Truth about Sammy in John Updike's A&P

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The Truth about Sammy in A & P

At first glance, Sammy, the first-person narrator of John Updike's "A & P," would seem to present us with a simple and plausible explanation as to why he quits his job at the grocery store mentioned in the title: he is standing up for the girls that his boss, Lengel, has insulted. He even tries to sell us on this explanation by mentioning how the girls' embarrassment at the hands of the manager makes him feel "scrunchy" inside and by referring to himself as their "unsuspected hero" after he goes through with his "gesture." Upon closer examination, though, it does not seem plausible that Sammy would have quit in defense of girls whom he quite evidently despises, despite the lustful desires they invoke, and that more likely explanations of his action lie in his boredom with his menial job and his desire to rebel against his parents.

While it's true that Sammy finds the three scantily-clad girls who enter the supermarket attractive, as would any normal nineteen-year-old male, what is most notable about his descriptions of the girls, and particularly of the "leader" of the group, is that Sammy holds them in contempt. Once we get beyond the descriptions of their bodies, we see nothing but derogatory comments directed at them, including the derisive nicknames that Sammy assigns to them. Nowhere is this more evident than in Sammy's description of the leader, "Queenie." The nickname assigned to her by Sammy points out the stereotypical snap judgment that Sammy makes about her personality and social status initially, and to which Sammy rigidly adheres despite no real evidence of its accuracy. From the description of her "prima donna" legs, to his imagining of ...

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...gel's suggestion that he relent and keep his job, Sammy is actually saying "no" to his parents and their attempt to put him on the road to middle-class respectability.

In the final analysis, it would seem that the most obvious explanation for why Sammy quits his job--the one that he implies--is actually the least plausible. While Sammy would like to portray himself as the fearless defender of the delicate sensibilities of innocent girls, the reality is that Sammy's motives in quitting have far more to do with his own sensibilities than with those of the three girls.

Work Cited

Updike, John. "A & P." The Bedford Introduction to Literature. 2nd Edition. Ed. Michael Meyer. Boston: St. Martin's Press, 1990. 407-411.

Wells, Walter. "John Updike's 'A & P'" Studies in Short Fiction, vol. 30, (1993) : Spring, pp. 127(7).

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