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Truth About Sammy In John Updike's A&P

1199 words - 5 pages

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 the type of party thrown by her supposedly rich parents, to his interpretation of her facial expression when confronted by Lengel (she remembers her superior social status), Sammy consistently portrays the girl as a stuck-up, spoiled rich kid who is just out to "shake up" the middle-class A & P. The notion that he would quit his job in defense of this person that he so evidently despises is ludicrous. In fact, prior to the description of Lengel's encounter with the girls, Sammy as much as admits the validity of  the exact same objection that Lengel has to them, their appearance in swimsuits, when he offers us a description of the A & P's location: in the middle of town, miles from any beach, and where "the women generally put on a shirt or shorts or something before they get out of the car into the street."

 

      A more likely explanation for Sammy's abrupt resignation from his job is his complete boredom with it. This dissatisfaction with his work situation is plainly seen in his regard for a group that Sammy holds in even more contempt than the girls: the regular, paying customers. His references to them as "sheep," "houseslaves" and "pigs" reveals his attitude toward the group that keeps his...

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