Sammys development through the story
“A&P”, written by John Updike is considered as an initiation story. It focuses on Sammy, a clerk and his experience with the three girls and Lengel. The main character, at first is dependent on his family and their connections to survive.
He was employed by his father and mother’s friend, Lengel and it is hinted that his grandmother had a considerable influence on him and that they were still seeing each other. Also, he was still living with his parents since his mother was the one who ironed his shirt for that day.
With this dependence on his family, unfortunately, comes a price: he must do his best not to upset nor disappoint his parents. Like most young boys, Sammy was curious, observant and almost always wonders. With the arrival of the girls, Sammy at first adopts the usual response of a young, immature teenager and that was to admire the girls based on their appearance. Usually one not to commit mistakes, he was scolded by an elderly lady for his lapse. Instead of taking responsibility for his mistake, he comforts himself by saying that the old woman was a witch who had nothing better to do.
In the first parts of the story, he was still childish and hormonally driven, especially when he was with his friend Stokesie as they “checked out” the girls. For him to take such a keen interest and distract him from his responsibility emphasizes the temptation that the girls—or more specifically, the “Queen”—posed on him. The situation was then exacerbated since they started to walk around with nothing but their bathing suits and distract everyone around them, and unwittingly seduce people with their gestures. The dream was broken when Lengel entered and started to admonish them in front of everyone.
The girls going around the aisles can be interpreted as a dream for Sammy; three attractive young girls walking slowly around in the air conditioned room under the lights in their bathing suits with no beaches nearby. It was unreal and fantastic; it was a dream for every hormone active teenager. Even the fact that they ended up in his lane and the way that the “Queen” took out her payment was like a “dream come true”. The movement of the girls and the way that every aspect of them was emphasized seemed sublime. The pace of the story itself seems to be dreamlike in nature, all seen in Sammy’s eyes.
Lengel’s entrance from the outside breaks the dream; his entrance can be interpreted as reality coming back. In reality, a boy like Sammy has to answer to an authoritative figure represented by Lengel. His manager symbolized responsibility and the end of childhood fantasies. Updike narrates that Lengel is the straitlaced type of man, one who teaches Sunday school. He starts to admonish the girls and embarrassed them in front of every body. Sammy watches the girls state their reasons for coming in yet Lengel still admonishes them.
In Sammy’s eyes, Lengel was being unreasonable and preferred to have things only two ways: his way or one is a delinquent for not following. At that point, the main character realizes that the situation is more complicated than the girls not following policy. What Lengel did in Sammy’s eyes was a show of power; using his position as manager to not only admonish the girls but to also embarrasses them. Even if the girl was only fulfilling an errand for her mother, he still didn’t listen. It was obvious that the “Queen” went out of her way to buy the jar of herring snacks since the beach was miles and miles away.
Also, the “Queen” seemed to be of a higher social class than Sammy; he sees this and realizes the difference between the both of them. Before they left, the main character made a show of quitting, an indirect way of telling the girls that he was making a stand and that he thinks that they were untreated fairly. Unfortunately, in contrast to his ideal fantasies of them seeing him as their hero, they left him to fend for himself. A mark of his maturity was shown in the way that he refused to back down despite being alone in his opinion since he has developed the sense that one must go through with one’s actions and take responsibility for them.
He then mustered up the courage to question the authority for their actions. Lengel then explained to Sammy his own view of what transpired, ushering another realization for the main character. The realization is that not everything is black and white and that people tend to have differing opinions and their own point of view, never realizing the harm that they cause others. Also, in contrast to what is usually taught, in practice, people will choose their own interests and will care little for the welfare of others.
Like in the case of Lengel, the manager thought that they were the ones being embarrassed by the girls and not the other way around. It was then clear that Lengel pulled this exhibition of power since everyone else was watching and that he felt that the integrity of the store was being threatened. In Lengel’s eyes, the girls were putting on an indecent show for everyone and even distracted his most trusty clerk. Yet Sammy still retained some of his dependence and thirst for approval since he briefly thought of his grandmother and how proud she would be of him if she could see him now.
Lengel then started to remind Sammy of his responsibility to his parents, a sacred oath that he was not allowed to break. In his transition of maturity, he went through with his decision knowing the consequences and outright told Lengel that he knew what he was doing and that the manager was the one who didn’t know what he himself was doing. At that point, Sammy developed a different opinion based on what he saw and what his point of view was, signaling to the audience that he was exhibiting the same behavior as the adults.
He then starts to shed the clothes that symbolized his dependence: the bow tie and the apron. Yet with his actions, Sammy still exuded that idealistic and childlike quality that enabled him to care whether the girls were still there or that he can make a clean exit since it was summer and he didn’t have to fumble around for his winter apparel. Throughout the course of the story, he has addressed the shoppers as “sheep”, letting themselves herded into one point or the other.
His description takes life when the shoppers stood and did nothing to defend the young ladies from Lengel’s verbal assault, unlike Sammy who stood up for what he believed in. As Sammy went out of the store, Lengel is seen taking care of the “sheep” in his place, the people who were still willing to follow authority despite of its misgivings. The last transition then occurred at that point: Sammy realized that fighting for what you believed in would be hard and most often times would leave you lonely and that since he has divorced himself from his dependence on his parents, he would have to make it out on the world on his own.
This transition is symbolized by Sammy standing in the hot summer sun with no one but the mother who is frustrated at her children while the others are inside in the comfort of the air conditioned A&P. Seeing Lengel with such a harsh expression also made Sammy realize that the world has not been friendly to the old man either, and that he had to be strong and be the way he is just to survive. He had to forego other people’s feelings and put his interests first.
From being a childish, hormonally driven pampered boy, Sammy matured into a responsible man who is not willing to back down from what he believes in once he sees injustice being committed. Like a young man, he went through with his decisions and refused to be intimidated by threats or emotional blackmail. Yet like a young boy, he still holds his idealism and somehow had a feeling that the world was a lot more complicated that he thought and that not every “right” thing was rewarded.
Standing up for what was right will prove to be difficult in a world of Lengels who all thought that they were the ones who were right. If he were to refuse to see injustice and stand up and oppose authority for what he believed in every single time, then like his experience at A&P, he will have no choice but to leave. Either that or he would have to be harsh like Lengel was. It is also interesting to note that while Sammy was narrating the story, his parents thought that it was sad; yet Sammy himself thought nothing of as if he accepted what transpired.