The Lessons We Learn

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Central Idea Essay
Lessons We Learn
“A & P,” by John Updike, is the story of a young man, Sammy, who learns a life lesson one summer afternoon while working at the local grocery store in his small town. One day three young girls visit the store wearing swimsuits and no shoes. Getting more attention than they bargain for, store manager Lengel chastises them for being dressed indecorously. Sammy, wanting to be the girls’ hero, quits his job after Lengel shames them. Updike’s central idea suggests that youthful decisions made on a whim do not always get the results envisioned, though maturity often results.

Sammy, a 19-year-old cashier, is the main character because he is the narrator and the story revolves around him. He notices and interacts with only a few select characters in the story such as Stoksie, the girls, and Lengel. He is a flat character because he offers little insight into himself; however, two main personality traits that he exhibits are being judgmental and immature. He shows he is judgmental as he watches the other customers watch the girls: “A few houseslaves in pin curlers even looked around” (Updike 105). He is expressing his negative view of the drone patrons that come through the store. He is also critical of the girls that come into the store in their bathing suits, “the kind of girl the other girls think is very ‘striking’ and ‘attractive’ but never quite makes it” (103). Sammy judges outward appearances first and makes his assumptions about a person based on those assumptions. He shows his immaturity when he remarks to a fellow co-worker, “Darling. Hold me tight,” as they watched the three bikini-clad girls pass through the aisles (105). He also makes childish remarks when bored at work: “Hello (bing) there, you (gung) hap-py pee-pul (splat)” (108). He is using the sounds of the cash register to make up games to pass the time.

Queenie is a crucial character to the conflict of the story because her rebellious...
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