The story “A&P” that was written by John Updike is mainly about commodities and consumption as well as the choices, which individuals make based on commoditization. The setting of the story is the primary key in understanding that actual events inside a little neighborhood grocery. On the other hand, some might perceive that the story goes around the main character’s (Sammy) choice to be insubordinate and eventually quit his job at the grocery store. The theme of the story is associated with the choices Americans make, which affect their lives. These choices are based on false promises that are made to them by an economic system, which turns up things, ideas, or even persons into a commodity that can be purchased and transformed into a status symbol.
At the time the story is set, the pre-eminent symbol of consumerism is the grocery store. No other type of store that sells goods, which will be consumed by individuals of every class. Each individual from sub-minimum wage workers to executives of industries need what the grocery store offers. Sammy describes life around the grocery store as “we’re right in the middle of town, and if you stand at our front doors you can see two banks and the Congregational Church and the newspaper store and three real estate offices.” This implies that the grocery store is significant in the financial, spiritual, informational, and property centers. John Updike could have set the story within a store where Sammy would have much harder decision leaving. However, the story takes place within the center of consumer culture; thus, it must be perceived as very substantial.
Through Sammy’s descriptions of places, things, and people within the grocery store, the manner in which the American society supports the need of the capitalist economic system to commodify everything. One of the girls is described by Sammy as a “can” and on the later part; he describes shoppers as “sheep.” He even compares the grocery store to a pinball game. Sammy also compares his co-employee Stokesie to a fuselage of an airplane. Although these are just little details, they serve as attributes to form a larger picture already at work. These details set the pace where Sammy makes an important decision in his life.
In the story, Sammy is less than thrilled to work for the grocery store. He is even urged to do what he does when he sees the girls. The girls who enter the store have already lost their humanity and objectified right from the time of their entrance. They represent a symbol of status in which Sammy has been conditioned to aspire. Sammy describes the girls as walking into the store and accounts one of them as “chunky” and with the “sweet, broad soft-looking can.” The immediate attraction of Sammy to this particular girl is not encouraged by ideals of beauty. However, the important thing is that he decides to take a huge step by coming to the “rescue” of these girls whom he knows only through their physical attributes. This symbolizes Sammy’s likeness to the shoppers who make decisions when reaching for a package or a can of food that they have never tried before based on the very composed picture on the cover of the package or can. On the part of Sammy, the girls have no difference from pictures or labels of food on products sold in the grocery store. Consequently, this point is elaborated as Sammy decides to quit his job in defense of the expensive product, which is packaged better than the one he really likes.
The story seems to dwell primarily on itself associated with status and a bill of goods sold falsely, promising individuals what they should want instead of what they want from the time when Sammy shifts his attention from the chunky girl to the one he will turn into a queen. In doing so, Sammy transforms her from just another pretty girl into an ultimate status symbol, that is, royalty. Through attaining her, Sammy will become a king, which is the unspoken promise. The vision of Sammy on the home life of Queenie validates his assumption that she is from a higher class and nothing in her reaction to the store manager gives any idea that she is in need of rescue. At this point, Queenie has just become another symbol of upward mobility through which American economic engine is driven. Through quitting his job, Sammy is also giving up nothing due to the fact that he did not really like his job and at the same time, he did not respect his supervisor and his customers. Indeed, Sammy chooses to make a decision that will significantly affect his life based on the desire to consume and attain status.
In the story, A&P, Updike has certainly depicted a million times every day when individuals make decisions based on false hope and promises, which are made to them by the media as well as well-thought of advertising. A million Sammies each day make decisions to go after a Queenie because they have been urged that they should want Queenie instead of pursuing who or what they really want.
Updike, John. A&P. Place: Publisher, date.