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In the short story “A & P”, John Updike explains how Sammy is a young man working as a cashier. One day three young ladies come into the supermarket half dressed wearing only their swimsuits. Sammy is intrigued by these young women, along with everyone else in the supermarket. Sammy watches their every move, as the girls made their selections. Sammy tries to play the hero at the end of the story; however he may have been his own worst enemy.
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Sammy describes the three girls in great detail throughout the story. “The one that caught my eye first was the one in the plaid green two-piece. She was a chunky kid, with a good tan and a sweet broad soft-looking can with those two crescents of white Just under it, where the sun never seems to hit at the top of the backs of her legs” (496). Sammy refers to the next young lady as, ” one with 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” (497). Last but not least, there was “Queenie”. “She didn’t look around, not this queen, she just walked straight on slowly, on these long white prima donna legs. She came down a little hard on her heels, as if she didn’t walk in her bare feet that much” (497). He had nothing better else to do than to day dream about the three young ladies, and ponder what to do next. “From the third slot I look straight up this aisle to the meat counter, and I watched them all the way” (498). It was a small town with not much to do. Sammy was not trying to make a career out of working at the A & P supermarket.
From the moment the girls walked into the supermarket Sammy was checking them out. The ladies were walking towards the meat department, being led by “Queenie” of course. They stopped and asked McMahon a question about somethings whereabouts in the supermarket. The moment the girls turned and started walking away from McMahon, Sammy noticed that McMahon was checking them out from head to toe. Sammy said, “Poor kids, I began to feel sorry for them, they couldn’t help it” (498). In this moment, Sammy’s feelings for the girls changed, and he started to sympathize with them. He forms a different perspective of the girls. He feels sorry for them because of the way McMahon is gawking at them. Up to this point he has been looking at the two girls and “Queenie” the same way as McMahon did. Maybe Sammy did not see it that way just by looking at himself. He noticed how McMahon “sized up their joints” (498), and he did not approve.
The girls make it to the check out aisle with their Herring Snacks. Sammy proceeds to check the snacks out for the young ladies. Lengel is Sammy’s manager, who is also a friend of Sammy’s family. Sammy spotted Lengel, as he made his way over to the check out aisle and the girls. Sammy immediately starts thinking “oh great, here we go”. “Then everybody’s luck begins to run out. Lengel comes in from haggling with a truck full of cabbages on the lot and is about to scuttle into the door marked MANAGER behind which he hides all day when the girls touch his eye. Lengel’s pretty dreary, teaches Sunday school and the rest, but he doesn’t miss that much. He comes over and says, ‘Girls, this isn’t the beach’. Lengel continues to repeat himself over and over again. The only time someone repeats themselves, is when one does not understand what the speaker is saying. This is not the case. “Queenie” and the girls understood what Lengel told them. “But this isn’t the beach (499).” The girls were almost out of the store. They were not on this huge shopping spree. “We weren’t doing any shopping. We just came in for one thing (499).” Lengel would not leave the situation alone, he kept pushing the issue. “That makes no difference, we want you decently dressed when you come in here (499).” After arguing with Queenie, Lengel throws in the white flag. “Girls, I don’t want to argue with you. After this come in here with your shoulders covered. It’s our policy (500).”
Sammy does not approve at all. He was offended by the way Lengel treated the girls. Sammy feels they were treated to harsh. “Policy is what the kingpins want. What the others want is juvenile delinquency (499).” As, “Queenie and Plaid and Big Tall Goony-Goony”, were leaving the supermarket Sammy decided to quit. He thought it was best to stand up for what you believe in. “You didn’t have to embarrass them (500).” He did consider for a moment what he was doing was wrong, but he talked himself out of it. “But it seems to me that once you begin a gesture it’s fatal not to go through with it (500).” Lengel was trying to talk him out of it. He was trying to make Sammy think about what he was fixing to do. Lengel said, “You’ll feel this for the rest of your life (500).” Sammy thought about that for a second but he “remembered how he made that pretty girl blush makes me so scrunchy inside (500).”
Some people may argue Sammy was a true hero. He displayed a true act of heroism that day in the supermarket, and stood up for what he believed in. Sammy did not approve of the way everyone was gawking at the girls, and the way Lengel embarrassed. He felt protective of them. Sammy made the decision to quit his job based on what he thought was the right thing to do. However, Sammy got himself into this situation. Sammy quit so abruptly. He did not think of the consequences. If he hated his job that much he could have given them a two week notice. Sammy did not dwell on what type of stress this would put on his parents, or how hard it would be to find another job after quitting on a whim. He let his hormones get the best of him. The girls gave him a way out, gave him an excuse to quit the A&P. Sammy acted immaturely, which is why he lost his job.
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Sammy showed throughout the story some heroic traits. His innocence and immaturity got the best of him. When Sammy left the supermarket he realizes what just happened. “My stomach kind of fell as I felt how hard the world was going to be to me hereafter (501).” Sammy comes to the realization that he has to grow up now. And that being an adult is hard work. He is no longer working for friend of the family. That he is not a child anymore, “My white shirt that my mother ironed the night before (500).” And Sammy did not want to be like his coworkers. Sammy did not regret the decision he made. He wanted to achieve bigger goals in his life than just being a store manager at the “A&P”. Sammy quit his job because of his innocence and lack of maturity.
Updike John. “A&P”. Exploring Literature. Writing and Arguing about Fiction, Poetry, Drama, and the Essay. Ed. Frank Madden 4thed. New York: Pearson Longman, 2009. 496-501.
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