John Updike is widely known as one of the dominant American literary figures of the post-war era. The high quality and diversity of his works is frequently cited as evidence of his superior literary talent and intellect. As Margaret Atwood, a Canadian literary critic and novelist, notes, Surely no American writer has written so much, for so long, so consistently well.  In fact, if we evaluateUpdike's work, it focuses on incomparable prose style that does not belong to all writers’ works. His remarkable intelligence, verbal competence and shrewd insight into the sorrows and frustrations of American life separate him from other writers of his period. In each work composed by John Updike we may observe how well he composed variety of works in which we may observe variety of cultural and historical aspects of certain society.
The collection of stories Pigeon Feathers by John Updike is considered a precious collection of short stories, which contain diverse themes and deep meanings. This very collection first appeared in 1962, on the author’s thirtieth birthday. Arthur Mizener, an English writer and editor, wrote in The New York Times Book Review:«Updike is a romantic like all American romantics that is, he has an irresistible impulse to go in memory home again in order to find himself.... The precise recollection of his own family-love, parental and marital, is vital to him; it is the matter in which the saving truth is incarnate... «Pigeon Feathers» is not just a book of very brilliant short stories; it is a demonstration of how the most gifted writer of his generation is coming to maturity; it shows us that Mr. Updike’s fine verbal talent is no longer pirouetting, however gracefully, out of a simple delight in motion, but is beginning to serve his deepest insight».  Undeniably, Updike's abilities as a short story writer are best exemplified in Pigeon Feathers. His narratives often focus on the philosophies of the protestant middle class, in which the protagonist struggles to either accept or escape from the restraints of religion or society. Updike's narrative voice is so strong in these stories that the reader has the feeling that each one is in a sense autobiographical. A & P, one of the short stories included in Pigeon Feathers will be analyzed in this article focusing on their historical and cultural aspects.
Throughout history, some qualities of culture in the world have altered. To be more specific, year by year they are still changing from generation to generation. Especially, in John Updike’s short story A&P, there is a representation of the change from severe conservatism of the 1950’s America to the more free-spirited ideology of the 1960s. This story is settled in Updike’s collection of short stories Pigeon Feathers. A&P was published in 1961 and is an early version of what would become the defining narrative of the 1960s in popular mythology — the youthful rebels taking on the soulless system.  In fact, the story contains the main elements of the myth, describing the conditions of postwar prosperity and the attendant consumer culture, a hint of the Cold War and the indispensable opposition of the youth and authority when there was a conflict between the girls − Lengel and Sammy − Lengel.
In the beginning of the story, the introduction of the girls reveals a wholly-developed 1960’s youth in three different ways:
They didn't even have shoes on. There was this chunky one, with the two-piece — it was bright green and the seams on the bra were still sharp and her belly was still pretty pale so I guessed she just got it (the suit)— there was this one, with one of those chubby berry-faces, the lips all bunched together under her nose, this one, and a tall one, with black hair that hadn't quite frizzed right, and one of these sunburns right across under the eyes, and a chin that was too long — you know, the kind of girl other girls think is very «striking» and «attractive» but never quite makes it, as they very well know, which is why they like her so much — and then the third one, that wasn't quite so tall. She was the queen. 
All three girls are almost without the parts of garments, which close their feet and other parts of body. This may be considered as an unashamed disrespect for the overly-protective nature of life in the 1950s. In addition, wearing no shoes was also in fashion among the youth at those times. From these factors we may realize that self-representation in the 50s became more important than self-consciousness. All girls described above represent many of the same qualities: they boasted their body by their open clothes, and, in general, they wanted to be looked at and to be dominant over the public. However, the last girl, who is named as the queen by the narrator, is described as a distinguishing one among other two girls. While the immediate information on her is merely that she is the queen, Updike is using her as the queen of herself, the society, the minds of Sammy and the other girls. The first statement about Queenie sets her above not only the other girls, but the entire 60’s counterculture movement in the west including the US. Throughout the story, we may get more information considering Queenie, her disregard for public-image and her attitude to the older generation. In the course of our analysis about the arguments between the generations, in A & P may find some examples regarding that issue.
Both conflicts at the end of the story, the girls with the A & P manager Lengel and Sammy with Lengel, are the final discoveries in the change from the old ways to the new ways. Queenie explains that her mother wanted her to pick up some herring snacks. This made Sammy’s mind think about a very 50’s party environment in which the adults enjoy bland snacks in their old-fashioned environment. Indeed, according to the history, it was traditional for the 50’s US public to have bland sacks in their parties.
When Lengel insists that the girls come into the store decent, the girls argued in this way: «We are decent», «Queenie says suddenly, her lower lip pushing, getting sore now that she remembers her place, a place from which the crowd that runs the «A & P» must look pretty crummy».  Queenie’s obstinate action was either the push or connection for Sammy, as he acts in deliberate disobedience to Lengel by ringing the herring up and sending the girls on their way. With the final interaction between Sammy and Lengel, we get the message of the story concluded in a short space:
«I don't think you know what you're saying», – Lengel said.
Lengel, the elder, behaves as not understanding what is going on while Sammy, the youth, is in complete control being too confident for the sake of girls, in particular the queen. The customers knocking into one another shows the ripple-effect destruction such a disposition creates amongst the older generation.Before Sammy leaves the store, we are left with one final image: Lengel, Sammy’s parents, and the rest of that era tired and defeated, their regime conservative ideals laid to rest.  Though A & P came in the very early 60s (1961), it shows the beginning of the shift in desirable qualities of a culture. This new generation, as represented through Sammy and the three girls, especially Queenie, are appropriate examples of the shift from 1950’s America to the 1960s.The basic symbol of the generational conflict of the 1960s was the contrast between long-haired, freewheeling hippies (those who were young people in the 1960s and 1970s who rejected conventional ways of living, dressing, and behaving, and tried to live a life based on peace and love; hippies often had long hair and many took drugs) and their parents in traditional suits and dresses. The arrogance of the girls walking around the A&P with bathing suits is an indication of the many oppositions over public propriety that was going to come in the following decade. In the case of A & P the final consequence of Sammy’s act of disobedience cannot be named a superb release or success, but it shows a young man at loose ends although he was sure for his right actions.
- Gale Cengage. (2001). Contemporary Literary Criticism. Cambridge: CUP
- Arthur Mizener. (2003). The New York Times Book Review. Retrieved September 30, 2012 from http://www.americanliterature.com
- Ryan Werner. (2009). Generation Shift in Updike’s Short Story «A & P». From The Sunday Times.
- John Updike. A& P. Retrieved December 17, 2012 from http://www.tiger-town.com/whatnot/updike/