should and not to, and thus he cannot do anything out of his comfort. In contrast, Queen, the name he gives to the leader of the trio is an example of what the affluent in the society are, and this is that they are not defined by the beliefs that rational people believe. Sammy explains that the girl just came to the supermarket after having a romping day at the beach and playing by the pool, and she is at the supermarket to purchase cocktail snacks for the mother.
Such is the perspective that Sammy holds towards the girl in contrast to his ordinary life. Lengel’s perspective is rather different, and despite the fact that he is earning more than Sammy, he is still struggling to get by and has more responsibility. Sammy later describes the people in the supermarket as sheep, and this is the lower class who dress, talk and think alike. “The sheep pushing their carts down the aisle—the girls were walking against the usual traffic (not that we have one-way signs or anything)—were pretty hilarious” (Updike 103). Conformity is evident here as well since people only talk, act and think based on the social class to which they belong.
The story “A&P” by John Updike revolves mainly around the theme of social conformity, and this is evident in the silent battles that go on in the mind of the protagonist, Sammy and the different events that take place at the store from the moment the girls walk in the store. Sammy is troubled by the fact that he is part of the sheep community even if he does not seem to share the same thoughts as with everyone else concerning the girls. His rebellious act too is an example of breaking from the social norms in search of being free like the three girls. The story shows how different people in the community approach social conformity of various perspectives, and the author uses some description of setting and character to communicate this theme in a manner that the readers can easily understand.