54 pages 1 hour read

John Updike


Fiction | Short Story | Adult | Published in 1961

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Socio-Historical Context

Updike wrote “A&P” in America during the early 1960s, a time rife with tension on the social, political, economic, and cultural levels. In this postwar period, the country enthusiastically hoped to innovate toward prosperity. These advancements included new luxury housing developments (think of the Point in “A&P”) and were growing alongside several social justice initiatives. As national wealth increased, middle-class Americans began to feel the strain that came with walking a fine line between poverty and comfortability. Sammy’s town is similarly suspended; it borders a well-off resort town while being five miles from the beach. The entrance of Queenie and her friends into the A&P is destabilizing for Sammy, for whom it makes the class divide extremely apparent.

As a member of the middle class, Sammy houses ideals that seem more aligned with the upper class. This is why he is particularly thrown off balance and yet enchanted by Queenie. In her, he sees the possibility of individualism—the ability to walk into a store dressed however you want and suffer no real consequences. The 1960s inspired much youthful rebellion, most famously against conformity, authority, the Vietnam War, and racism. There was a push toward personal freedom at the expense of tradition.