Motif of Conscience and Principle in A&P

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.

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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. Lengel’s principles lead him to question the girls about their dress and they have a heated argument of the word ‘?decent’. For instance, the word reverberates with socioeconomic import. Sammy boldly stands to defend the girls yet he had earlier shown that his attitude towards the dress code of the girls is similar to his. He put across that it is one thing to have a girl in bathing suit down the beach. Updike’s A&P has greatly achieved the motif of principles in how Sammy before seeing the girls is humorous, sarcastic and held in high self-esteem. When Sammy first sees the girls is uneasy because of the bath suits the girl are wearing. His conscience tells him that the kind of dress code they are in is not fit for the environment they are in. He cares how the other customers are going to think about the upbringing and character of these girls. Deep in his heart, he expects that everyone comprehends his principles and that they have similar principles and should therefore not make the mistake of coming to A&P in bath suits. Lengel is another outstanding character who portrays sticking to his principles. Lengel the manager is privileged to encounter the girls as they are entering the A&P and thanks to his moral principles that drive him to questioning the girls and he tells them that they are not at the beach. Although Sammy tries to defend the girls seriously, Lengel is not at all seemingly going to agree that it is rightful to come to A&P in such a dress code. Sammy in an operation to hinder bathing-suit policies not only in A&P grocers but also everywhere quits his job. This shows how he is stuck to his moral principles and how he is faithful to them. Everyone expects that he is going to be a hero and he himself believes in the same. Contra to his expectations, Sammy quits the job and joins the society that the girls are in. Being in the same society with these girls automatically would not promote his stand against no-bathing-suit but rather influence him in supporting the same and this causes the story to end in a gloomy mood for Sammy the protagonist. The three girls dressed in bathing-suit-clads walk to the grocery store confidently without fear since they have principles which do not allow them to notice they might be making. They have no shoes put on and their conscience does not deny them to walk to any public place. This alludes the immoral principles that have enslaved them. The girls seem to do anything they think is right according to them without considering their societal relationship. Their conscience isn’t seemingly alerting them and this explains their character. They must have noticed they are sexually provoking but don’t seem to care. Conscience on the other hand seems to be guiding most characters in the John Updike’s A&P. Sammy the main protagonist in the story greatly shows his emotions. Sammy’s conscience helps him visualize the poor dress code of the three girls. He would even start admiring the girls owing to the girls’ attractive nature and dress code. Sammy is eventually seen to quit his job to defend and uphold his principles. This decision is informed by Sammy’s conscience. Lenger the manager of the A&P grocer on seeing the three girls in poor dress code does not conceal his emotions and his conscience causes him to utter his mind. He tells the girls off that the A&P grocer is not a beach. Thanks to his conscience despite Sammy’s defense to the girls, Lenger is firm since he is cock sure that his conscience can’t mislead him. It takes much confidence to tell the girls that they are dressed inappropriately but Lenger’s conscience does not allow him to bear the embarrassment and let the ladies make away with that. The three girls are other characters whose motif of conscience has been portrayed highly. The girls act like they have been deprived of their motif of conscience. It is common sense that it is not right to go to a public place half naked or without shoes. Not even a single society would tolerate that but the girls shamelessly go to an A&P grocer in their bathing clad and they do not seem to care. The author uses these characters to show that not all people’s conscience is active in life. Anybody would have expected the girls to have changed before they left home informed by their conscience. Sammy’s decision of quitting job is informed by his conscience. He has an aim to curb the habit of indecent dress in public places and he thinks that quitting his job will help cease this habit little does he know that his efforts are in vain since he is going to the same society with the girls and would end up supporting them owing to the fact that he has interest in one of the girls whom he nicknamed Queenie. His conscience is right because if Lenger, his manager considers him and negotiates to return him to his job, he would be curbing the habit but the story ends in a cold mood where Sammy is sadly glaring at his boss without a glimpse of hope to get his job. Sammy taking off his apron and bow tie is another occasion where the motif of conscience is evident. Sammy takes off his apron and bow tie to show that he is quitting job. He is different from other workers who fail to report to work or boycott work activities or even influence others to a strike. His decision is not only dignified but also vividly shows his aggravated emotions. He has arrived at the decision after being guided by his conscience. From the beginning of the story, almost all the characters are principled. Starting from the main protagonist Sammy who in many incidences has a lot of things he does compelled by his principles can be referred to as the chief principled character. Despite the attractive nature of the girls, Sammy does not misbehave or reveal any evil thoughts with the girls. This shows his dignified and moral principles that he strictly adheres to. When Sammy quits job, Lengel tells him that he would feel the same disappointment even after quitting job. This is meant to intimidate him and discourage him from quitting the job but since Sammy is a man of principles, he remains firm and does not turn back. This alludes that Sammy is unshakeable as he comfortably quits the job which is enough prove that a person should stick to his principles come rain come sunshine.

Conclusion

Conscience and principle are key motifs used by the author to build his characters commencing with the main protagonist Sammy who is unshakeable. By quitting his job, he demonstrates believe and trust in his conscience. Lenger the A&P grocer manager is another key character who is bold enough to tell off very attractive ladies due to their provocative dress code. This is least expected as men’s weakness for half-naked ladies is so strong a desire to bear. He tells them that the A&P grocer is not a beach and hence there is need to dress decently to show respect to other customers.

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