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Bathing Suits Symbol Analysis

Bathing Suits Symbol Icon
The story revolves around the disruption the girls cause by walking into A&P in only their bathing suits. The bathing suits, in contrast to the regular attire of the housewives and other "sheep" who enter the store, draw attention to the girls' sexuality, which Sammy immediately takes note of. As the other employees and customers react to the girls, however, their bathing suits begin to symbolize a sort of freedom to Sammy, who finds it exciting that the girls flout the norms of social conduct. When Lengel reprimands the girls and accuses them of indecency, the bathing suits take on a different tint, akin more to sexual shame or, more accurately, sexual shaming.

Bathing Suits Quotes in A&P

The A&P quotes below all refer to the symbol of Bathing Suits. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Growing Up Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Fawcett Columbine edition of A&P published in 1996.
A&P Quotes

"Girls, I don't want to argue with you. After this come in here with your shoulders covered. It's our policy."

Related Characters: Lengel (speaker), Queenie
Related Symbols: Bathing Suits
Page Number: 194
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Lengel is changing tactics in his confrontation with the girls, which reveals his own confusion about his values and motivations. While his first attempt to chastise the girls rested on his moral conviction that the girls should be decently clothed in public, here he pivots and claims that he is merely enforcing store policy. This appears to occur in reaction to the girls' embarrassment, which may have left Lengel conflicted about whether or not he still had the moral high ground—but also in response to Queenie's indignation, which suggests that she comes from a place of privilege and is immune to punishment. It is this shift to claiming the importance of policy that disgusts Sammy, who frames his reaction not in terms of the moral mismatch between policy and the distress it causes, but in the much more youthful and simplistic terms of old people having power and young people wanting rebellion. Still, Sammy is moved by this interaction that causes the young women's emotions to modulate in a way that reveals to him some of the nuances of their inner lives. 

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Bathing Suits Symbol Timeline in A&P

The timeline below shows where the symbol Bathing Suits appears in A&P. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
A&P
Sex, Gender, Power Theme Icon
Appearances and Inner Lives Theme Icon
Three girls in bathing suits walk into the local A&P grocery store as Sammy, the nineteen-year-old narrator, rings up the... (full context)
Sex, Gender, Power Theme Icon
Appearances and Inner Lives Theme Icon
Individualism and Ethics Theme Icon
...an aisle, and he describes each of them. There's the girl in green plaid, whose bathing suit looks new, and another girl with frizzed hair, a sunburn, and a long chin, who... (full context)
Sex, Gender, Power Theme Icon
Individualism and Ethics Theme Icon
Sammy continues to describe the leader, who wears a "dirty-pink" bathing suit with the straps down. The straps loop loosely around the tops of her arms, causing... (full context)
Sex, Gender, Power Theme Icon
Appearances and Inner Lives Theme Icon
Individualism and Ethics Theme Icon
...in pin-curlers" glance back at the girls disapprovingly, however. As Sammy explains, seeing girls wearing bathing suits on a beach is one thing, but seeing them in an A&P grocery store is... (full context)