Comparing A P To Supermarket California

Comparing A & P to Supermarket California
“A&P”, by John Updike, has many unique and fruitful layers to just one simple short story. Given the story is placed in a supermarket as is “A Supermarket in California”, written by Allen Ginsberg, the stories lead off in two different directions, but have several similar qualities that stay the same. These two short stories are not what they appear at first glance we’ll unfold each layer one by one seeking similarities and differences to help us learn more about the author, the times it was written in, and the story the author is trying tell itself.
Both “Supermarket California” and “A&P” were both published in the 1960’s to early 1970’s and both were written/based in the early and late 1950’s (219). Seeing as they were writing so close together it’s no surprise they are similar in so many ways. When Ginsberg wrote “A Supermarket in California” there was a change in the times. Grocery stores like supermarkets started sprouting up and businesses were prospering (Semesky, par. 2) He resented everything that had to do with commercialism. John Updike on the other hand had another motive in mind when he wrote “A&P”. During the late 60’s sex was not talked about. A boy staring at a bunch of girls was very controversial at those times. Updike expresses a young boys sexual frustration and the awkward years of the young teens. (Semsky, par. 2 and 3)
In “A Supermarket in California” it’s apparent that Ginsberg is troubled by what society brings today. While in the supermarket Ginsberg asks “What price bananas? Who killed the pork chops?”(Ginsberg) He doesn’t like the idea of a supermarket (Pagnattaro, par. 5).. Neither does Sammy in “A&P”. Sammy works at a supermarket and can’t stand the look of it. Sammy and Ginsberg can’t stand anything about the place, especially the people. They both give off the sense of hatred for the average family that walks into a grocery store. They dislike the look of the people, and the way the shop (Porter, par. 12). Both Sammy and Ginsberg despise the average family because they themselves are not part of one. Ginsberg will never be part of the typical American family (Pagnattoar, par. 5). Sammy might be apart of one one day, but for now he just doesn’t understand. He’s a teenager who wants to do normal teenager things. Instead he’s stuck in a store with a bunch of old people and families and it drives him mad. (Porter, Pagnattoar)
Sammy and Ginsberg in “A Supermarket in California” don’t belong there. Sammy, a young man, who wouldn’t step foot in a grocery store if he didn’t work there. He’s way too young to care about a grocery store or about his job. We all remember those days when we were young and had a part-time job we didn’t care much for (Thompson, par 9). Ginsberg, an older man, walks around a grocery store and doesn’t feel like he belongs. In fact the people around him feel the same way. One man follows him around the grocery store as if he’s a thief. Ginsberg has no family to shop with so he’s not the normal type of guy that walks into a grocery store (Miller, par 10). Given this it is obvious that both characters are misfits. They just simply don’t belong. This is what makes the story interesting. (Thompson, Miller)
Another similarity between the two stories is that in both stories a character shows up that the are both deeply attracted to. The girls in “A&P” are different from anyone that usually walked into a grocery store (Updike, 220) and Walt Whitman is certainly not the usual married man that walks in (Ginsberg, 791). “I saw you Walk Whitman, childless, lonely old grubber, poking among the meats in the refrigerator and eyeing the grocery boys”(Ginsberg, 791). It’s obvious that Ginsberg and Whitman are similar in that they are different. Same goes for the girls in “A&P”. The three girls walk in wearing nothing but their bathing suits. Sammy eyes them as they walk into the store. The others shopping in the store avoid the girls. Sammy says “You could see them, when Queeni’s white shoulders dawned on them, kind of jerk, or hop, or hiccup, but their eyes snapped back to their own baskets and on they pushed.” (Updike, 221). The manager even tells them that they aren’t welcome unless they are decently dressed (Updike, 221).
Sammy is obviously sexually suppressed, as is Ginsberg. Both men are not “supposed” to have the sexual desires that they obviously have. Ginsberg is gay and living in a world that doesn’t really understand him. He follows a old dead writer Walt Whitman and dreams of him not fitting in at the grocery store. He pictures both of them traveling through the grocery store completely out of place(Miller par. 9). After the store closes he wonders, “which way does your (Whitman’s) beard point tonight?” (Ginsberg 791). As for Sammy he’s in the day and time where his sexual desires weren’t accepted, either. He was too young and sexuality wasn’t talked about at all in that day in age. He was swooned by the girls and his feelings weren’t “proper”. The girls themselves didn’t belong they were temptresses (Peltier, par. 3).
