Study Guide

A&P Gender

By John Updike

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You never know for sure how girls' minds work (do you really think it's a mind in there or just a little buzz like a bee in a glass jar?) [...]. (2)

Comments like this one make Sammy seem like something of a macho guy who doesn't credit women with having brains. But Sammy's actions and some of his other thoughts show that he does in fact respect females, but he's only just beginning to understand what they are about.

She must have felt in the corner of her eye me and over my shoulder Stokesie in the second slot watching, but she didn't tip. Not this queen. (5)

Here Sammy is gaining respect for Queenie based on the way she carries herself. He admires her, but there's still something a tad condescending in his tone.

"Girls, I don't want to argue with you. After this come in here with your shoulders covered. It's our policy." He turns his back. (17)

Lengel, a man, is essentially claiming that he is more qualified than the girls to decide what is appropriate attire. He uses the plural "our" to suggest that he represents the perspective of the rest of the store, maybe even the community.

The girls, and who'd blame them, are in a hurry to get out, so I say "I quit" to Lengel quick enough for them to hear, hoping they'll stop and watch me, their unsuspected hero. (22)

Updike describes this moment as an act of "feminist protest." Do you agree?

They keep right on going, into the electric eye; the door flies open and they flicker across the lot to their car, Queenie and Plaid and Big Tall Goony-Goony (not that as raw material she was so bad), leaving me with Lengel and a kink in his eyebrow. (22)

Some readers feel that Sammy's not-so-nice way of thinking about the girls undermines his act and casts doubt on his motivations. What do you think?

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