Adolescence is a time of mistakes. It is a median between childhood and adulthood. It is a time where one learns about life through unfortunate occurrences and sad endings. Unfortunately, adolescence is the only pathway to adulthood. The experience of failure causes the destruction of one’s naïveté, which forces them to mature through adolescence.
In John Updike’s “A&P” the main character Sammy is extremely naïve. At his job, Sammy notices the things that would most matter to someone of adolescence. Unlike a mature adult, he observes the customers in the store and breaks them down based on their physical appearance. He notices three girls.
“In walks these three girls in nothing but bathing suits…the one that caught my eye first was the one in the plaid green two-piece. She was a chunky kid, with a good tan and a sweet broad soft-looking can with those two crescents of white just under it, where the sun never seems to hit, at the top of the backs of her legs.” (page 249)
Instead of concentrating on his work he immediately breaks the first girl down by how she looks. Everything from her skin color to her butt is notably observed. This is the first sign of his naïveté. He is blissfully unaware of his duties at work. He remarks that he was distracted and it caused him trouble within his job. “I stood there with my hand on a box of HiHo crackers trying to remember if I rang it up or not. I rang it up again and the customer starts giving me hell.” (page 249) The “hell” that Sammy experienced is the failure. He will probably pay more attention to work next time and avoid being naive about his job.
Unfortunately, Sammy is extremely naïve and so he doesn’t learn his lesson the first time. He continues observing the next two girls in the same manner. He breaks down their appearances from head to toe.
“By the time I get her on her way the girls had circled around the bread and were coming back…they didn’t even have shoes on…there was this one, with one of those chubby berry-faces, the lips all bunched together under her nose, this one, and a tall one, with black hair that hadn’t quite frizzed right…and one of these sunburns right across under the eyes…” (page 249)
Even after getting into trouble with one of the customers, he goes right back to focusing on something that he shouldn’t be while he is at work. This shows that the previous lesson he learned was not a big enough failure for him to thoroughly destroy his naïveté. Sammy observes the third girl and basically falls in love.
“She was the queen…she had on a kind of dirty-pink—beige maybe, I don’t know—bathing suit…what got me, the straps were down…she had a sort of oaky hair that the sun and salt had bleached…she lifted a folded dollar bill out of the hollow at the center of her nubbled pink top…I thought it was so cute.” (pages 250-251)
Updike uses over half the story to emphasize how foolish and naïve Sammy is because he is willing to stalk the girl while she walks through out the store and describe everything she does with great detail. Ironically, Sammy and his friend, Stokiesie, joke around about the girls. They state: “Oh Daddy…I feel so faint…Darling…Hold me tight.” (page 250) They mock how much they care about the girls’ appearance. This is ironic because Sammy ends up getting screwed over by the girls that he is mocking because of how attractive one of them looks.
The manager of the store, Lengel, ends up yelling at the girls for being improperly dressed. This is a contrast between Sammy’s adolescence and Lengel’s maturity - Sammy admires the girls and Lengel condemns them. In this situation (and in most) the mature and focused person is the manager and the adolescent unfocused person is the clerk. This is no coincidence. These things show that Sammy is still naïve and Lengel has already gone through the process of adolescence.
As the girls leave the store in embarrassment, Sammy tells Lengel…