The Importance of Character, Theme, Symbolism, Setting, and Morality in "A&p"

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About this sample

About this sample


Words: 825 |

Pages: 2|

5 min read

Published: Jan 29, 2024

Words: 825|Pages: 2|5 min read

Published: Jan 29, 2024

Table of contents

  1. Analysis of the Characters
  2. Theme Analysis
  3. Symbolism and Imagery
  4. Setting and Atmosphere
  5. Religious and Moral Elements
  6. Conclusion

John Updike's short story "A&P" follows a teenage boy named Sammy as he quits his job at a grocery store after it puts him in a moral dilemma. This essay will analyze the literary elements of character, theme, symbolism, setting, and morality in "A&P" and their significance in creating the story's deeper meaning.

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Analysis of the Characters

The three main characters in the story are Sammy, the protagonist; Queenie, the leader of the group of girls who enter the store in their bathing suits; and Lengel, Sammy's boss. Sammy is a typical teenager who is critical of his mundane job and feels out of place in his small town. Queenie is the embodiment of beauty and class, representing the fantasies and desires of Sammy's youth. Lastly, Lengel is a disciplinarian who represents the rigid society that Sammy is rebelling against.

The roles of these characters are significant in the progression of the story. Sammy's actions and decisions drive the plot. Queenie's appearance and behavior challenge Sammy's own values and generate a conflict between him and Lengel. Lengel's actions represent the consequences of Sammy's rebellion and the societal norms that he is contending with.

The character development throughout the plot is subtle, but significant. Sammy matures as he is forced to confront the reality of his situation, and Queenie and Lengel remain static, representing the unchangeable elements of society that Sammy must come to terms with.

Theme Analysis

The main themes in "A&P" are coming of age, individualism, and the conflict between conformity and rebellion. The theme of coming of age is evident in Sammy's realization that his actions have consequences and his transformation from a naive teenager to a more mature adult. The theme of individualism is present in Sammy's rebellion against the societal expectations placed on him and his desire to be free from the constraints of conformity. Finally, the conflict between conformity and rebellion is the overarching theme, as Sammy's actions represent a rebellion against the rigidity of societal norms.

The deeper meaning behind these themes is the struggle for personal identity and finding one's place in society. Sammy's rebellion represents the eternal human search for individualism, while Lengel's actions represent the societal response to nonconformity.

Symbolism and Imagery

The most significant symbolic element in the story is the bathing suits worn by Queenie and her friends, which represent freedom, beauty, and desire. The bathing suits also represent the summertime and the fleeting nature of youth, as the girls will soon go back to their regular lives.

The imagery used in the story creates a vivid picture of the setting, which is integral to the plot. The descriptions of the store and the town are used to contrast the vibrant and colorful world of Queenie and the girls with the dull and drab world of the working class.

The author's use of symbolism and imagery enhances the reader's understanding of the story by providing a deeper layer of meaning to the characters and their actions.

Setting and Atmosphere

The setting of "A&P" is a small town grocery store, located in a working-class neighborhood. This setting is important in establishing the contrast between the mundane world of the working class and the fantastical world of the girls in their bathing suits. The atmosphere of the story is tense and uncomfortable, as Sammy is put in a moral dilemma by the entrance of the girls into the store.

The setting and atmosphere contribute to the overall mood of the story, which is one of disillusionment and uncertainty. Sammy's rebellion represents the search for a new way of life, but the consequences of his actions are uncertain and possibly damaging.

Religious and Moral Elements

The religious and moral elements in "A&P" are subtle but significant. Sammy is struggling with a moral dilemma, deciding whether to follow the expectations of society or follow his own desires. This struggle represents the conflict between good and evil, right and wrong, which are central to religious and moral ideology.

The characters' beliefs about right and wrong are also evident in their actions. Lengel represents the strict moral code of society, while Sammy's rebellion represents a questioning of these beliefs. The author's portrayal of religious and moral themes suggests that the pursuit of personal happiness is a more noble goal than conforming to societal norms.

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In conclusion, John Updike's short story "A&P" is a poignant literary work that explores the themes of coming of age, individualism, and the conflict between conformity and rebellion. The character development, symbolism and imagery, setting and atmosphere, and religious and moral elements all contribute to the story's deeper meaning and significance.

  1. Updike, John. "A&P". The New Yorker, 22 July 1961,
  2. Wilson, Lee E. John Updike's Human Comedy: Comic Morality in "A&P", "Couples", and "Rabbit, Run". University of Alabama Press, 1995.
  3. Nathanson, Tenaya. "Queer Updike." Arizona Quarterly: A Journal of American Literature, Culture, and Theory, vol. 61, no. 4, 2005, pp. 103-30. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/arq.2006.0007.
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The Importance of Character, Theme, Symbolism, Setting, and Morality in “A&P”. (2024, January 29). GradesFixer. Retrieved April 13, 2024, from
“The Importance of Character, Theme, Symbolism, Setting, and Morality in “A&P”.” GradesFixer, 29 Jan. 2024,
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