A Series Of Fortunate Events English Literature Essay
One of life’s hardest endeavors is the overwhelming task of growing up and into the adult world. The point where one realizes that there is more to life than just living up to someone else’s expectations. The point where one has to come to terms with themselves and start the initiation of living their life according to the one in the mirror, and while they are learning not to live by someone else, they must find the balance to remain a productive member in society. For most people, this "epiphany" occurs in the teenage years, as is what transpires in John Updike’s story "A&P". The main character Sammy, a typical teenage boy, works an ordinary job as a cashier at the local grocery store, A&P. The story begins in a way that emerges the reader directly into the mind of Sammy, as he says "In walks these three girls in nothing but bathing suits," little does Sammy know, these three girls will soon etch themselves in his mind forever (496). For on this particular day he, with no real indication or definite reason as to why, quits his job. Many readers blame his departure from his job as an act of heroism, or an impulsive, juvenile response to a common every day situation, while others say he did it for the attention of the girls, or even chivalry. While all of these are worthy possibilities, there is one that seems to be more plausible than others; unfortunately it also exists far from the conventional realm of interpretations. With a little attention to detail, the reason Sammy quits his job becomes apparent and can be explained by a series of fortunate events. In essence, these girls, unaware of their significance, set off a chain reaction, causing a young boy to embark on that endeavor into adulthood by reaching a level of maturity and respect, while also uncovering the realization that life is more than living up to other people’s outlooks, thus leading to the separation and freedom from a life Sammy loathed.
As the story begins to progress, there are some subtle hints that our main character is tangled in the confusion of maturation from adolescence to adulthood. This can be seen particularly in the word choice Sammy uses when depicting one of the girls as "a chunky kid, with a good tan and a sweet broad soft-looking can with those two crescents of white just under it," his use of juvenile dialect characterizes him as a typical unromantic, lustful and girl-crazy boy (496). Additionally, while drifting slowly into this daydream of the girls’ figure, Sammy loses touch with reality, an unseasoned mistake; "I stood there with my hand on a box of HiHo crackers trying to remember if I rand them up or not. I ring it up again and the customer starts giving me hell" (497). Although innocent, this mistake advises the reader that Sammy is in fact a typical teenage boy, distracted by girls in bathing suits. However, as Sammy continues to lustfully describe these girls and jokes about their enticing allure with his co-worker, Stokesie, he offers the reader a contrasting glimpse of his maturity level. Sammy tells the reader that Stokesie is "married, with two babies," but "as far as I can tell that’s the only difference. He’s twenty two, and I’m nineteen" (498). Implying here that despite Stokesie’s adult endeavors, he sees Stokesie as an equal. In fact, Sammy goes on to demonstrate this feeling more, by making the comment that Stokesie "thinks he’s going to be manager some sunny day," when clearly, Sammy has no intentions of A&P as a career choice, and eludes to the fact that he is doing this for his parents’ sake (498). These are the first notions that Sammy is showing progression in the overwhelming phase from child to adult. This becomes more evident with the next few events. As Sammy watches the girls leave the meat counter, he notices something distasteful, "old McMahon panting his mouth and looking after them sizing up their joints," and cannot help but "feel sorry for them, they couldn’t help it"(498). It is here where the turning point in his life begins, the climax of the story. He never again sees these girls the same, they lose their sex symbol appeal, and rather, become people with feelings and rights, another sign of maturity.
Naturally, throughout the story Sammy forms a crush on the leader of the girls, "the Queen" (497). Eventually, the girls make their way to the front of the store to check out; ironically he is the only cashier open when they arrive. He feels that fate had handed him this opportunity to see his "Queenie" face to face.
This moment is brief, because Lengel, the manager, notices these girls in their beach attire and politely reminds the girls, "this isn’t the beach" (499). As the girls soon become embarrassed and uncomfortable with Lengel, who is giving them the Sunday school stare, Sammy begins to feel protective of them. Simultaneously he also becomes envious of them because they are about to leave A&P. As they rush to leave the store, Sammy realizes that he too, wishes he could just leave the store like they are. Sammy, like the girls, are seeking to get away from other people’s expectations, and doing things to the degree of someone else’s standards. They long to be back out in the world where they do not feel judged and can be productive and pleased with themselves. As the girls move towards the door that symbolizes freedom, Sammy realizes now is his chance to do the same. As he tells Lengel, "I quit," Lengel tells him he will regret this, and reminds him of what his parents will think, but none of this has any bearing on him because he is hitting another milestone in maturity--becoming a man of his word, and sticking to it (500). He takes off his apron and bow tie, and heads for the front door, for the girls, for the freedom, and truly, the only way out. Here is where many interpretations come into play, and many will argue that when Sammy embraces his new found life that it will amount to a total loss because, as he emerges into the sunshine of his new world, he cannot help but notice that the girls are gone, with not even a glimpse of his sacrificial act of "heroism". He then discovers that he is alone really with the life he once knew still inside those doors, as he looks back inside through the window he can see A&P is moving on without him, Lengel took his spot at the register, and his job is gone. At this point, many readers decide that Sammy has acted very immature, childish, and irrational. It seems as though, at the end of the day, Sammy has lost everything and even worse, has absolutely nothing to show for his trouble except a weak argument of accruing maturity. But nothing could be farther from the truth. In fact, people who see this situation like this have missed one of the most crucial themes in this short story--the tone. Sammy is the narrator, and the tone suggests that Sam is retelling it from a later point in life, as if looking back and reminiscing on this time in his life. It seems as though he is trying to explain and clarify why he quit that day, appealing to the readers’ sympathy. Sammy never once says he regrets his decision, does not take the chance that Lengel offers him, to keep his job; he never mentions anything at all about this being a mistake.
Throughout the story, Sammy showed small progressive steps towards maturing, but, for most, they were unnoticeable. If not for those girls going into his store that day, Sammy may still be working there, living up to his parents’, his co-workers’ and society’s expectations. Without the series of fortunate events that day, Sammy probably would have never came to the realization that he hated that job, the torment and the way it holds people down. He may not have noticed that he despises McMahon and the perverted lustful look he gave those innocent girls, viewing them as possessions. At first it seems Sammy tries to save the girls, but, in the end, they ironically save him. The events that took place that day saved him, from a life like Stokesie, whose biggest dream was to be like Lengel, a manager of a grocery store. Sammy finishes the story with "my stomach kind of fell as I felt how hard the world was going to be to me hereafter" (501). It is here, in Sammy’s final thought that we know he finally grew up, allowing himself to be hurled into an adult world, to face a life of strife, and endure whatever it may take to mature.
Updike, John. "A & P". Exploring literature: Writing and Arguing about Fiction, Poetry, Drama, and the Essay. Ed. Frank Madden. 4th ed. NY: Pearson Longman, 2009. 496-501.