The story, set in a small town in New England, opens with three teenage girls, wearing just their bathing suits, walking into an A&P grocery store; it is the watching of these girls that gets the story rolling (Tiger-town). The narrator, Sammy, a teenage boy working in the store, watches these girls closely, taking note of how they behave and carry themselves, their hair styles and bodies as they go on about their business in the store.
Sammy and his coworker, the married Stokesie, ogle over the girls and joke about it. But Sammy is conscious of the fact that Stockesie is married and cannot go after the girls but he feels he still has the opportunity and freedom to go after the girls himself.
The store manager, Lengel, reproaches the girls because of the way they are dressed and the girls are embarrassed. When the girls leave, Sammy, hoping that they are watching, reproaches his boss for his treatment of the girls and decides to quit. Against his boss’s pleas he insists and in the end, he leaves only to find the girls long gone.
The story explores a number of themes; the key one around which the rest seem to revolve is the power of desire (Tiger-town). The author manages to bring out this through the behavior of the characters. The girls, although there’s no beach around, are dressed in bathing suits, a symbol of their disregard for the town’s social norms and a deliberate and explicit provocation of the men.
Now they have set the men’s desires rolling, including the married Stocksie and Lengel who downplays it by confronting them. While every man watches them, they act nonchalantly, especially Queenie; thus, by not acknowledging the men, the girls further inspire the men’s desire while managing to avoid being subject of it.
In Sammy, the narrator, the girls inspire much stronger desires since his desire for Queenie inspires his imagination. His description of the girls shows, on one end, his appreciation of the females, and on the other, how aggressive the male gaze is. In the end he quits his job; it is largely argued that Sammy’s reckless behavior is not purely as a result of his desire. Instead it is blamed on his hormones. Nonetheless, his response cannot be separated from his desire.
For Sammy, he has attained a kind of freedom and the deliberate behavior by the girls against the norms, symbolized in their dressing, opens up a world of possibilities for him. As such when Lengel reproaches the girls, it is as if he has hurt Sammy’s belief in possibilities; Sammy’s quitting may as well be his effort to reassert to himself the world he has just envisioned.
Updike also explores the pervasiveness of advertising (Tiger-town). The brand names in the shop sets the story in the American prosperity after the war. These names don’t just reflect the plenitude of the time, but also the domination of marketing in shaping people’s tastes. Sammy’s revolt is partly against the artificiality of these brand names.
Generally, A&P is a story about desire; the girls’ desire for male attention; Stocksie’s desire of freedom from his wife, Sammy’s desire of Queenie and for the desire that the adverts spark from the consumers among others. But it is equally the role that age plays in the belief on possibilities that is explored.
Tiger-town. “A&P by john updike.” 2009. Web. 8 Nov 2011. http://www.tiger-town.com/whatnot/updike/