The setting of A & P is quite usual for a regular grocery store on a weekday. The town is north of Boston, five miles from the beach. Since the store is right in the middle of town, banks and churches and the newspaper store can been seen from the front doors. The day is Thursday, so there is not very much business. Outside, the sun can be seen on the pavement. The main character, Sammy, is almost nineteen years old and his coworker, Stokesie, is twenty-two and married. The manager, Lengel, is gray and teaches Sunday school. The setting in John Updike s story, A & P , is used as a way to show humor and realism.
Updike uses the setting in a way to show humor. In the beginning, Sammy is ringing up an older woman s groceries when three bathing suit clad girls walk in. Sammy, of course, forgets what he is doing momentarily, and rings up a box of HiHo crackers twice and the old woman catches the mistake (Updike 316). She s one of these cash-register-watchers, a witch about fifty with rouge on her cheekbones and no eyebrows, and I know it made her day to trip me up, Sammy thinks about the old woman (Updike 316). Updike also makes humorous descriptions of all the other customers. They are referred to as sheep because of the way they move about the store without anything on their minds except what is on their lists (Updike 318).
The setting also gives a sense of realism in the story, making everything described easily seen by a reader. Updike describes items in the store very vividly. As Sammy is watching the girls make their way through the store, they go in the [C]at-and-dog-food-breakfast-cereal-macaroni-rice-raisins-seasonings-spreads-spaghetti-soft-drinks-crackers-and-cookies aisle (Updike 317). The girls also pass a Pyramid of Diet Delight peaches (Updike 318).
The reason the girls even make the journey into the store is for a can of Kingfish Fancy Herring Snacks in Pure Sour Cream (Updike 319). The sounds made by the cash register also make the story have a sense of realism as Updike sings the cash register song:
I go through the punches, 4,9, GROC, TOT- it s more complicated than you think, and after you do it often enough, it begind to make a little song, that you hear words to, in my case Hello (bing) there, you (gung) hap-py pee-pul (splat)! -the splat being the drawer flying out. (319)
The most realistic point in the story is when the three girls are described. First, the short one is seen by Sammy as Updike so explains:
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 tops of the backs of her legs. (316)
Then, Updike describes the tall one as being: [W]ith black hair that hadn t quite frizzed right, and one of these sunburns right across under the eyes, and a chin that was too long-you know, the kind of girl other girls think is very striking and attractive but never quite makes it….(317)
[A]nd then the third one….She was the queen. She had on a dirty-pink…bathing suit with a little nubble all over it and…the straps were down. They were off her shoulders looped loose around the cool tops of her arms, and I guess as a result the suit has slipped a little on her so all around the top of the cloth there was this shining rim….[I]t was more than pretty. (317)
In the end of the story, Lengel tells the girls that are not to come back in the store unless they have their shoulders covered. Sammy believes this talk is too harse for the three lovely ladies, so he decides to become their hero. He tells Lengel that he is quiting. He then takes off his apron, folds it and places A & P s bowtie on top. As he walks out the door into the parking lot, into the hot sun, he realizes how hard life will soon be for him. Lengel probably views this statement as immature, but to Sammy, he is standing up for what he belives in.