Morgan Macgregor: For me, reading Updike’s famous short story is like walking into a room and only hearing the tail end of a joke, and everyone’s looking up at me, expectantly, waiting for me to laugh. Updike’s descriptions are beautiful, and provide endless pleasure here, but to me this story reads as simply that: a string of pleasant, surprising descriptions that don’t add up to much. I know nothing about Sammy, aside from his age and general social class, and so I couldn’t care less when he quits his job at the supermarket after the manager reprimands a threesome of girls for indecent exposure; I don’t know what his quitting means for him, and frankly, I kind of agree with the manager. As for the girls, they care as much for Sammy as I do, and this makes for a pretty weak story epiphany. I understand what people love about “A & P” — the unfolding of the realization for young Sammy that, “once you begin a gesture it’s fatal not to go through with it” – but I don’t feel it.
Jennifer Tyler: I love how this story plunges me into a refreshing lagoon: the cool refreshing deep swirling up with salty and wistful memories of being young in a New England summer. It’s a special kind of reflection that Updike conjures, in which I alternately zoom in to see the scene as young Sammy, and pan out to proudly observe from the safety of my adulthood. It really doesn’t matter whether the girls pay Sammy any attention, or whether we know anything deep about him or any of the other characters – the moral to this short story is that standing up to fight the good fight is an unconditional action. If all that weren’t enough, Updike really grabs me with his explicit descriptions: of the girls, of the cash register sounds, of the muttering housewives searching for applesauce; everything is so highly observed I can see the film grain. Perhaps I can’t see past my emotional involvement with the story enough be objective and really tear into it, but I don’t even care – it just feels that good.
Jason Rice: It is a unique moment when Sammy finally does quit the job. He’s following his urges, which in this case, is not freedom, but the urge to see where those girls are going. The most important side of all Updike stories is the puritanical undercurrent, and how constricting it is. Sammy thinks about the old witch at the start of the story, and other people in the village. In return there is the store’s “policy” about wearing something on your shoulders. They do that at the Vatican too, and it seems totally out of place now, as it must have then. I like how Sammy is oozing with interest about everything around him. Despite what Morgan says, I certainly do feel something at the end. A lot of Updike’s characters follow their feelings, and step off the edge of something because where they are isn’t as good as where they could be. These characters often step back to where they were, creating a new wave in their lives. Sammy wants to get laid, and working at the A & P is torture for him not because of the drudgery, but because he’s presented with a parade of young beauties.