The essential self is innocent, and when it tastes its own innocence knows that it lives forever. -John Updike (b. 1932), U. S. author, critic. Self-Consciousness: Memoirs, ch. 1 (1989)- Innocence is a quality that is often taken for granted and abused. We never know when we lose it and it is seemingly gone forever. We are ignorant of our innocence until we realize that it has left us. Innocence is not ignorance, however it lacks knowledge in the same manner. It is based more on naivety or rather, the lack of experience we have.
In John Updike’s “A&P” the innocent of a local grocery store break through their blindness and daily routines in order to shed some light onto part of reality that they have been missing. This loss of innocence, and realization of such a loss, is John Updike’s central theme in “A&P”. “A&P” starts with three girls walking into a grocery store wearing only bathing suits and immediately catching the eye of a young, nineteen year old named Sammy. The girls and Sammy are innocent yet in different ways. The girls seemed to be different to Sammy as they looked and acted as though they did not live in his town.
The girls were ignorant of Sammy’s local culture as they seemingly had spent the day at the beach, and had not lived in his town nor spent much time in it at all. “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”(79). John Updike has Sammy describe these girls in such great detail in order to point out there untouched nature. These girls did not wear any make up, and they barely had any clothes on at all.
They had nothing to hide themselves from those who chose to judge them in this local everday grocery store. With this discription Sammy shows how these girls were able to upset the permance of the store by not conforming to dress code of the store. But how can one be guilty of something if they don’t know what they have done wrong? This is one of Updike’s main points. The girls are innocent because they do not know about any dress code, therefore they don’t even think twice about walking in the store with bathing suits on.
These girls walked calmly and with a certain poise that showed that they were not nervous and felt no embarrassment. Their confiedence clearly demonstrates that these three girls had no realization that they had violated a domestic folkway. By violating the custom of this humble town, these girls find their innocence to be stolen by the natives as their entire existence is judged solely on their appearance. Sammy sizes one of them up when he said “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” (80). On no basis besides her looks, Sammy completely took away the innocence osf this girl’s persona by inventing one in his mind. However, Sammy comes to realize that he was not alone in sizing up the girls when he says, ” Mcmahon was 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”(81). Not only were these young girls being judged, they were losing some of their sexual innocence as young and old men alike check them out as they paraded themselves throughout the store.
Not only were men watching them, but housewives in the A&P can’t help looking either. The people who were startled by these girls were described by Sammy as sheep. I believe he called them sheep because these peoples’ innocence was based upon their routines. “The sheep pushing their carts down the aisle- the girls were walking against the usual traffic- were pretty hilarious”(80). The status quo of this small town was disrupted by these girls in many different ways which led the sheep to become frozen from this tremor in their routine.
Sammy’s town daily consisted of local women and their children running erons, doing chores, goig to school, and many other common place routines of the “typical” late fifties suburban life. The girls did not fit into this town’s innocent everyday habits and they turn the world upside down for the sheep, even though they were just their for minutes. In those few minutes, the girls were also judged by what they were witnessed purchasing. Queenie, as Sammy calls her, picked up some herring snacks like her mother had asked her to.
Simply by looking at that jar of herring snacks Sammy determines for himself what Queenie’s home life must be like and he describes what an event in her living room as, “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 glass plate and they were all holding drinksthe color of water with olives and sprigs of mint in them” (81). Therefore Sammy has decided that just by purchasing herring snacks, Queenie is from a higher socioeconomic backround.
When the girls are finally confronted about the display they had put on for the entire store, they are surprised. Lengel, the store manager approaches them and tells them that they have to be decent when they come into A&P. However, according to the girls, they are decently dressed and they really don’t understand what the problems is as they are unaware of the rules of the store. The manager embarrassed the three girs when he made a scence out of their appearance and they quickly left the store after sammy rang up their purchase.
The purchase, the fact that the girls had not known what they’ve done and Lengel yelling at the girls made Sammy rashly quit his job. Sammy quit in order to be the girls’ hero, and to show the town that the girls had done nothing wrong. However, he didn’t accomplish those two goals, instead he realized what happened to his own innocence. His job was taking away his innocent youthful ways. His bowtie and apron strip of the chance to be as free as the girls who he admired. John Updike’s “A&P” shows how one disruption in our lives can show us that in some ways we are still innocent and in other ways we have had innocence taken away by others.
The girls, Sammy, and the customers of the store are all shown their fragile innocence in just a few minutes. The girls were na ve of local folkways. Sammy was stuck in a job and his youth was abused by the grocery store. The sheep whose entire lives could be summed by one day of their lives were shown that different things could happen. All these people were innocent in some way and had it stolen by each other and only after something changed their routines did they realize what they lost.