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Judge Me, Please -- Writer's Poke #307

In John Updike’s classic short story “A&P,” Queenie never asks to be judged. Not by the manager, and not by Sammy, the boy that defends her. Even Sammy’s defense is based on a form of prejudice, as he assumes her to be something that he has no way of verifying one way or the other.

If it’s been a while since you’ve read the story, the basic premise is this: Queenie and her friends are walking around a grocery store in their bikinis. None of the customers seem to notice, and only Sammy and the Manager “confront” the situation head on. Another character, the butcher behind the meat counter, leers at the girls, but in no way does he seem offended that these young girls have entered the store in “inappropriate attire.”

The Manager makes the point to the girls that he expects them to dress “decently” when they shop at his store. Queenie picks up on the term when she responds: “We are decent.” Again, there’s no indication that these girls are attempting to be provocative. There’s also no indication that they realize that they are inappropriately dressed for the circumstances, or that they recognize the “dress code expectations.” Further, there’s no indication that this store has a policy stated and posted in writing (e.g. “No shirt, no shoes, no service); the Manager’s attitude seems to be that these girls should instinctively know better.

Are the girls simply naïve? Don’t they feel the butcher’s lustful stares? Don’t they know that boys like Sammy are fantasizing about them? Don’t they care? And if not, why not? Is their apparent disinterest an invitation to judgment?

“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.” – Carl Jung


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