A & P Close Reading Essay
Alex Michael Kauth English 101-023 Fall 2011, Culpepper, MWF 09/23/2011 Close Reading of a Literary Text Observation is a process that is constantly performed by all individuals in everyday situations. It is a tool used to gain a better understanding of a situation, although the observer is not always aware that they are in fact performing such an act. In John Updike’s, A & P, the narrator, Sammy, finds himself observing with great detail, three female shoppers in the supermarket in which he is employed.
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It is through his observations that not only are Sammy’s desires exposed, but he is seen as a character who lives in the moment, and quite frankly grows up in such a short period of time. A close reading towards the bottom of page 218 in the story supports these subjects through its showing of his passion for the three girls, his quick decision making, and his overall condition. In a short matter of minutes Sammy’s true colors are shown and he is left to deal with the consequences.
It is only appropriate that the very beginning of the close reading touches upon the girl’s that have absorbed Sammy’s attention and controlled his desires from the moment they entered the A & P. The girl’s, whom he notes in the paragraph as “Queenie, and Plaid, and Big Tall Goony-Goony” (Updike), are his new obsession. His extreme infatuation with them is evident as he continuously points out not only their physical characteristics, but their every move around the store.
His strong sexual desire is obvious in areas where he notes Queenie’s breasts as not just breasts but, “the two smoothest scoops of vanilla” (Updike) he had ever known. The evidence is prevalent throughout that his thoughts are dominated by sex. This does not put him in the category as a creeper of any sorts as it is clear that he is not the only one thinking the same thoughts. The close reading come’s during a situation where the manager of the store, Lengel, is addressing the girls who are in their bathing suits as being inappropriately dressed.
This show’s that although Lengel and Sammy have separate opinions of the three girls’ attire, they both see it in the same light. The same can be said for Sammy’s coworker, Stokesie, who earlier on caught himself peeking at the girl’s as well despite being a “responsible married man” (Updike). What the close reading is getting at along these lines is that Sammy is so infatuated by these women that this short paragraph brings a climax to his desires.
It becomes serious and truly evident that he has developed a liking to them when he notes in the close reading that “These girls, and who’d blame them, are in a hurry to get out, so I say ‘I quit’” (Updike). It’s not every day that an individual quits their job to impress some girls that they don’t even know but that is indeed what Sammy did. This drastic act shows many characteristics about Sammy and is proof of the overall themes of his sexual desire, as well as his ability to live in the moment. It is the previous quote in fact that is the absolute pinnacle of his decision making.
The act of Sammy quitting on the spot comes as a complete surprise due to the fact that there is no prior evidence of him being dissatisfied with his job, other than his description of the other shoppers as “sheep pushing their carts down the aisle” (Updike), which can loosely be inferred as an observation that has come with boredom. Thus, is it can be concluded that his reason for quitting was a direct result of these girls, making it an undeniably spontaneous act. This reflects his attitude throughout the story.
Sammy is a character with a daily routine. His job has become so mundane to the point where he can list off the isles in the store as easy as, “cat-and-dog-food-breakfast-cereal-macaroni-rice-raisins-seasonings-spreads-spaghetti-soft-drinks-crackers-and-cookies” (Updike). An epiphany in a short story is expected, hence his time for living in the moment. Unfortunately for Sammy, this epiphany in the close reading paragraph shows that he was hoping to become, “their unexpected hero” (Updike), which clearly was not the result.
Now with no job, the theme of living in the moment has caused for another theme in which he is now coming of age. Through his sudden unemployment, Sammy is in a situation where he is forced to pursue this theme of coming of age. But what he does not realize is that within the short span that the girls were in the A & P, he did in fact show signs of growing up. His first observations of the girls reflect the first theme of his strong desires.
He makes mention of his thoughts on little details such as “the seams on the bra” and how he notices quickly that “the suit had slipped a little” on one of the girls (Upsike). Now if the average man were being honest with himself, he might admit that these are details that he might in fact notice himself off the bat. Still, they are nonetheless thoughts filled with desire. Where it gets interesting is how Sammy’s observations evolve. He goes from pointing out the physical traits of these girls that excite him, to noticing the smaller and more subtle traits.
He describes her voice when he first hears it and the effect it has on him “coming out so flat and dumb yet kind of tony, too” (Updike). These intricate details show his coming of age and the evolvement of feelings he has for the girls. The close reading paragraph sums it all up when instead of wanting for something sexually from them, he was just “hoping they’ll stop and watch ” (Updike) him. Though neither scenario panned out, Sammy showed accurate signs of coming of age – a transition that will be vital as he moves forward into unemployment.
In the end it is clear that things do not end well for Sammy, but there are some lessons that he can take out of it which are reflected through the stories themes and the closed reading paragraph. The story A & P, by John Updike reflects the themes of strong desires, living in the moment, and coming of age through the first person eyes of Sammy. In the short five pages that the story offers, Sammy is able to transition in such a subtle way that he most likely does not even realize it himself. The closed reading paragraph on page 218 shows in detail the broader picture of the story and brings together each theme all at once.