A & P Coming of Age

Essay by tuffiousUniversity, Bachelor's March 2004

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In the short story A & P, John Updike uses an array of imagery and description to portray key themes of internal conflict and tension. This story is seen through the eyes of a young man named Sammy. Through this character, we understand real life issues, such as making decisions, consequence of action, adolescence, and responsibility. These are all areas that deal with "coming of age". Updike uses these elements to give the reader insight and understanding into the mind of a young man coming into manhood.

The entire story takes place in an A & P supermarket where two clerks, Sammy and Stokesie, watch three girls in bathing suits walk through the aisles of the market. John Updike uses descriptive imagery to help the reader understand what is going on in Sammy's mind. Detailed phrases such as "sunburns right across under the eyes" and "chin that was too long" demonstrate the detail and attention to which Sammy takes in observing the girls.

While Sammy is studying the girls he takes pleasure in their "soft looking can" and "long white prima-donna legs". The writer borders the line of suggested sensuality and humour with these teasing phrases describing the human anatomy. Although such provocative statements may be offensive to some readers, Updike openly portrays the innocence in the on look of an inquisitive young man.

As the story progresses there is a break at the end of the tenth paragraph where the story takes a turn. Internal conflict in the protagonist Sammy begins. When the girls are at the checkout counter, Lengel confronts them over their choice of clothing. Throughout the entire ordeal, Sammy does not say one word. However, John uses this silence to illustrate the struggle in wanting to defend the girls yet also wanting to respect the boss.