Wednesday, February 3, 2010

John Updike

I have never worked for a grocery store, but I have worked in a number of low-paying, entry level jobs. As I first began to read this story, I was surprised at how fetishistic Sammy becomes over the girls. Updike's vivid descriptions of the physicality of the girls borders on obsessive at times. Yet, when I read that Sammy was only 19, the story came into clearer focus - I was nineteen once, too, you see.
The girls continued to be objects of Sammy's lust throughout the first several pages of the story, until Lengel reprimands them for wearing such revealing bikinis. At that point, they become innocents to Sammy that he must protect. As Sammy quits, his mind is still not made up as the girls are transitioning from objects of lust into objects of innocence, but finally Sammy stands up and speaks for himself.
I enjoyed the way that Updike was able to convey the journey of adolescence in this microcosmic story so effectively. Sammy exhibits the lustful drives of post-puberty madness and the obsessiveness that this can cause, but I also love that he includes Sammy's peer, Stokes. Stokes, a few years older than Sammy, stands throughout the story as the figure Sammy will become: unhappily married, marginally employed, and oogling girls without hope of success. I believe that Stokes actually has more to do with Sammy quitting than anyone else, for he can see in Stokes his own spirit crushed by Lengel's oppressive hand. Yet, to Sammy, Lengel is very patriarchal and gentle, giving him several opportunities to change his mind about quitting. Perhaps Stokes went through this same moment, though rather than standing resolute in his decision, he succumbed to Lengel's soft words.
As Sammy leaves the A & P, Lengel tells Sammy that his world will be more difficult from then on. As Sammy walks into the parking lot, he leaves his adolescence behind and enters into adulthood and repeats Lengel's sentiment that his life will be more difficult from now on. He is right, life is more difficult when you stand for something.

All this being said, it's still a little silly that Sammy quit his job to go chase after some girls.

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