February 20, 2011
John Updike uses the fiction elements of setting, character, and plot to illustrate the theme of “A&P” that has to do with how Americans make choices that affect their entire lives based on false promises made to them by an economic system that is based upon turning every idea, object and person into a commodity that can be bought and transformed into a status symbol. The story’s theme focuses on Sammy’s struggles to grow up. He is forced to make a choice about where he stands on the confrontation that takes place between his manager and the girls, and Sammy decides to take action. He doesn’t feel right about Lengel’s humiliation of the girls; Sammy decides to take a stand, by quitting, in hopes to become the girls’ “unsuspected hero.”
The grocery store, especially at the time in which the story is set, is the pre-eminent symbol of consumerism, and the fact that this kind of store and no other is the setting is thematically consequential. No other type of store sells goods that will be consumed by people of every class. Everyone from sub-minimum wage workers to captains of industry need what the grocery store sells and the fact the story takes place here is a clue to its theme. As Sammy describes it, "we're right in the middle of town, and if you stand at our front doors you can see two banks and the Congregational Church and the newspaper store and three real estate offices." In other words, the store is central to the town's spiritual, financial, informational and property centers. Had Sammy's rebellion been the ultimate point of the story, Updike could have set it within a store that Sammy would have a much harder decision leaving. The fact that the story takes place within the center of consumer culture therefore must be considered very important.
Sammy's descriptions of people, places and things within the supermarket further underscore the importance of setting by showing how American...