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Marc Goodman
Instructor Thwing
Writing 102
15 July 2009

“And the Door Heaves Itself Open”: Sammy’s Line of Flight in John Updike’s
“A&P”

For even in the midst of its failure, the American Revolution


continues to send out its fragments, always making something take
flight on the horizon, even sending itself to the moon, always
trying to break through the wall, to take up the experiment once
again, to find a brotherhood in this enterprise, a sister in this
becoming, a music in its stuttering language, a pure sound and
unknown chords in language itself. (Deleuze, Essays 89)

In his essay “On the Superiority of Anglo-American Literature,” the French philosopher

Gilles Deleuze writes, invoking D. H. Lawrence, “The highest aim of literature, according to

Lawrence, is “To leave, to leave, to escape …to cross the horizon, enter into another life”

(Deleuze, Dialogues 36). Further on in the essay, Deleuze continues, “Anglo-American literature

constantly shows these ruptures, these characters who create their line of flight, who create

through a line of flight” (Deleuze, Dialogues 36). Sammy, the young checker who narrates John

Updike’s “A&P,” is already in flight as “A&P” begins and his flight continues as the story

concludes. While Deleuze and his occasional collaborator Felix Guattari have had much to say

about lines of flight across their work, the list of characteristics that Deleuze summons forth in

“On the Superiority” will suffice to orient Sammy’s flight in “A&P,” “departure, becoming,

passage, leap, daemon, relationship with the outside” (Deleuze, Dialogues 36).

Sammy is stationed in the “third check-out slot” when he begins his narration and he will

not move from that position until the dramatic events which conclude the story (Updike 596).
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Deleuze reminds us “flights can happen on the spot, in motionless travel” and citing the historian

Arnold Toynbee’s study of nomads, speaks of those “who are immobile with big strides” as “the

greatest inventors of new weapons” (Deleuze, Dialogues 36-37). What are Sammy’s weapons as

he takes flight from behind the cash register? They are the language that he uses to tell this story

and the affective alliance he forms with the girls as they move through the store.

In his essay “He Stuttered,” Deleuze remarks that “great authors” are those who “invent a

minor use of the major language within which they express themselves entirely” (Deleuze,

Essays 109). The key to their greatness is that they “make the language take flight” and “send it

racing along a witch’s line…following an incessant modulation” (Deleuze, Essays 109). It is the

“great writer” who “carves out a nonpreexistent foreign language within his own language. He

makes the language itself scream, stutter, stammer, or murmur” (Deleuze, Essays 109, 110). The

language that Updike has invented for Sammy evinces sexual longing and a sullenness shot

through with contempt. Despite its colloquial ease, it screams displeasure and distaste.

Sammy’s strongest expressions of contempt are reserved for the customers who shop at

the A&P, the “cash-register-watchers,” “the sheep pushing their carts down the aisle,” and the

“houseslaves in pin curlers.” (Updike 596, 597, 598) The class comparisons that Sammy draws

with the girls later in the story strongly suggests that Sammy is of the same socio-economic

status as the store’s regular shoppers. This would account for the intensity with which Sammy

tries to separate himself from the herd. Consciously or not, he has begun to pry himself free with

the closest tool to hand, the “crowbar” of language.

The first object of Sammy’s derision is the customer whose “box of Hi Ho crackers”

Sammy mistakenly rings up twice, momentarily distracted by the girls’ arrival in the store.
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Sammy is withering in his description: “a witch about fifty with rouge on her cheekbones and no

eyebrows, and I know it made her day to trip me up” (Updike 596). After getting “her feathers

smoothed and goodies into a bag,” he subsequently muses: “if she'd been born at the right time

they would have burned her over in Salem” (Updike 596). Somewhat more comically but still

dismissively, Sammy comments on the general indifference of the average A&P customer by

noting:

I bet you could set off dynamite in an A & P and the people would by and large

keep reaching and checking oatmeal off their lists and muttering "Let me see,

there was a third thing, began with A, asparagus, no, ah, yes, applesauce!" or

whatever it is they do mutter. (Updike 598).

Sammy’s scorn extends beyond the shoppers to the goods on the shelves too: “records at

discount of the Caribbean Six or Tony Martin Sings or some such gunk you wonder they waste

the wax on, six-packs of candy bars, and plastic toys done up in cellophane that faIl apart when a

kid looks at them anyway” (Updike 599). Even Sammy’s cash register is given a sardonic voice:

"Hello (bing) there, you (gung) hap-py pee-pul (splat)!"—the splat being the drawer flying out.

(Updike 600).

