Free Essay On Multiple Conflicts In Plot Development: A&P By John Updike

Type of paper: Essay

Topic: Ethics, Morality, Conflict, Literature, Women, Objective, Workplace, Environment

Pages: 3

Words: 825

Published: 2020/11/28


Highly-acclaimed American writer John Updike is, in several ways, a man unafraid of baring his moral background in his works, many of which are written and presented in ways that place his characters in a state of conflict against others, nature and himself – all of which having centered on the issue of morality (Schopen 523-525). The profoundly Christian upbringing of Updike have strongly influenced his works, all of which provide specific aspects highlighting the agency of the human conscience affecting his characters (Schopen 526). Human conscience, in the context of the works of Updike, is thus dependent on two kinds of morality cited by Schopen (526-527): objective and subjective. Objective morality, according to Schopen (526), constitutes the sacredness of structures that dictate order, including social norms, laws and biblical teachings. On the other hand, Schopen (526-527) explained that subjective morality involves faculties of human reasoning that aim to avert suffering, notwithstanding inconsistencies with prevailing normative structures. Updike, in saying that he does not “see either [objective or subjective morality] as being perfect,” has effectively set up his main crux for conflict in his works based on the fight for ascendancy between objective and subjective morality (Schopen 527). A&P, one of the most well-known works of Updike, effectively exhibits the dynamics of said moral ambiguity through the multiple conflicts faced by the main character, Sammy. The story stands out as a clear-cut effort of Updike to reveal how both objective and subjective morality has prompted Sammy, a cash register at A&P, to engage in conflict against his manager Lengel, his environment inside the store, and his own desires.
Conflict One: Sammy vs. Lengel (Man vs. Man)
The conflict between Sammy and Lengel is prevalent in A&P, one that has been triggered by three scantily-clad women customers who they came to admire sexually but nonetheless approached differently. Sammy, whose captivation towards the most beautiful of the three women, which he nicknamed Queenie, became the main theme of the story, compromised both his professional and personal relationship with Lengel who, aside from being his manager, has also been a longtime friend of his parents. In what one may regard as a strong display of dissent mightily influenced by desire for Queenie, Sammy announced his decision to quit his job as a cash register by putting away his bow and apron, despite attempts by Lengel to hold him off. Lengel, described by Sammy as a rule-based Sunday school teacher, stands out as an agent of objective morality in the story, as seen in the way he scolded the three women for violating company policy against revealing clothing (Porter 1157-1158). Such has been countered by the subjective morality exhibited by Sammy, as the spellbinding appeal of Queenie led him to think of Lengel as an oppressive figure. Due to that, Sammy quit his job without any tinge of hesitation, with the relationship Lengel has with his parents proving inadequate to make him think twice (Saldivar 221-222).
Conflict Two: Sammy vs. A&P (Man vs. Nature)
Sammy is also at loggerheads with his environment in A&P. Reflective of the postwar prosperity enjoyed by the United States (US), A&P provides a superficial backdrop of consumerism Sammy has grown to disdain throughout the story, judging by the way he thought of the place as a tacky one that always left him and his coworkers, Lengel, McMahon the butcher and fellow cash register Stokesie included, easily falling for matters that would snap them out of their boredom. Such is particularly exemplified by the way the three women has caused a stir inside the store, which left even Stokesie, a married man, to ogle at them alongside Sammy, a young bachelor (Porter 1157-1158). The conservative norms prevalent in the story also caused Sammy to rebel against his environment, mainly elicited by the way Lengel cited company policy in condemning the outfits worn by the three women. In addition to that, the customary respect Sammy was obliged to observe towards Lengel, being both his manager and friend of his parents, pushed him to the brink of rebellion in the form of quitting his job. The decision of Sammy to depart the store is thus his way of breaking free from the environment in the story (Saldivar 223-224).
Conflict Three: Sammy vs. Himself (Man vs. Himself)
The conflict with Sammy against himself in A&P posits several connections with his estranged associations with Lengel and his environment inside the store. Given the fact that Sammy was overcome with his desire towards Queenie, his decision to quit his job for that ultimately cost him, leaving his future out in the open. Contextualizing that are the following aspects: the friendship shared by the parents of Sammy with Lengel, his career prospects and the reaction he wanted to elicit from the three women, particularly Queenie (Saldivar 221-222). Moreover, the fact that Sammy thought of Queenie as someone who belongs in a world contrasting to his led him vulnerable but nonetheless unfazed. Sammy presumed that Queenie hails from an upper-class background because she purchased herring flakes – a product considered as an upscale one, yet that did not deter his desire for her. Therefore, the decision of Updike to leave such matters open-endedly has further emphasized how the efforts of Sammy to impress the three women and catch the attention of Queenie, specifically, by appearing to come to their defense through rebelling against Lengel have been left in vain. At the end of the story, Sammy has been left alone to figure out for himself what the future holds for him as he broke free by quitting his job (Saldivar 222-223).


The mastery of Updike in emphasizing on moral ambiguity to characterize multiple conflicts has been thoroughly exhausted in A&P. The importance of understanding the conflicts faced by Sammy against Lengel, his environment inside the store and himself centers on the essence of seeing through the dynamics set by objective and subjective morality. Whether or not Sammy was right in quitting his job is a matter best addressed by the views elicited by constructions relating to the dynamics of moral ambiguity – neither a rule-based decision nor a move triggered by the senses stand as a perfect solution (Schopen 527).

Works Cited

Porter, M. Gilbert. "John Updike’s ‘A&P’: The Establishment and An Emersonian Cashier." The English Journal 61.8 (1972): 1155-1158. Print.
Saldivar, Toni. "The Art of Jon Updike’s ‘A&P.’" Studies in Short Fiction 34.2 (1997): 215-225. Print.
Schopen, Bernard. "Faith, Morality, and the Novels of John Updike." Twentieth Century Literature 24.4 (1978): 523-535. Print.

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