Going Against the Grain: "Unity of Effect" in Updike’s “A&P”
“A&P” is a short story by John Updike that tells the story of three girls who enter a grocery store and attract quite a bit of attention from: Stokesie, the manager; Lengel, a checkout clerk; and – most of all – Sammy, also a checkout clerk. The story follows the thoughts and actions of Sammy as he observes the three girls who are only dressed in bathing suites. The notable points are Sammy’s interaction with another customer, the interaction with his fellow checkout clerk Stokesie, and ultimately his boss and manager Lengel. The story comes to an unexpected climax after Lengel tells the girls to leave the store because of their indecent clothing and as a result Sammy decides to quit. Throughout this short story, John Updike works towards the reader realizing the negative connotations of rebellion and conformity; this is accomplished through several different narrative devices including – but not limited to – “first person narration” and “the unreliable narrator.” The first noticeable narrative device utilized by John Updike is that of “first person narration” where the voice that is created for Sammy is poetically graphic and intentionally provoking; this is clear when one observes how Sammy’s internal narration switches between sharp wit and common slang. This is also proof that Sammy is capable of clear, intelligent thought even though he is merely nineteen years old. The way he chooses to describe things in his mind is truly remarkable as he refers to one of the girls’ hair as “oaky” and that the light from outside seems like it is “skating around” the parking lot. It is interesting, however, how Updike continually refrains Sammy’s language by beginning his sentences with phrases like “You know” and “Really” which, in effect, keeps the overall language of Sammy seemingly natural. It would make sense to assume that during the course of the story, Updike is deliberately making Sammy use...
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