North American Society Relected In John Updike's Short Story A & P

898 words - 4 pages

North American Society Relected in John Updike's Short Story A & P

At first glance, John Updike's short story A & P seems to be another coming of age piece. But with taking a deeper look, in many ways you see how the A & P grocery store could be viewed as microcosm of North American society in the 1960's - and it's not a very positive portrait. The general bleakness of the people, the accepted coldness of the store itself, and the theme of class consciousness throughout the entire story causes you to really see how this story parallels society and many peoples, especially young peoples, views in North America during this turbulent time of policy, rules, conservatism, and some of the actions taken against them.

The store and the people paint a picture of an oppressively conservative and narrow-minded America based on policy before people, and rules of the corporation. You can either follow policy, or be labeled as a delinquent "Policy is what the kingpins want. What the others want is juvenile delinquency" (856). On several occasions the customers are referred to as "sheep" and as "scared pigs in a chute" (856); indeed they are processed facelessly though the checkout and the "electronic eye." Sammy goes even further to dehumanize them, and makes them seem devoid of spirit and individuality "I bet you could set off dynamite in an A & P and the people would by and large keep reaching and checking off their lists and muttering..." (854). He even starts to dehumanize himself by the repetitive, mindless routine noise of the cash register "bing, gung, splat" (856) It makes everything seem like a part if the system; nothing goes unnoticed, everything is in line and the policies are enforced.

Another thing which lends a hand in connecting American Society to the A & P is the theme of class consciousness that is present throughout the whole story. These classes are most prevalent when talking about Lengel, Sammy and Queenie. When Sammy notices that "Queenie" buys Kingfish Fancy Herring Snacks for her mother, this leads him to fantasize about her home life: "her father and the other men....stand around in ice cream coats and bow ties and the women are in sandals...and they are all holding drinks the color of water with olives and sprigs of mint in them" (855) All of the aforementioned are characteristics of a more impressive socio-economic class, one of which Sammy, the local grocery store clerk does not belong. Queenie herself even seems to know that she is of higher standards than the rest of the A & P crowd when she...

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