From Childhood to Adulthood in Updike's A&P
Sammy is stuck in that difficult transition between childhood and adulthood. He is a nineteen-year-old cashier at an A&P, the protagonist in a story with the same name. John Updike, the author of "A&P," writes from Sammy's point of view, making him not only the main character but also the first person narrator. The tone of the story is set by Sammy's attitude, which is nonchalant but frank--he calls things as he sees them. There is a hint of sarcasm in Sammy's thoughts, for he tends to make crude references to everything he observes. Updike uses this motif to develop the character of Sammy, as many of these references relate to the idea of "play."
Sammy is no longer a child, but much of what he observes he describes as the play that he did as a child. The way he thinks can also be described as childlike play, in terms of his being disrespectful and needing to show off. Updike demonstrates, however, that Sammy desires to be thought of as an adult, and many of his references are to the type of play that adults might engage in. Sammy, like many adults, does not think in what is considered an adult manner, but Updike uses the plot's climax and conclusion to show that Sammy has learned a tough lesson that will speed up his transition into adulthood.
Sammy begins to play from the moment he lays eyes on three girls who enter the A&P one slow summer Thursday evening during the early 1960s. He comes up with a name, based on appearance, for each of the barely dressed girls. He nicknames them as children do to poke fun at one another. Ronald E. McFarland describes how this name-calling "indicate[s] his immaturity and lack of compassion" (99). Sammy makes fun of customers as well: McFarland says, "His descriptions of customers as sheep, or as 'scared pigs in a chute' may be funny, but a moment's reflection shows them to be simply jejune," or juvenile (99).
Sammy's play continues as he his eyes follow the three girls around the store, and he notes the way that the one he has named "Queenie" is definitely the leader. She would "buzz to the other two, who kind of huddled against her for relief" (28). Sammy sees this as a game of follow-the-leader as well as a game of hide-and-seek, because, as Queenie "led them, the other two [would] peek around and make their shoulders round" (27).
Sammy is shallow and sexist in the way he has named these young women according to his first impression of their bodies and behaviors. Patrick W. Shaw notes that "Sammy knows what is on each aisle in the store and constantly thinks of what is inside bottles, cans, and jars; but he has no idea what is inside the girls, no sensitivity to their psychology or sexual subtlety. His awareness stops with their sweet cans and ice-cream breasts" (322). Sammy further demonstrates his childishness and chauvinism by commenting on the mental abilities of the girls: "You never know for sure how girls' minds work (do you really think...