A&P

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Themes and Colors
Growing Up Theme Icon
Sex, Gender, Power Theme Icon
Appearances and Inner Lives Theme Icon
Individualism and Ethics Theme Icon
Class Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in A&P, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Class Theme Icon

The girls in their bathing suits flaunt their wealth, as they've obviously been lounging by the pool or beach while the people in the store have been working. As Queenie speaks, Sammy envisions the type of background she might come from, coming into A&P to buy fancy herring snacks for her parents.

Sammy's defense of the girls also involves a hope of impressing them, but they shuffle out of the store without taking any notice of his sacrifice on their behalf. He is from a lower class and is beneath them, which adds another element to the foreboding feeling he has about his future. Looking back at Lengel's weariness, he realizes that he, like Lengel, is stuck in the working class. While the girls' class protects them from the consequences of their actions—Queenie draws from a reserve of superiority when she remembers her place in the confrontation with Lengel—Sammy has to face the consequences of his actions without any protection of wealth or class.

Class ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Class appears in each section of A&P. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Class Quotes in A&P

Below you will find the important quotes in A&P related to the theme of Class.
A&P Quotes

"My mother asked me to pick up a jar of herring snacks." […]All of a sudden I slid right down her voice into her living room. Her father and the other men were standing around in ice-cream coats and bow ties and the women were in sandals picking up herring snacks on toothpicks off a big plate and they were all holding drinks the color of water with olives and sprigs of mint in them. When my parents have somebody over they get lemonade and if it's a real racy affair Schlitz in tall glasses with "They'll Do It Every Time" cartoons stenciled on.

Related Characters: Sammy (speaker), Queenie (speaker)
Related Symbols: Herring Snacks
Page Number: 193
Explanation and Analysis:

In this moment, Sammy is beginning to realize how much more complex these girls are than he imagined. For one, he realizes their upper-class status and imagines the differences between their experiences and his own. While he is still projecting his imagination onto them, it is at least a more nuanced projection that acknowledges that they have lives to which he can't quite relate. In this interaction, Sammy also relays being startled by the girl's actual voice, since it is not like what he imagined. Throughout the story he has imagined this girl as somebody confidently exercising her power over men, and it startles Sammy to see her in a situation in which, confronted by the store manager, the girl tentatively brings up her mother to justify her presence in the store. Seeing her confidence falter helps Sammy to understand the complex negotiations of power at play, and also helps him to see that this girl is wavering between youth and adulthood in a way that mirrors his own experience.

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"We are decent," Queenie says suddenly, her lower lip pushing, getting sore now that she remembers her place, a place from which the crowd that runs the A & P must look pretty crummy. Fancy Herring Snacks flashed in her very blue eyes.

Related Characters: Sammy (speaker), Queenie (speaker)
Related Symbols: Herring Snacks
Page Number: 194
Explanation and Analysis:
Queenie has now publicly gone from exuding confidence, to faltering, to seeming embarrassed, to seeming indignant about the way she is being treated. When the manager tells her she needs to dress decently (as in, she needs to be sufficiently clothed) she seems to take it as an attack on her status and personhood, as her response is a defense that she is, in fact, a decent person. Sammy, meanwhile, assumes (correctly or incorrectly, we can never know) that Queenie's reaction is based on her feeling that, because of her class, she should not be talked down to by the lower-class employees of the A&P. When he says that "fancy herring snacks flashed in her very blue eyes" he is using the herring snacks as an emblem of the upper-class world that does not belong at the A&P. Sammy's intuition that Queenie is having a moment of realizing that she is above everyone else in some way mirrors Sammy's feeling of superiority throughout the story. 

The girls, and who'd blame them, are in a hurry to get out, so I say "I quit" to Lengel quick enough for them to hear, hoping they'll stop and watch me, their unsuspected hero. They keep right on going, into the electric eye […]

Related Characters: Sammy (speaker), Queenie, Lengel
Page Number: 195
Explanation and Analysis:

This is the climax of the story, in which Sammy, moved by the interaction he has just witnessed, impulsively quits his job. In keeping with his youthful lust, his initial motivation for quitting seems to be to impress the girls, but he frames it to himself as solidarity, in that he feels he is quitting to protest their poor treatment. This is obviously a muddled chain of logic, since his attempt to stand up for their dignity is conflated with his sexual desire and longing to impress them. It also seems that Sammy's motivation is partly personal, in that, by quitting, he is proving to himself that he lives by the individualism that he admires instead of bowing to social norms and continuing to ring up customers. When Updike shows the girls walking out the door as Sammy is quitting, though, he gives readers a sense that all the muddled things Sammy is standing up for are unattainable.

I could see Lengel in my place in the slot, checking the sheep through. His face was dark gray and his back stiff, as if he'd just had an injection of iron, and my stomach kind of fell as I felt how hard the world was going to be to me hereafter.

Related Characters: Sammy (speaker)
Page Number: 196
Explanation and Analysis:

By the end of the story, Sammy is identifying with the character he would have, at the beginning, seemed least likely to identify with. Lengel, the stand-in for mindless authority and for the cruelty of social systems, now seems pathetic and almost sympathetic to Sammy. It is important that Sammy sees Lengel through the window after he has already gone out into the parking lot to check on whether the girls are still there. The girls are not there--the parking lot is devoid of the objects of desire that, in part, motivated him to quit--and now Sammy is left with only his uncertainty about what he has done. Here, in this last paragraph of the story, it is clear that Sammy has had a revelation, however vague, about how complex the lives and responsibilities of adults are. Updike leaves us to understand that this moment has broken in Sammy some of the innocence and arrogance of his childhood, and that he now understands that the world is more complex than his simplistic worldview permitted just moments before.