Study Guide

A&P Appearances

By John Updike


She kept her eyes moving across the racks, and stopped, and turned so slow it made my stomach rub the inside of my apron, and buzzed to the other two, who kind of huddled against her for relief. (5)

The girls in bathing suits are definitely attracting some attention. In 1961, when this story was published, it was not OK to name certain body parts or talk about sex explicitly in magazines like The New Yorker. Here Sammy is trying to tell us that he becomes sexually excited from looking at Queenie.

"Oh Daddy," Stokesie said beside me. "I feel so faint." (7)

Stokes might be a married man, but he's not immune to the sight of girls in bathing suits. Do you think the girls would be flattered, offended, or both if they heard this conversation? Is it or is it not disrespectful to talk about women in this way?

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) – were pretty hilarious. You could see them, when Queenie's white shoulders dawned on them, kind of jerk, or hop, or hiccup, but their eyes snapped back to their own baskets and on they pushed. (5)

Sammy has fun watching the regular customers react to the girls in bathing suits. He wants to see things stirred up in this town.

All that was left for us to see was old McMahon patting his mouth and looking after them sizing up their joints. Poor kids, I began to feel sorry for them, they couldn't help it. (11)

When Sammy sees McMahon looking at the girls like prey, he realizes that, while daring, the girls' appearance might actually be putting them in a dangerous or uncomfortable situation. This moment also marks a turning point in the story: afterward, things become more serious.

"That makes no difference," Lengel tells her, and I could see from the way his eyes went that he hadn't noticed she was wearing a two-piece before. "We want you decently dressed when you come in here." (17)

Lengel definitely does not approve of the girls' appearance and doesn't hesitate to make this known. Why do you think he feels the need to make his point so strongly? Why does he think bathing suits are indecent? Do you agree with him? Why or why not?

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