A&P and Other Stories

A&P and Other Stories Essay Questions

  1. 1

    What is the significance of Ace's interaction with the teenager in the car at the beginning of "Ace in the Hole?"

    Ace's angry reaction locates him at the same emotional level as the angry teenager, establishing his immaturity and also foreshadowing Ace's fixation on his own adolescence. Ace is also most upset at being called "Dad" by the teenager, even though he is indeed an adult and a father. Ace still longs to exist in his golden years of his youth. It is also important that they yell at each other from their cars; their distance evokes the alienation that Ace feels from everyone around him, including his coworkers and family.

  2. 2

    Given his neglect of Bonnie, Ace's desire for another child seems inexplicable. Why might Ace want a second child?

    Updike suggests that Ace wants a son who can be an athlete, succeeding where Ace failed. Ace also seems to believe that having another child will mend his relationship with Evey and help Ace to fend off his own mortality, something that Bonnie cannot do because she is a girl.

  3. 3

    Does Updike undercut Sammy's critique of consumer culture? Why or why not?

    In "A & P", Updike undercuts Sammy's critique of consumer culture as shallow and homogenous by presenting him as an unreliable narrator. Sammy obviously and egregiously exaggerates his own worth and accomplishments, while objectifying Queenie and her friends just as much as Lengel and the customers do. Ultimately, Sammy's rebellion - though well-founded in these cultural outrages - is committed in the hopes of becoming a hero to Queenie. His rebellion is not motivated by political unrest but rather sexual desire.

  4. 4

    What is Sammy's attitude toward women? How do women motivate Sammy's actions?

    Sammy relentlessly ogles and lusts after the beautiful young women who come to A & P in their bikinis, but he is resentful of older women who have lost their beauty. He wonders if the girls are capable of deep thoughts, or if, instead of a mind, they have "a little buzz like a bee in a glass jar?" The opposite sex is inscrutable to Sammy, perhaps because he finds them unattainable. Sammy's mother is a powerful but mostly absent figure; her presence is felt but we never learn anything about her. Sammy's distant admiration of the women drives all of his actions; he hopes they will be watching when he behaves admirably but he never knows for sure.

  5. 5

    How does David's reading of the H.G. Wells book inform the rest of "Pigeon Feathers?"

    David's brief interaction with The Outline of History forms an intellectually primal scene, introducing David to the idea of critical, secular thought. David is incredulous that God would allow a poisonous, questioning mind to exist. Ultimately, David rejects critical thought in favor of raw emotion, drowning out his very rational fears of mortality in a violent outburst of shooting. Importantly, the idea of a secular Jesus implies the mortality of the soul; although David's reading and his sudden fear of death seem unrelated, there is actually a causal link between the two scenes. Ultimately, his acceptance of faith comes in the form of natural beauty and not thought or dogma.

  6. 6

    At the end of "Pigeon Feathers," does David embrace his father's worldview or his mother's?

    By shooting the pigeons, David seems to embrace his father's violent worldview, choosing ignorance rather than recognition of human mortality. However, there are signs that his mother has also influenced him; he appreciates the beauty of the pigeon feathers, and his loyalty to his mother is what leads him to shoot the pigeons in the first place.

  7. 7

    What is the significance of Dickie's kiss at the end of "Separating?"

    Dickie's kiss demonstrates the deeply profound and personal impact of divorce on an individual, even one who pretends not to care. Importantly, the kiss has a sexual dimension that is inappropriate for a father-son relationship. This suggests the breakdown of received categories of relationships; in the brave new world of divorce, characters must learn the boundaries of each relationship for themselves, rather than relying on pre-established categories. The kiss could also evoke the kiss of Judas, foreshadowing that Dickie will rebel against his parents in the wake of their separation.

  8. 8

    Is "Separating" a treatise against divorce? Why or why not?

    Although "Separating" paints a very damning picture of marital disruption, Updike does not reject divorce wholesale. Rather, the story shows the consequences of people behaving only in their own self-interest. The Maples' separation is not the cause of their domestic havoc but simply another symptom. When Maple says at the end that he cannot remember why he and Joan are separating, it is said with a tinge of both sadness and wonder. Because of their children, Richard and Joan will always have a relationship. Despite disagreements and subtle sniping, the Maple parents do seem to have a healthy, honest and adult relationship. Divorce, in this case, stems from a lack of love rather than the presence of violence or wrong-doing.

  9. 9

    Why might Updike have chosen the title "Short Easter" for this story?

    The title of "Short Easter" alludes to a seemingly insignificant aspect of the story; this year, Easter is an hour shorter due to Daylight Savings Time. The short Easter may allude to Fogel's age--late in winter, the days get shorter, and Fogel is in the winter of his life. The short Easter disorients Fogel. When he wakes in his son's room, a dark haze surrounds him. The persistence of mortality is symbolized by the title. It may also refer to the difficulty of changing course in life when very little time is left, just as on a 23-hour-day, one might feel rushed in one's daily activities.

  10. 10

    What is the importance of the young woman on the airplane in "Short Easter?"

    The narrator alludes to Fogel's affair, but very indirectly--we initially believe that the affair will be with the woman from the plane, only to find that the airplane woman just reminds Fogel of the woman with whom he really had an affair. The layers of memory emphasize Fogel's age and sense of exhaustion, while also pointing to the universality of his experiences--after all, the woman is being wooed by a man not unlike Fogel a few decades ago.