It is with the arrival of the girls that Sammy senses another possibility for escape. This

event occasions a striking shift in language at those times when Sammy speaks directly about the

girls. There is a distinct softening of tone that borders on tenderness. From the moment the girls

enter the store, Sammy’s attention is riveted. He scrutinizes their appearance and their every

move. He confesses to obvious stirrings of attraction: “I mean, it was more than pretty”
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(Updike 597). In a voice exuding enchantment, Sammy follows the girls “up the cat-and-dog-

food-breakfast-cereal-macaroni-rice-raisins-seasonings-spreads-spaghetti-soft drinks-crackers-

and-cookies aisle” until the point at which “they shuffled out of sight behind a pyramid of Diet

Delight peaches” (Updike 597, 598). Before declaring, “The whole store was like a pinball

machine and I didn't know which tunnel they'd come out of,” Sammy will announce an

additional affective alliance: “Poor kids, I began to feel sorry for them, they couldn't help it.”

(Updike 599, 598).

The Stanford Encylopedia of Philosophy entry on Deleuze defines “assemblages” as

“emergent unities that nonetheless respect the heterogeneity of their components” and mentions,

parenthetically, “Deleuze’s favorite example, the wasp and orchid create a ‘becoming’ or

symbiotic emergent unit” (Smith and Protevi). Sammy’s line of flight is effected, in part, by the

assemblage that is created through the affective alliance he forms with the girls. The affects he

draws upon, which already involve erotic attraction and pity, will come to include the “scrunchy

inside” feeling Sammy experiences upon “remembering how [his boss, Lengel] made that pretty

girl blush” (Updike 601). It is the strength of this assemblage, however temporary, which powers

Sammy through his confrontation with Lengel and out the door of the A&P.

The story “A&P” concludes with Sammy admitting “my stomach kind of fell as I felt

how hard the world was going to be to me hereafter” (Updike 601). Deleuze himself concedes

the ambiguity of the line of flight when he asks: “What is it which tells us that, on a flight, we

will not rediscover everything we are fleeing?” (Deleuze, Dialogues 38). While conceding that

“Prediction is not possible,” he will tell us:

But it is this that can only be understood on the line, at the same time as it is
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being traced: the dangers which are courted, the patience and precautions which

must go into avoiding them, the corrections which must constantly be made to

extract the line from the quicksands and the black holes. (Deleuze, Dialogues 39).
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Works Cited

Deleuze, Gilles, and Claire Parnet. Dialogues II. New York: Columbia University Press,
2002.

Deleuze, Gilles. Essays Critical and Clinical. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota


Press, 1997.

Smith, Daniel, and John Protevi. "Gilles Deleuze." The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
(Fall 2008 Edition), Ed. Edward N. Zalta. 15 July 2009
<http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2008/entries/deleuze/>.

Updike, John. The Early Stories 1953-1975. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2003.
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Works Consulted

Ansell-Pearson, Keith. "Out of this World: Deleuze and the Philosophy of Creation. " Rev. of
Out of this World: Deleuze and the Philosophy of Creation, by Peter Hallward. Contemporary
Political Theory 6.4 (2007): 487-491. General Interest Module, ProQuest. Web. 14 Jul. 2009.

Colebrook, Claire. Gilles Deleuze. London: Routledge, 2002.

DeLanda, M., J. Protevi, and T. Thanem. "Deleuzian Interrogations: A Conversation with


Manuel DeLanda and John Protevi. " Tamara : Journal of Critical Postmodern Organization
Science 3.3/4 (2005): 65-88 Social Science Module, ProQuest. Web. 14 Jul. 2009.

Deleuze, Gilles, and Felix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism And Schizophrenia.
Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987.

Deleuze, Gilles. Negotiations 1972-1990. New York: Columbia University Press, 1995.

Hallward, Peter. "Deleuze and the World Without Others." Philosophy Today 41.4 (1997): 530-
544. Research Library Core, ProQuest. Web. 14 Jul. 2009.

Hallward, Peter. Out of this World: Deleuze and the Philosophy of Creation. New York:
Verso, 2006.

Jameson, Fredric. "Marxism and Dualism in Deleuze. " The South Atlantic Quarterly
96.3 (1997): 393-416. Research Library Core, ProQuest. Web. 14 Jul. 2009.

Parr, Adrian. The Deleuze Dictionary. New York: Columbia UP, 2005.

Patton, Paul. Deleuze and the Political. London: Routledge, 2000.

Smith, Daniel W. "A life of pure immanence: Deleuze's ‘Critique et Clinique’


Project." Philosophy Today 41 [supplement] (1997): 168-179. Research Library Core, ProQuest.
Web. 14 Jul. 2009.

Smith, Daniel W. "The Inverse Side of the Structure: Zizek on Deleuze on Lacan. " Rev.
of Organs Without Bodies: Deleuze and Consequences, by Slavoj Zizek. Criticism: A Quarterly
for Literature and the Arts 46.4 (2004): 635-650. Humanities Module, ProQuest. Web. 14 Jul.
2009.

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