The setting and the point of view of a story are both very important tools used to convey an
author's meaning. This can be demonstrated by the fact that if one or both of these characteristics are
changed, the story's content and meaning can be altered beyond recognition. In particular, neither the
setting nor the point of view in John Updike's "A&P" could be changed without losing the meaning of the
story or without having the same effect on the reader.
For example, in "A&P", John Updike places us in the familiar surroundings of a grocery store.
This setting is very important to the story because many people have worked in similar settings, and are
familiar with the redundancy of the work on a daily basis. Nothing seems to change in the store, and as a
result, any variation from the normal routine is quickly noticed and often welcomed by employees.
Sammy, a grocery store cashier at the A & P, sees his surroundings as being mundane and non-interesting.
Indeed, he seems to be so bored with his work that he has created a fantasy world, in which he envisions
himself as being superior to the ordinary customers who patron the store. He constantly gives non-personal
or animal characteristics to many of the customers in an attempt to make his surroundings a little more
pleasant and humoring.
For example, Sammy refers to one customer as a "witch", and to many others as different types of animals.
At one point, he states that "[t]he sheep pushing their carts down the aisle -- the girls were walking against
the traffic... were pretty hilarious." (705) As is evident from this passage, Sammy refers to the ordinary
crowd as sheep on a farm, but to the newcomer girls as real people with human characteristics. He gives
them human characteristics, as opposed to the non-personal characteristics that he gives to others, because
he feels that he can actually relate with the girls.
However, if this story were to be set in some location other than a grocery store, readers would not be able
to understand the monotony of Sammy's daily life. Further, if the story were to take place in some other
location, where it wasn't so unusual to have girls walking around in bathing suits and bare feet, then readers
might not be able to understand why Sammy relates so well to these three girls. He explains that "[y]ou
know, it's one thing to have a girl in a bathing suit down on the beach, where what with the glare nobody
can look at each other much anyway...and another thing in the cool of the A&P . . . . " (706) Sammy also
added that most of the customers who patroned the store were "women with six children and varicose veins
mapping their legs" (707).
Thus, the particular setting that Updike uses enables the reader to understand why Sammy subsequently
fought to become liberated from the grocery store and why he chose to quit. He saw a break in his
monotonous life, and wanted to take the first reason that came along to quit. Readers can understand his
desire to do so because Updike acquaints them so well with Sammy's boring surroundings in the grocery
Furthermore, Updike also uses point of view as an important mechanism to convey the meaning of
his story. Readers can trust the validity of Sammy's point of view, because of the concrete details that he
provides to support his thoughts and beliefs. The imagery used in the story is delivered through Sammy's
prospective, and it tells readers that Sammy has an eye for detail. For instance, he spends a considerable
amount of time describing the three girls, whose appearance at the store quickly becomes the highlight of
his day. He even describes the outfit that one girl wears as "...a kind of dirty-pink - beige maybe, I don't
know - bathing suit with a little nubble all over it, and what got me, the straps were down." (705) He is
very descriptive when talking about these unusual girls, as opposed to the vague details that he used to
describe the ordinary crowd. Further, Sammy refers to most of the regular customers as animals, such as
"sheep" or "scared