Motif of conscience and principle in A&P

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Introduction

Conscience is the moral sense of right or wrong in a human being. It is perceived as the guide to someone’s behavior. It is the conscience of an individual that raises alarm when the person is doing wrong or right and helps the person to adjust accordingly. A principle on the other hand is a firm belief or rule that governs the attitude and behavior of an individual. Principles of a human being determine the character of the person. Conscience and principle are related in that the conscience of a person always reminds him or her of their principles. John Updike’s A&P has vividly demonstrated these two motifs. Sam visualizes that sticking to the morally right principles does not always lead to positive results as most people would expect. A&P is narrated in the point of view of Sammy who tries to be a hero only to realize that heroes seldom get far in the modern world. Sammy is a cashier at A&P and while at work identifies three beautiful ladies but their dress is a mess according to Sam and he is uneasy with them. He suspects one of them to be their leader whom due to romantic interest names Queenie. Sammy’s character of being opinionated doesn’t allow him to hide his disdain for his older co-workers and he is not ashamed of his interest to Queenie. Sammy can be described as an individual who is bored with life in the town of Massachusetts where he grew up and he longs to break free from the trappings of the society. Sammy’s voice is also explicitly humorous. When he first sees the girls, he cannot remember whether he has rung up the box of HiHo crackers under his hand. I ring it up again and the customer starts giving me hell. She’s one of these cash-register watchers, a witch about fifty with rouge on her cheekbones and no eyebrows, and I know it made her day to trip me up. She’s been watching cash registers for fifty years and probably never seen a mistake before. Sammy’s character greatly shows one who sticks to his principles. He is highly driven by conscience and this lands him between a rock and a hard place. In the beginning, he is humorous, sarcastic and has high self-esteem but in the end, he is disappointed, hopeless and stigmatized. Lengel reminds the girls that A&P is not the beach and this hits Sammy like a blow though humorously. Back in the office all characters in Sammy’s language become animals. Lengel scuttles crablike into his office when he sees the girls the first time. All other customers group like sheep and pigs in a chute when they see chaos at the front register. The three girls according to him seem to buzz; the Queenie like queen bee and the other two buzz like drones around the queen. Sammy’s sweet voice, his humor and his categorical descriptions of the supermarket setting undercut the implicitly sentimental situation of the story.

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