54 pages 1 hour read

John Updike


Fiction | Short Story | Adult | Published in 1961

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Symbols & Motifs


“A&P” is set into motion by Sammy’s incessant voyeurism of Queenie and her friends. As he watches them make their way through the store, he intricately, colorfully describes everything from their bathing suits to their hands. By watching them so intently, Sammy imagines that he knows them intimately. He therefore unabashedly evaluates various intimate parts of their bodies.

As a motif, voyeurism supports the themes of attraction and class. The more Sammy watches Queenie, the more his attraction grows, but so does his belief in their class difference. Part of the ending’s empty feeling comes from how Sammy knows nothing real about her, as his observations were purely superficial. When Sammy is outside of the store, gazing at Lengel through the window, voyeurism presents a painfully clear image: Lengel, bent over and rigid with the weight of society.

Brand Names

The narration occasionally spells out brand names of items in the store. This is meant to give readers some sense of familiarity and situate them more firmly in postwar American consumerism and prosperity. Everything in the store is perfectly placed and ready for consumption, emphasized when Sammy names the “the cat-and-dog-food-breakfast-cereal-macaroni-rice-raisins-seasonings-spreads-spaghetti-soft drinks-crackers-and-cookies aisle” (Paragraph 5).