There are several small details that are almost exactly alike. For example, both the main characters are static characters. Even though usually with short stories the main character changes in some way, but in both “A Supermarket in California” and “A&P” the characters are the same in the beginning and in the end. The author is just detailing what happens on a daily basis. Both static characters seem utterly alone. Especially Ginsberg, even when Whitman walks into the grocery store he is merely an imaginary figure. At least it’s given that Sammy has family to go home too, but he’s still lonely. His parents make him work at this grocery store. He imagines going over to the “Queens” family outing and spending time with her family (Peltier, par 7) “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 plate and they were all holding drinks the color of water with olives and sprigs of mint with them” (Updike 222). He’s clearly a very lonely boy.”(Peltier, par. 6)
Even though Sammy wants “Queen” more than just about anything he doesn’t get her in the end. He quits his job for the bunch of girls, but still doesn’t get her in the end (Blodgett, par. 5). Sam goes for Ginsberg. He wants Whitman, but he can’t have him. He wants to not be all alone, but he can’t have it (Ginsberg, 791). Both characters don’t get what they want. They yearn for it throughout the whole story, but neither get it. This leaves a sad ending for two similar romantic stories.(Blodgett, Ginsberg)
Both issues these stores are touching are important today. Sammy, a sexually repressed boy, is still a sensitive issue with a lot of people in America today. When you’re that young you’re not suppose to have feelings like that. You’re suppose to play with your friends and not looks at women the way Sammy looked at the women (Peltier, par. 3) “she walked straight on slowly, on these long white prima-donna legs”(Updike 220). Ginsberg is exceptionally sexually repressed. Homosexuality is hardly accepted today much less in the 1950’s. He expresses his frustration by imagining two suspected gay poets in the grocery store with him. He also asks Walk Whitman “Which way does your beard point tonight?”(Ginsberg 791). He’s followed in the grocery store because he is “different” (Miller, par. 14). These are two issues that are still apparent today.
In both the poem and the short stories the narrators are the main character. This is necessary to tell the story properly. The narrator in “A&P” tells the story how he wants it told. Almost as if you’re his best friend and he sat down with you to tell you what happened at work today (Updike, 220-224). In “A Supermarket in California” he’s telling it in a more mysterious way. Like he’s telling a story and leaving out all the details you’re suppose to get later on (Ginsberg, 791).
One major similarity stick out while reading both stories. The negativity between both of the main characters Sammy and Ginsberg. Sammy does not say one nice thing about anyone, except the girls, throughout the entire short story. He states about a older woman he just checked out “She’d been born at the right time they would have burned her over in Salem” (Updike, 220) and to one of his co-workers “He thinks he’s going to be manager some sunny day, maybe in 1990 when it’s called the Great Alexandrov and Petrooshki Tea Company or something” (Updike, 221). His out look on most of the people around him is completely negative. Ginsberg has the same problem. The poem entirety is about his hatred for what America is becoming (Semansky, par. 5). At the end of “A Supermarket in California” he writes about America in Greek mythology riding down the boat to Hades (791).
Even thought there are so many similarities there are quite a few differences that do need to be discussed. For example, Sammy’s reasoning, why he stares at the girls, how he talks about the girls, how he talks about the people that shot there, and finally why he quits in the end is all very childish reasoning. He calls the people shopping there “sheep” and calls one lady a “witch”. He judges them unconditionally. When he sees the girls he describes their features harshly. He talks like they were made for him to see by calling one girl “chubby” and the other “the kind of girl other girls think is ‘striking’ and ‘attractive’ but never quite makes it” (Updike 218). Then he decides to quite for the girls. Clearly a childish move, he gives up his job for a couple of girls that couldn’t care less about him (Dessner, par. 7). Ginsberg on the other hand is more thought out. He has clear reasoning for everything he does. Even though he might seem like a child asking what Whitman is doing after they close he clearly has a clear path of reasoning (Semansky, par. 6).
Of course in both stories sexual desires is a huge part, but their tastes differ a bit. Sammy clearly a heterosexual by the way he judges the girls that walk into the store on that summer day (Updike, 222), and Ginsberg is clearly a homosexual by some of the wording he chooses (Miller, par. 4). Even though they are similar by the peaking sexual desires they do differ on one level (Updike, Miller)
Even though Ginsberg and Sammy both hate supermarkets they hate them for very different reasons (Updike, Miller). Sammy hates the supermarket because he works there. He hates it because every teenage boy hates a job they’re forced to work at. He hates the people that walk up to the counter and he hates the way they shop (Dessner, par. 2). Ginsberg on the other hand hates the supermarket because of the very reason it stand for. He hates commercialism (Semansky, par. 3). He hates the idea clearly stated in his poem “…. stroll dreaming of the lost America of love past blue automobiles in driveways, home to our silent cottage?”(Ginsberg 791). He obviously doesn’t like the way America has become and expressing this through a supermarket (Semansky, par. 3).
