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John Updikes best known most anthologized and most frequently taught short story A P first appeared in The New Yorker 22 July 1961 22-24 a publication that assumes a reader with considerable literary and cultural knowledge Updike for whom literature and art have been intertwined since youth1 uses allusions to art and to art criticism to give the informed reader of A P the experience of dramatic irony as a means toward constructing significance for the story The popularity of A P rests on a number of ironic ambiguities2 but the reader who perceives Updikes allusions to art can take special pleasure in the plot which leaves the nineteen-year-old narrator and protagonist Sammy feeling at the end both triumphant and sad both winner and loser The setting is a small town north of Boston around 1960 Sammy is trying to clarify why he has impulsively quit his job as a cashier in the local A P supermarket He needs a sympathetic listener or reader someone who will grasp the meaning he is constructing for himself as he puts his actions into narrative order Collapsing past and present in rapid yet reflective colloquial speech Sammy tells how three teenage girls barefoot in bathing suits came into the A P store to make a purchase As they move through the aisles Sammy from his work station first ogles them and then idealizes the prettiest and most confident of the three He names her to himself Queenie and though he jokes with his fellow cashier about the girls sexiness he is quietly disgusted by the butchers frankly lustful gaze as the girls search for what they want to buy Worse is his managers puritanical rebuke for their beach attire as Queenie pays Sammy for her purchase Outraged that his ma nager Lengel has made that pretty girl blush and wanting to demonstrate his refusal of such demeaning authority Sammy quits his
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