Short Essay Assignment on A&P by John Updike - Will it be Order or Disorder?

Short Essay Assignment on A&P by John Updike - Will it be Order or Disorder?

The story “A&P” by John Updike is narrated by Sammy, youthful worker in an A&P grocery store, with no sense of free will, which he wants to flee of. Set in the inlands of rural suburbia, Sammy gets shaken by reality when a group of three girls arrive in a fancy car, and walk in the store “in nothing but bathing suits” (Updike, 1). Throughout the story, the locals of the town seem to be distressed by the disorder caused in the aftermath of the girls’ insurgent appearance and behaviour. The sudden and unexpected little chaos turns into an opportunity for Sammy to re-evaluate his motivations and freedoms, by having to choose between a customary, unmoving life and a life full of opportunities and rebellion.

The story takes place in a small town, where people’s aspirations seem to be uniform. This unchangeable customary life is repulsive to Sammy, giving him a sense of imprisonment. His desire to escape can be attributed to the numerous remarks he makes on the tedious life in this environment. Sammy portrays the workers in the store metaphorically as identical and not diverse, as they are dressed in same uniforms. In addition, the narrator portrays the people as “sheep” and “house slaves” (2) - providing the audience with a sense of irrationality, unanimity, and conformity. A strong sense conservative society is even more strongly portrayed when Sammy describes the town’s everyday life and motivations with the following characteristics: they attend Sunday school, indicating the town is religious; it everybody is familiar with everyone, and this is most prominently seen when Lengel, the store manager, puts Sammy’s parents into question as he decides to quit; and people marry and have their children very early in their life, all done in a traditional way. Towards at the end of the story, when the narrator decides to leave this dull lifestyle behind him, he realizes “how hard the world was going to be to me hereafter” (5), implying that this conventional living would haunt him throughout his life continuously. He thus acknowledges that he will never be completely independent from the traditional suburban life he was raised in, even though freedom is inevitable for him.

The story’s plot divides most of its symbols into two categories. One category is rebellion; the three girls, their disorderly behaviour, Sammy’s quitting, and unusual trends of behaviour that are drawn to the reader’s attention by Sammy’s sarcastic and rational tone. The other category is the traditional order. This order includes the rigid expected behaviour and moral views, the shared aspirations from the town’s residents, their religion, their irrationality, and their routine. On the rebellious side, the girls in their bikinis disrupt the confirmative vibe of the town; they protest by walking in the opposite traffic flow in the store, dressed in nothing but their bathing suits, and oppose the manager’s comments, replying by saying they are “descent” (4). Their spontaneous deviation from the conservative mainstream becomes very elegant and beautiful to Sammy, while the town’s tedious rigid regime is blunt and ugly. His strict environment is suddenly enriched with an appealing mess; from the mistake in his register and his sarcastic tone to the girls’ provoking appearance and social class, he sees the beauty in the dynamical disorder and develops interest in the violation of community standards. The accumulation of the disorderly acts throughout the plot drives Sammy to resign from the order and join the disorder.

Sammy quits his job because he sees his destiny in the older people around him in town. The mandatory white-picket-fence-dream among the middle class in the suburban environment is a pitfall, he realizes, to his freedom. Sammy is caught in a luminal position, between the rebellious youthfulness and the stifling adult-like order. The rebellion and the disorder suit his rationality, however; he seems to feel as though his free will can be expressed in a vaster sense if he joins the notion of anti-conformists.

Sammy rather envies the girls’ freedom, suggesting that while he is stuck in a town where life seems boring and routine, others get to experience better and less boring life. In his mind, there is also a life outside of his town he wishes he was part of. He rebels to gain freedom, believing that conformity will make his life meaningless and unsatisfying. His behaviour seems to draw him as close as he can get in this story to a freedom which the three girls have.

The story makes another clever proposition. By pairing rebellion with youthfulness and beauty, conformity is paired with the older, mainstream population. This signifies the new wave of scandalous behaviour starting in the 1960’s, which is notably different from the traditional behavioural fashion of the 1950’s. This wave of rebellious disorder against the traditional conformists brings about the constant battle humans face, which suggests that without change and dynamic protest, they lose their freedom of choice, as well as self-recognition through diversity.

Works Cited
Updike, John. “A&P.” December 14, 2005. Web. http://www.tiger-town.com/whatnot/updike/