A&P Themes and Symbols

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Updike's "A & P" is rich in symbolism and begins in the very first paragraph. Sammy is eyeing the three bikini-clad girls who walk into his supermarket where he is a checker. His reverie is interrupted, however, by a "witch" whose "feathers" Sammy has to smooth. The older generation are typically symbolized in negative terms throughout the story, those women who cannot and will not understand youth.

Queenie, on the other hand, is symbolic of all that is alluring about women and life that might be possible for Sammy on the outside, a life that seems palatable yet unattainable to Sammy.

Stokesie, Sammy's older co-worker, is symbolic of the life Sammy may well be headed for: married, tied down with children, and few options for another life.

Lengel, the manger, is symbolic of those too-far-gone, the adults who, like the witches, could not care less about youthful ambition.

Finally, and perhaps most symbolically, is the supermarket itself. It is symbolic of the consumer culture that has a definite heirarchy: the "witches" by bland "HiHo" crackers while Queenie purchases "Fancy Herring Snacks."

Choices and Consequences
An important theme in "A & P" is that of choices and consequences. All of the main characters in the story must make a choice and endure the consequences of that choice. The consequences of these choices are not always apparent to the characters. Sammy, the cashier, makes the most obvious and most painful choice, and on some level he is aware of the consequences. When he chooses to quit his job, he knows that this decision will have ramifications in his life that will last for a long time. His family is affected, and it causes him to recount the situation as "sad." Because he has stood up for something on principle—he was protesting the manager's chastisement of the girls—he knows life will be difficult for him. If Sammy quits his job every time he encounters a situation he dislikes, his life will become extremely complicated. In the...
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