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A&P by John Updike

By mnr1210 Mar 24, 2009 1117 Words
“A&P:”by John Updike Evaluation of Sammy’s Persona

In the short story “A&P”, by John Updike, the main character Sammy, is an Eighteen year old boy from a small town outside of Boston who works at an A& P market.

Sammy is an average boy who seems a tad tired of the regular customers who come into his

store. Updike shows how Sammy lets his self assurance, emotions, and anger get a little too far

ahead of him.

Sammy seems like an average boy with high value of self-assurance who seems a tad bit

tired of the regular customers who come into his store. His certainty becomes visible when he

describes these regular customers as: older married women, an overweight lady who has no

regrets wearing her swimsuit that doesn’t quite cover; and the nit picking old ladies who spend

years trying to catch an error by a cashier. He refers to these regulars as “sheep”, as they seem

to follow one and other in their actions and reactions.”He scorns at an older woman well past

her prime and referring to her as a witch”(123).Both of these statements indicates that he is

self assured and thinks highly of himself. Putting others down and calling them names

demonstrates he looks down upon others, and displays his sense of certainty.

Sammy’s emotions are made known when his attention is captured by customers who

have just walked in. Sammy finds himself fascinated by a particular group of girls. Just in

from the beach, and still in their swimsuits, they are a stark contrast to the otherwise

plain store interior. They have the whole market looking at them, some in good ways

and others in bad. Sammy makes a comment to his fellow cashier Stokesie, “Do you

really think there is a mind in there or just a little buzz , like a bee in a jar?”(240)He idealizes

and ogles the prettiest of the three. He names her, to himself, “Queenie”; and jokes with

his fellow cashier about the girl’s sexiness. “Queenie becomes the central focus of Sammy’s

attention as he collects and provides details like the exact shade of her hair color”(237). Sammy

changes his focus towards the three girls and critiques them in his head as he watches them

shop around the store. Entranced by her beauty, Sammy feels blessed when she and her pack

enter his line, as he begins to ring up her can of herring snacks. “He envisions himself as their

“unsuspecting hero “he still refers to Queenies breasts as “scoops of vanilla ice cream”(240). As

Queenie reaches into the center of her bikini to remove the dollar bill to pay for the snack; up walks Lengel and this is what triggers Sammy to make his drastic move. Sammy’s anger emerges when he is approached by Lengel .Lengel is Sammy’s uptight,

dreary manger who seems to always be looking for something wrong.. Lengel quickly notices

the revealing outfits of the three girls and begins to walk over and confront Queenie. He begins

to harass and embarrass her and her friends about the attire. After being confronted, Queenie

begins to blush and Sammy feels ashamed of Lengel and his shrew mentality towards them.

Now was the time Sammy was to make his move; whether it be his hope to catch the attention

of such a beauty or maybe it was his anger towards Lengel for ruining his moment with such a

beautiful young lady. “It seems to me that once you begin a gesture it is fatal not to go through

with it”(118) Not surprised at the girls attempt to quickly speed out the door, Sammy quickly

hollers “I quit!” The girls had heard him, but that was it. “How foolish this hope is in realistic

terms becomes clear when he finds the parking lot empty and himself without a job.”(218)They

continued to walk across the parking lot; it was just Sammy and Lengel now. His plan was a

bust, he wanted to be portrayed as a knight and shining armor with pure nobility; showing the

girl of his cashier fantasies that he was sticking up for her. The girls did not get to see Sammy’s

attempt to perform a modern act of heroism; the only thing that came of this was his

unemployment. It was not going to happen and Sammy knew he could not go back now and his

decision as wrong as it may have been was final. Not only did he loose his Queenie he also lost

his job. By letting his anger get the best of him , Sammy was burned in both departments; love

and work. Updike has informed readers of how Sammy’s actions have influenced not only him

but the others around him as well. He first displayed his sense of self-assurance in the checkout

line when Sammy refers to his loyal customers as “sheep”, and by pointing out that a larger

woman should not be allowed to wear her swimsuit that does not cover her well. From there he exhibits Sammy’s emotional side when he devotes all his attention to his dream girl “Queenie.” He lets his emotions run wild when he feels the urge to stand up for Queenie, and show her that he is chivalrous and a true gentleman. Lastly , Updike illustrates Sammy’s ventilation of anger when he directs this hostility toward his boss. His anger is made apparent, because he quits in an aggressive manner and does not give any form of notice. All of his aggression his built up and held in up until the moment that he says the words “I quit”. Updike made the character Sammy unique by giving him such a strong personality. He provided the readers with three main characteristics and plenty of evidence to suffice.

Works Cited
Lightbown, Ronald. Sandro Botticelli. 2 Vols Berkley: U of California P 1978 pg 237-242

Luscher, Robert M. John Updike: Astudy of the Short Fiction. New York: Twayne 1993 pg 118-124

McFarland, Ronald E. “Updike and the Critics: Reflections on ‘A&P’.” Studies in Fiction 1983 pg 218-225

Saldivar, Toni. “The art of John Updikes ‘A&P’.” Studies in Short Fiction (1997)

Thompson, Corey Evan. “Updike’s ‘A&P’.” The Explicator (2001)

Updike, John “A&P.” Literature: An Introduction to Fiction Poetry and Drama (1985)


John Updike, “A&P,” Irony and Innocence: Studies of Short Fiction. Dressner, Lawrence

Jay ( Berkley U of California1978) 55. All consequential references to the story will be to

the reprint in the textbook stated above and will be cited parenthically.

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