Study Guide

A&P Society and Class

By John Updike

Society and Class

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. (5)

Sammy sees most of the people in his world as passive followers – they even navigate the store in the same direction. Sammy dislikes this uniform, homogenized society and enjoys seeing its boring order disrupted.

What he meant was, our town is five miles from a beach, with a big summer colony out on the Point, but we're right in the middle of town, and the women generally put on a shirt or shorts or something before they get out of the car into the street. And anyway these are usually women with six children and varicose veins mapping their legs and nobody, including them, could care less. (10)

Sammy is suggesting that life in town is very different from life out at the beach. Nudity, it seems, is more acceptable the closer you get to the beach, and beachgoers have a very different social scene than those who live in town.

As I say, we're right in the middle of town, and if you stand at our front doors you can see two banks and the Congregational church and the newspaper store and three real-estate offices. (10)

This brief description of the neighborhood lets us know that the store is in a conservative area, where bathing suits in public are definitely frowned upon.

"My mother asked me to pick up a jar of herring snacks." Her voice kind of startled me, the way voices do when you see the people first, coming out so flat and dumb yet kind of tony, too, the way it ticked over "pick up" and "snacks." All of a sudden I slid right down her voice into her living room. Her father and the other men were standing around in ice-cream coats and bow ties and the women were in sandals picking up herring snacks on toothpicks off a big plate and they were all holding drinks the color of water with olives and sprigs of mint in them. (14)

Sammy constructs an elaborate fantasy of Queenie's life here. He sees her as rich, sophisticated, and used to the finer things in life. Her social status seems to be part of what makes her attractive to Sammy.

When my parents have somebody over they get lemonade and if it's a real racy affair Schlitz in tall glasses with "They'll Do It Every Time" cartoons stenciled on. (15)

In contrast to Queenie, Sammy is from a working-class family that drinks beer, not fancy cocktails. The difference between his and Queenie's socioeconomic class makes for an interesting contrast. Without speaking, they work together to protest Lengel's conservatism, rudeness, and bullying. The story suggests that different classes can work together to promote greater freedoms for all.