The Theme of Erotic Temptation in A&P Essay Example

  • Category: Books, Literature,
  • Words: 999 Pages: 4
  • Published: 23 June 2021
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The short story “A&P” by John Updike demonstrates the psychological conflicts between a young man and his erotic temptations. In the story, Sammy, the protagonist faces sensual desires toward three young women wearing bathing suits at a local grocery store. A&P, as described in the story’s title, is a small grocery store that Sammy works for, but later decides to resign due to his impulsive nature. Sammy finds himself conflicted with the ambivalence of keeping his job or demonstrating a kind act of heroism. Sammy also emphasizes many allusions that influence his amorous desires. In essence, this psychological effect places the narrator in a romantic irony. Updike uses dramatic literature to deconstruct the psychological factors between a young boy’s sexual fantasies. 

As stated in the text, “Sammy's encounter at the A & P, rather than a simple sexual adventure, represents a genuine erotic experience, for it not only compels him to divest his subjectivity of conventional masculine ideologies especially a subjectivity rooted in sexual difference” (Bentley). This explanation provides supporting details of Sammy’s compelling behavior to male subjectivity. Updike demonstrates three angles of our narrator by using allusion, imagery and colloquial speech. ‘Queenie’, which is represented as the leader of the pack is emphasized directly through her warm and free-spirited nature. In comparison to her other two friends, which are taller and chubbier than her. The inferences of the three stereotypes provide detail of the narrator’s personal attraction. As described in the story, “There was this chunky one, with the two-piece --this one, and a tall one, with black hair that hadn't quite frizzed right, and then the third one, that wasn't quite so tall. She was the queen.” (Updike), Sammy continues to describe the girls with less emphasis on the other two but highlighting the beauty of Queenie. He mentions her long ‘Prima Donna legs’ and makes a symbolic reference of her chest being smooth ice cream scoops. 

“Even though Sammy is still partly bound by conventional masculine ideology—he compares Queenie’s breasts to scoops of vanilla ice cream—that is, he still, to some degree, sees the girls as sexual objects.” (Bentley) This figurative connotation of comparing the salacious qualities of a group of young girls signifies the narrator’s sensual and analytic views. Sammy whom is facing the temptation of wanting these girls but still keeping his impulsion at rest. He wraps his mind around each girl and creates the illusion of them being the only ones in the store. The narrator seemingly finds himself looking through a glass window of a shopping mall. This attraction creates conflict as the narrator’s personal interest clashes with his devotion of character. His interest of being a young male with hormones but his position as a supermarket employee. 

In addition, Updike also uses a comparison between Stokesie who is represented as Sammy’s Co-worker, as being all tied up. In other words, Stokesie who has a wife and two kids may not be the usual headbanger for this situation. Sammy who is nineteen years old and Stokesie being young the age of twenty-two, quickly take into comparison of how both colleagues may not carry the same interest. This analysis focuses on the social conflict between the narrator’s role as a young male who is facing erotic desires with no strings attached. “"Darling," I said. "Hold me tight." Stokesie's married, with two babies chalked up on his fuselage already, but as far as I can tell that's the only difference. He's twenty-two, and I was nineteen this April.” (Updike)

In this indication the narrator points out the response to Stokesie’s role as a father and a husband. Stokesie being a married man is not of interest to Sammy, instead he would rather be laying back and enjoying the days of his youth. “Stokesie represents the exemplary male in our culture, and, as Sammy points out, the only difference between him and Stokesie is that Stokesie has moved one step further up the chronological and ideological ladder of conventional masculinity” (Bentley) Sammy then draws a small correlation between the regular shoppers to sheep.  “The sheep pushing their carts down the aisle -- the girls were walking against the usual traffic (not that we have one-way signs or anything)” (Updike) This reminds the reader that these girls are not only a small allusion to the narrator, but they would be something that would normally seem out of place to everyday reality. This short detail creates an indication that the everyday shoppers are completely invisible against these girls. The girls again are in bathing suits, so this brings the attention that this image may seem much more out of place. “We can think of Sammy's narrative as Updike's gesture to give Eros a form that will both ennoble and extend it as an aesthetic pleasure--while intensifying the impossibility of that desire's completing itself in anything other than art” (Saldivar)  

Lengel who is the antagonist of the story is represented as Sammy’s manager. He creates a short conflict with the girls and ruins the opportunity for Sammy. “Feeling figuratively castrated, Lengel—the executor of power and authority in the A & P— evokes an image of an insect which suggests Lengel’s figurative loss of manhood and humanity.” (Bentley) Lengel reminds the girls where they are and what they are doing is wrong. In this case, this creates a discomfort to the allusion and the erotic experience becomes somewhat conventional. Sammy then reacts by quitting his job simply to make a statement for these young girls but later going unnoticed. Although he finds himself alone in the parking lot of the A&P, he somewhat feels boisterous for his actions. 

In the end, we can suggest that the girls coming to the grocery store contributed to the rebellion of Sammy. Although many other contributing factors have led to the impetuous action of Sammy resigning, it was all illustrated through the of liberation of manhood. Consequently, Sammy takes time to realize the everyday events that seem to occur outside A&P. The girls who came in with swimsuits may be used as a symbolic reference to the beach or the yearning of youth. This may seem odd to the narrator but compelling for his masculine nature. As a young adult, he found himself surrounded with people who won’t understand his reasons for his action, but he stood with integrity. The conflict between the social and psychological factors are sexual desires and everyday people. The mental state of a young man in a social setting creates conflict and moral sensitivity.



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