Study Guide


By John Updike


  • The narrator of "A&P" is checking groceries when he realizes that three girls in bathing suits have entered the store.
  • First he notices the well-built girl with the shiny green plaid bikini. She's a little… distracting.
  • He loses his grocery-checking rhythm and accidentally rings up a woman's crackers twice. Oops. She gets upset, but the narrator calms her down (while mentally cursing her).
  • Next he's back to watching the girls stroll barefoot through the store.
  • In addition to the girl in the green plaid bikini, there is a tall girl with frizzy hair whom the narrator doesn't find attractive.
  • The third girl is the one he really likes. She's the obvious leader of the trio and carries herself like a proud queen.
  • She probably knows that the 19-year-old narrator and his 22-year-old coworker, Stokesie, are watching her every move, practically drooling, but she doesn't spare them a glance.
  • Stokesie is married with two kids and might be manager of the A&P some day.
  • The girls are walking in the opposite direction from most of the other shoppers. The narrator has fun seeing their shocked faces when they see the skimpily clad girls under the fluorescent lights.
  • We learn that the A&P is in the middle of this Massachusetts town, and the beach is about five miles away… far enough that people usually put clothes on before they come into the store.
  • The narrator sees McMahon giving the girls lustful looks as they pass the meat counter and starts "to feel sorry for them" (10).
  • Eventually the girls find what they are looking for and get in the narrator's checkout line.
  • Queenie (as the narrator has taken to thinking of the leader of the trio) puts a jar of "Kingfish Fancy Herring Snacks in Pure Sour Cream" (11) in his hand.
  • She takes a dollar bill out of her bathing suit top. Yep, the narrator is really enjoying this.
  • But then the manager of the store, Lengel, busts in.
  • He sees the girls and immediately informs them that they are not at the beach. (Yeah, obviously.) And if they want to come back into the store again, they better dress right.
  • Queenie and the girl in the plaid suit defend themselves, but Lengel is not swayed. He tells the narrator, whom he calls Sammy, to charge them for their snacks.
  • Sammy gives Queenie her change and her herring snacks.
  • Then Sammy tells Lengel he's quitting his job. He says it loud so the girls can hear, but they don't turn around.
  • Lengel tells Sammy that quitting will practically ruin his life. But Sammy isn't about to turn back now. He hands over his A&P apron and bow tie and heads out into the parking lot.
  • Sadly, the girls have already fled the scene.
  • Sammy watches Lengel through the windows. He's checking groceries in Sammy's lane and looks stiff and hard. Sammy "[feels] how hard the world [is] going to be to [him] hereafter"(31).
  • And that's the end of the story. For some Shmoopy thoughts, see "What's Up With the Ending?"

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