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A&P and Other Stories Summary and Analysis

by John Updike

Consumerism and the Cold War

Many of Updike's stories deal with consumer culture, which many perceived to be more pervasive in the Cold War years when "Ace in the Hole," "A & P," "Pigeon Feathers," and "Separating" were written. In fact, consumerism became an important component of American cultural identity during this period as a result of broader geopolitical changes. With increasing fear of Soviet domination came increased government spending on defense, a massive outpouring of resources that was fueled by domestic spending--largely by GIs returning from the Second World War and starting families.

Around the time that Updike wrote "Ace in the Hole," Americans comprised 6% of the world's population but were consuming one-third of the world's goods and services (Schultz). Importantly, much of this spending was on luxury or non-essential goods, rather than basic commodities like food and housing. This economic boom fueled the development of the American suburbs and the expansion of the middle class. Pursuit of commodities soon became the hallmark of American prosperity. This spending was the subject of the much-publicized 1959 "kitchen debate" between Vice President Richard Nixon and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev about which country's economic system was more sustainable. Although Khrushchev's argument that Americans spent too much on luxury goods rather than necessities seemed radical in 1959, it was not long before Americans themselves began to raise similar questions, inspiring changes in political leadership as well as cultural works - as evidenced by Updike's "A & P."

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