What does it take to behave morally and ethically? Do all people know what morality is and how it can be measured? Certainly, every single person has his or her own set of moral ideas and concepts of right and wrong. Consequently, various people may understand morality differently. According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, morality is conformity to ideals of right human conduct.  In this research paper I would like to prove that morality can be seen differently for a different person under the same circumstances. I have based my research on a story “A&P” written by John Updike.
Though “A&P” is a short story, it definitely has a very deep message. Personally, I believe that John Updike’s writing speaks about moral concepts and decency. Christian writer C. S. Lewis has said, “If no set of moral ideas were truer or better than any other, there would be no sense in preferring civilized morality to savage morality. ”  Certainly, I believe that it is very important to have moral values and ethical norms to follow. Taking into consideration the fact that “A&P” was written in the 1960’s, we may think that American morality has changed a lot since that time.
However, to my mind no matter how much time passes, some moral values remain unchanged. In the beginning of my research paper I would like to give you a brief summary of “A&P”. This short story has been published in The New Yorker magazine in 1961. The setting of a story is a chain supermarket “A&P” in a small conservative New England town north of Boston. It was an ordinary quiet summer day when three teenage girls wearing only their bathing suits walk into A&P supermarket to do some shopping. Sammy, the protagonist, a young man who works at the checkout line, observes their every movement.
He watches them really carefully paying a lot of attention to every single detail, judging about their personalities and family lives. Sammy especially likes the most attractive girl in the group, who seems to be the leader. He nicknames her “Queenie,” because of her natural grace and beauty. The girls’ attire attracts the attention of Sammy’s coworkers, who start to joke around and make comments about it. Sammy feels sorry for the girls, who, probably, without even realizing have become the hot topic for discussion among A&P staff.
At the checkout the store manager, Lengel, chastises the girls for breaking the store policy by wearing only swim suits. The girls feel very embarrassed and they leave. Sammy believes that his manager has no right to humiliate the girls and he decides to quit his job in front of them, hoping that his “Queenie” is watching him. Lengel is sure that Sammy will regret his decision later, since his parents will be very upset. However, Sammy feels that his protect is a right thing to do, but when he reaches the parking lot, the girls are already gone and Sammy is left alone and with no job.
In order to understand the moral values described in A&P, it is necessary to have an understanding of moral values in the USA in the 60’s. “The movement away from the conservative fifties continues and eventually results in revolutionary ways of thinking and real change in the cultural fabric of American life. No longer content to be images of the generation ahead of them, young people want change. The changes affect education, values, lifestyles, laws, and entertainment. ”  Moreover, sexual revolution has reached the United States.
As a matter of fact the sixties have been called the age of youth, because of the post-war baby boom. Consequently, there are a lot of young people in the country who are ready to experiment in different spheres of life. Though the sexual revolution of the sixties has remained “undocumented”,  it has transformed a woman from a conservative housewife into a modern feminist model. Moreover, homosexuality has stopped to be considered a “mental disease”  and has become recognized by society as a mere “fact”. 4] Certainly, after doing some historical research it becomes obvious that meeting young teenagers wearing only swim suites in a supermarket could be a typical thing in the 60’s. In this part of my research paper I would like to talk about Sammy, the protagonist, and his understanding of morality. Sammy is a nineteen-year-old boy, who works at the checkout line at A&P where the story happens. He seems to be a little bit sarcastic person, because he is quite faultfinding with his clients and co-workers.
For example, he calls one of the older cash-register-watchers “a witch with rouge on her cheekbones and no eyebrows, who would have been burned over in Salem”  However, he becomes literally mesmerized by Queenie when the girls in swimming suites show up in A&P. He describes her as “a queen walking straight on slowly on these white prima donna legs. ”  Certainly, we may notice that in case with Queenie Sammy is physically attracted, because he sees nothing, but her physical appearance, body, and outfit.
Certainly, this reaction is very typical for a nineteen-year-old man who meets an attractive girl. Obviously, it doesn’t even occur to Sammy that wearing bathing suits in a supermarket or any public place is not quite appropriate and ethical no matter how cute the person is. Consequently, he believes that Queenie and her friends have acted absolutely morally while his manager has been undeservedly rude with them. However, I think that Sammy’s quitting the job the way he has done shows his immaturity and desire to be a superhero in front of girls rather than a protest against injustice.
That is why when he is left alone at the parking lot, he realizes that the “world is going to be hard for him hereafter”.  In this paragraph I would like to explain what morality is from the point of view of Lengel, the manager of A&P. Lengel is introduced to the story only by its end, so it is very hard to judge about his personality. However, we find out that he has the other job as a Sunday-school teacher. When he sees the girls in bathing suits, he reprimands them for looking inappropriately.
Lengel is not rude or mean to them, he just explains to the girls in a professional manner that according to the store policy the shoulders should be covered, and if they are not, it is “juvenile delinquency” in case of teenagers.  To my mind Lengel acts like a responsible manager, because he tries to make sure that the customers comply with the rules of the store. Moreover, he takes care of the other buyers who may be insulted by seeing teenage girls walking down the aisles in swim suites only. Certainly, we may see how differently morality is understood by Sammy – a nineteen year old employee and Lengel – his boss.
In this part of my research paper I would like to talk in more detail about Queenie, whose provocative outfit has become a reason for Sammy’s quitting his job and for Lengel’s reprimand. In order to understand what type of teenager Queenie is, I would like to tell you how Sammy describes her when he sees her: “She comes down a little bit hard on her heels, as if she doesn’t walk in her bare feet that much; she is testing the floor with every step, putting a little deliberate extra action into it. She has on a kind of dirty-pink bathing suit with a little nubble all over it and, what gets me, the straps are down.
She has a sort of oaky hair and a kind of prim face. Walking into the A with your straps down, I suppose it’s the only kind of face you can have”.  Certainly, I may be wrong, but seemingly Queenie’s parents haven’t taught her how to look appropriately when going to public places. I think for her it is sort of a game in order to get attention from the opposite sex. It is pretty hard for me to judge about her moral qualities, but, probably, she doesn’t quite know what it means to look proper. Eventually, I would like to tell you what morality is for me and how I see the situation in A.
Certainly, as a man I can understand Sammy’s attraction to a young girl, especially a beautiful one. It is always pleasant to look at an attractive young girl, but not in a supermarket. To my mind it is extremely unacceptable to wear swim suits in public places, especially away from the beach. I would be more tolerant to Queenie in case if her outfit has been something unintentional. However, judging from the description of her behavior, I may admit that Queenie fully realizes what she wears and also she, probably, knows what reaction men are going to have.
Honestly, I’m sure that walking with the straps off the shoulders talks about not an innocent teenager, but a young woman looking for sexual attention. I do not have children yet, but if I have a daughter, I will be very strict with her about dress code in public places. In the conclusion of my research paper I would like to stress out again that morality is a relative motion for every single person. After having done may research based on “A&P” I want to say that morality of a person depends a lot on age, social status, and culture.
This conclusion that I’ve made generates a very simple question. If all people are different, how can we be sure that what we do can be considered moral by others? And I would like to answer this question by quoting Roger Penrose, an English mathematical physicist, “As for morality, well, that’s all tied up with the question of consciousness. “ Certainly, in order to behave morally and ethically we need to develop our consciousness, because it is the best guide and the best indicator of right and wrong behavior.