John Updike’s A & P is a short story about a young man named Sammy working in a grocery store. During his shift, three girls walk in, all in bathing suits. Although the town in which the story takes place is near the beach, the A & P is in an area where it is not common for this sort of thing to occur. It is also worth noting that the story takes place in the fifties, thus three girls wearing bikinis in the middle of town is nothing short of scandalous.
Sammy watches the three closely as they move through the store. Since the story is told from a first-person prospective point of view, the reader knows exactly what Sammy is thinking as he watches the girls. He describes every aspect of them in great detail; from their physical appearances, to the way they move, to the sound of their voices. Once they have found what they came for- a jar of Kingfish Fancy Herring Snacks in Pure Sour Cream- they head for the checkout aisle.
Much to Sammy’s delight they come to his register. As he rings up their purchase, the store manager Lengel notices the girls and approaches them. He tells them that it is against store policy for them to walk around the store in their bathing suits. The girls protest slightly but Lengel tells them to come in properly dressed next time. Sammy finishes the transaction and as the girls are leaving turns to Lengel and quits.
He does this hoping the girls will hear him and be grateful to him for standing up for them. If they did hear him then they paid no attention. They exit the store leaving Sammy to deal with the repercussions of his actions. Although Lengel, who knows Sammy’s parents well, tries to talk him out of it, Sammy realizes that it would be fatal not to follow through. He removes his apron and exits the store, a martyr for no one, but standing firm in his decision.