54 pages 1 hour read

John Updike


Fiction | Short Story | Adult | Published in 1961

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Story Analysis

Analysis: “A&P”

Published in 1961, “A&P” portrays defining dynamics of the period, and the author’s work often engages these dynamics. Updike is known for writing from the perspective of middle-class Americans and often explores the topics of mass consumerism, class division, and coming-of-age. At 19 years old, Sammy is just beginning to understand his place within the world, and “A&P” chronicles his realization. He identifies the people in his own class (at least, the A&P customers) as “sheep” who are lost in consumerism and the status quo. His disillusionment with his own class standing resonates throughout the story.

The story cannot be understood apart from its narrator, whose account is highly dubious. Sammy is a paradigmatic unreliable narrator, and the entire story is filtered through his compromised perception. He routinely spins fanciful narratives to construct a world that is personally meaningful but, on a factual level, mostly hollow. His unchecked imagination focuses almost entirely on others’ lives, which he believes he can automatically intuit by simply looking at them. This sense of unreliability and indeterminacy is compounded by his narration’s shifting between past and present tense. Still, the story’s predominant tone, as well as certain remarks—“Now here comes the sad part of the story” (Paragraph 12)—confirm the plot is casually recounted from some future stance.