Sammy yearns for acceptance all through “A&P”. He wants to go to the girls parties. When they walk up to him he gets nervous and chokes up (Updike, 222). He might fit into the family he’s in, but he certainly doesn’t fit into the group he wants to fit into (Thompson, par. 4). Ginsberg on the other hand is a pretty big misfit and as such there is a group he would like to fit into, although he does not make it clear what group he would like to be in it is obvious that he just doesn’t belong. Given that he’s gay, hates the convenience of a grocery when most people that day in age would be very excited about the changes society has taken them (Diggory, par. 16).
Ginsberg has woven all sorts of Greek mythology into his story for example when he says “…what America did you have when Charon quit poling his ferry and you got out on a smoking bank and stood watching the boat disappear on the black waters of Lethe?” Ginsberg, 791) “Charon”, in Greek mythology refers to “the ferryman who transported the dead over the river Styx to Hades” (791) and “Lethe”, in Greek mythology refers to “In Greek mythology, the river of forgetfulness (one of five rivers in Hades)”(791). Updike’s “A&P” on the other hand did not use any referencing to Greek mythology of any kind (Updike, 219-224).
The format in both “A Supermarket in California” and “A&P” is completely different. When reading “A Supermarket in California” he uses objects and Greek mythology to describe the way he feels about certain things. He hides all his meaning in text and skirts around what he’s actually trying to say. For example “I heard you asking questions of each: who killed the pork chops? What price bananas? Are you my Angel?” (Ginsberg, 791). Insinuating what’s wrong with grocery stores. “A&P” on the other hand has a few layers that are implied in the story, but for the most part it’s the narrator reading it like it is. He leaves little to the imagination. (Ginsberg, Updike)
When you look at both “A Supermarket in California” and “A&P” there are various differences and many similarities. There are so many layers to both stories, “A Supermarket in California” being a outcry for his dislike for what America has become (Semansky, par. 5), and the sexual repression going on in the 50’s (Peltier, par. 3) not to mention Sammy’s attitude foreshadowing the rebellious generation that was coming was “A&P (219). Two entirely different messaged with so many different big and small things in common.
Kirszner, Laurie. Literature Reading Reacting Writing. 6th. Boston: Thomson Wadsworth, 2007.
Semansky, Chris. “Critical Essay on ‘A Supermarket in California’.” Poetry for Students 1999: Literature Resource Center. Galegroup. NCTC. 03/28/2008 .
Semansky, Chris. “Critical Essay on ‘A Supermarket in California’.” Poetry for Students 1999: Literature Resource Center. Galegroup. NCTC. 03/28/2008 .
Diggory, Terence. “Allen Ginsberg’s Urban Pastoral.” College Literature 2000: 14. Literature Resource Center. galegroup. NCTC. 03/28/2008 .
Miller, Tyrus. “Critical Essay on “A Supermarket in California”.” Poetry for Students 1999: Literature Resource Center. Galegroup. NCTC. 03/28/2008 .
Blodgett, Harriet. “Updike’s ‘A&P.’” Explicator 2003: 236-237. Literature Resource Center. Galegroup. NCTC. 03/28/2008 .
Corey Evan Thompson. “Updike’s ‘A&P.’” Explicator 2003: 236-237. Literature Resource Center. Galegroup. NCTC. 03/28/2008 .
Peltier, Robert. “An essay on A & P.” Short Stories for Students 1998: Literature Resource Center. Galegroup. NCTC. 03/28/2008 .
Kellner, Bruce. “A&P: Overview.” Reference Guide to Short Fiction 1994: Literature Resource Center. Galegroup. NCTC. 03/28/2008 .
Dessner, Lawrence. “Irony and Innocence in John Updike’s A & P.” Studies in Short Fiction 1988: 315-317. Literature Resource Center. Galegroup. NCTC. 03/28/2008 .
Porter, Gilbert. “John Updike’s A & P: The Establishment and an Emersonian Cashier.” English Journal 1972:1155-1158. Literature Resource Center. Galegroupe. NCTC. 03/30/2008 .

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