The Use of Figurative Language by Sammy in A & P, a Short Story by John Updike

At a local A&P store, three barefoot girls in bathing suits walk in. Sammy, the main character, and his co-worker are astonished. After a few of the costumers display clear discomfort with what the girls are dressed in, the manager takes it as a personal mission to explain to the girls how they have disrupted the store, and demands that in the future they must follow the store’s policy and cover their shoulders. Sammy notices that the way the girls are being treated was unfair and decides to quit. The short story concludes with Sammy running out to the parking, just to find out that the girls were gone and he is still unemployed. Sammy’s Figurative language use in ‘A&P’ creates a certain mood and atmosphere that changes the way readers think of Sammy, and what Sammy thinks of other characters from his perspective. In “A&P,” John Updike introduces Sammy as a very figurative narrator who is portraited as a rebel by fighting sexism, defying social normality, and being the protagonist.

Updike uses figurative in this story helps the readers truly understand what Sammy is feeling about certain characters. Sammy is presented from the very beginning as a bright yet still uneducated nineteen-year-old teenager. Sammy’s informal tone can be seen in the very first sentence of the story, “in walks these three girls in nothing but bathing suit” (Updike 1). Readers can already see that Sammy profiled these girls, but are reassured later when he begins to describe the girls figure and every action. Sammy’s figurative language might display him as sexist character to the readers, but one must understand that Updike’s use of informality was to make the readers best understand Sammy’s point of view. “By the time I got her feathers smoothed, and her goodies into a bag-she gives me a little snort in passing, if she’d been born at the right time they would have burned her over in Salem” (Updike 1). Updike’s sexism and informality is used to display how Sammy relates the Salem to the old, grumpy lady; comparing the costumer to a witch, yet Sammy still believed that these similes and metaphors should be kept for one’s private thoughts; treating the rude costumer with nothing but politeness. “You never know for sure how girls’ minds work (do you really thin it’s a mind in there or just a little buzz like in a glass jar?)” (Updike 2). Although this quote shows Sammy as being a sexist character who doesn’t credit women for their achievements; the actions and thoughts he displays later in the story reveal that he was just learning about them. Metaphors and Similes used in this story allow the readers to create their own understanding of the way Sammy labels every character, whether they were a sheep, cash-register- watcher, bum, or a Sunday-school-superintendent.

John Updike’s “A&P”, represents what life and social values mean to Americans in the 1960’s. The town is a right-wing conservative, who all know each other, and have certain traditions/standards. Updike’s story allows readers to understand the way people are easily profiled and considered an

outsider in small towns, thus marking the rebellion of young Sammy against social norms. “You know, it’s one thing to have a girl in a bathing suit down on the beach, where what with the glare nobody can look at each other much anyway, and another thing in the cool of the A & P, under the fluorescent lights, against all those stacked packages, with her feet paddling along naked over our checkerboard green-and- cream rubber-tile floor” (Updike 6). Sammy immediately points out that he girl’s bikini outwear was considered not ordinary in town because they are located no where close to the beach. The girls’ rebellion towards the town’s social norm entices Sammy, but also proves the different social/economical classes that Sammy, and the girls were on; a privilege inaccessible to Sammy. Updike displays Sammy as a character who points out the differences in these girls compared to his town, “What he meant was, our town is five miles from a beach, with a big summer colony out on the Point, but we’re right in the middle of town, and the women generally put on a shirt or shorts or something before they get out of the car into the street. And anyway, these are usually women with six children and varicose veins mapping their legs and nobody, including them, could care less” (Updike 10). While still showing signs of sexism, Sammy suggests that the girls defied social normality for the sole reason of wearing bikini’s in a town where the water is no where near. It appears as if the closer the girls would have been to the beach; the less people would have judged them. After describing the social and economic differences between his town, and the girls, Updike transforms Sammy into a person who defies the social norms in his town; stand down and let his manager Lengel lecture these girls about the “appropriate” dress code. Sammy decides that to get Queenie and the girls their justice he must let Lengel know of the issue that bothers him.

After watching the girls be mistreated. Updike embeds the heroism in Sammy. As readers discover later in the story his heroic plan does not really work but it is still present. Offended the girls were treated Sammy looks at his manager and repeats, “I quit” (Updike 22). Updike allows the readers to believe that Sammy was a hero who took the right step, but soon Sammy realizes that in a town where everyone knows everyone; Sammy might be labelled as a quitter. Updike touches with the real world when Sammy quits his job, leaving him feel although for a brief second optimistic/happy about his future and what to follow; Relating to anyone who has ever quit a job, that feeling of extreme pleasure and comfort followed by a short panic attack thinking about the long and short term costs of one’s future. Many of the behaviours that Sammy and other characters displayed can be related to social, and psychological experiments conducted by researchers. In 1977 Albert Bandura came out with the social learning theory, “Most human behavior is learned observationally through modeling: from observing others, one forms an idea of how new behaviors are performed, and on later occasions this coded

nformation serves as a guide for action” (Bandura 1977). This theory proves that to portray Sammy as a hero the girls had to first rebel to motivate Sammy to do the same. Sammy’s actions might have not been based on his own frustration but built on the fact that he felt the girls were being mistreated. Another example is the bystander effect, “the reluctance of bystanders to intervene in an emergency, especially when a person appears in distress or when a crime is being committed” (Colman 2009). A crime was not committed in this story, but the real crime is when everyone at the store including Sammy were watching as Lengel displayed sexism and treated the girls poorly with no one stepping in or say anything while the girls are in the store; it was not until they left that Sammy let Lengel know of what bothered him.

Updike’s “A&P”, addressed many problems that were present in the seventies, but the disappointing part is that these issues are still present to this day. Sammy is portrayed as the typical teenager who is sick of working in a place where everyone and everything is the same. Updike embeds heroism in Sammy after he notices that the girls were being treated poorly and no one has done anything about it; partially doing it for the sake of impressing the girls. Updike’s use of figurative language delivers the best meaning to Sammy’s metaphors, and similes. Updike informs the readers about the different disorders, and behaviours that one picks up simply from interacting with one’s community.

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