John Updike

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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

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…

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Sex, Gender, Power

The three girls walk into the store, and it seems that their sexuality asserts power in the way that they turn heads and capture the attention of the store-goers and employees. The girls are aware that others are watching them, but they act oblivious, and this dynamic seems to lend the girls a kind of unspoken power. However, this power proves to be something of an illusion, since the girls can't really harness it—as Sammy

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Appearances and Inner Lives

Sammy, as a store employee, judges everyone who walks through the store based on their appearances, what they buy, and how they act. He imagines what their inner lives might be like (the fifty-year-old woman, for example, who's been watching cash registers for the past forty years, looking for a mistake) and he analyzes the girls as they walk into the store, identifying their leader and envisioning their social backgrounds. The girls are dressed…

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Individualism and Ethics

When Sammy quits, he asserts his individualism. The other characters in the story all follow someone or some code of conduct. Lengel enforces the polices of the store and general social norms without being able to explain why they exist, only responding, "This isn't the beach." Stokesie follows the normal path of ambition to become the next store manager. The customers, who Sammy refers to as "sheep," avoid confrontation and choose not to disturb their…

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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…

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