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.
Growing Up Theme Icon

The narrator, Sammy, is 19 years old and inhabits an in-between space between adulthood and adolescence, a standpoint from which he can both relate to the girls when they face authority and also observe and act as their unlikely defender, since he's a few years older. He also has to answer to his parents still—Lengel mentions them in an attempt to get Sammy to reconsider his decision to quit—but he's technically (legally) an adult, too. For comparison, Sammy's coworker Stokesie is only three years older and is already married with two kids.

As Sammy approaches adulthood, he also has to face the consequences of his actions more directly. Just a few years older than the three girls who walk into A&P in their bathing suits, Sammy relates to the girls because of their youth. However, unlike the girls, Sammy can't just invoke his parents or use them to excuse his behavior as the girls do when Lengel reprimands them. Sammy, instead, will have to answer to his parents' disappointment and find other means of supporting himself when he quits, and the dejected sense of foreboding he has at the end of the story carries the weight of the consequences he'll have to face for his actions. Sammy's rash act of quitting is a youthful act, inspired by his connection with the girls, but as he faces the consequences of his actions, he realizes that he's no longer a youth as the girls are and will have to answer to the consequences as an adult.

Growing Up ThemeTracker

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

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

Stokesie's married, with two babies chalked up on his fuselage already, but as far as I can tell that's the only difference. He's twenty-two, and I was nineteen this April.

Related Characters: Sammy (speaker)
Page Number: 191
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Updike manages to convey something crucial about Sammy through a tiny interaction. Sammy tells the reader that Stokesie is married and has a family, but says that he believes that otherwise the two of them are just alike. Sammy is flippant about the profound importance of Stokesie's family to his life and experiences, treating it as almost a superficial detail of his character instead of something that structures Stokesie's life. If Sammy's shallow pronouncements about the middle class families in the store didn't already show us that Sammy does not understand the complexity of adult responsibility, then this interaction cements our understanding that Sammy's outlook on the world is more youthful than adult. Updike tops off this complex interaction by allowing Sammy to narrate the moment when Stokesie turns away from the girls and seems not to want to see them anymore. Sammy is dismissive of this gesture, chalking it up to Stokesie being a "responsible married man" and then rolling his eyes at Stokesie's ambition to become manager. 

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"Sammy, you don't want to do this to your Mom and Dad," he tells me. It's true, I don't. But it seems to me that once you begin a gesture it's fatal not to go through with it. I fold the apron, "Sammy" stitched in red on the pocket, and put it on the counter, and drop the bow tie on top of it.

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

With the girls gone from the store, Sammy has to face the reality of what he is doing. Since it does not seem that he has successfully impressed the girls, this moment is a test of whether his conviction that individuality is more important than bowing to social pressure is strong enough to make it worth quitting his job. The answer is inconclusive here; Sammy's rationale for following through is not that his belief in what he is doing is strong, but rather that he must finish what he has started, or that he feels he cannot now take it back. Ironically, this mindless continuation of action mirrors the sheep-like behavior of the people Sammy has criticized. It is also important that in this passage, for the first time, Sammy recognizes that he has a responsibility to others. His mom and dad seem to depend on him, perhaps to help the family financially, and his quitting will have an effect on others besides himself. Though this consideration does not keep him from quitting his job, it foreshadows the complex adult realities that his decision will usher in.

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.