In John Updike’s "A & P," Sammy is accused of quitting his job for childlike, immature reasons. Nathan Hatcher states, "In reality, Sammy quit his job not on a matter of ideals, but rather as a means of showing off and trying to impress the girls, specially Queenie" (37), but Sammy’s motive runs much deeper than that. He was searching for a sense of personal gain and satisfaction. By taking sides with the girls, he momentarily rises in class to meet their standards and the standards of the upper-class.
Sammy was obviously near the bottom of the class ladder, a place where he was extremely unhappy. His dead-end job at the grocery store, where lower class citizens are the prime patrons, was not a place he felt he belonged. He wanted to be a member of the family where the "father and the other men were standing around in ice-cream coats and bow ties and the women were in sandals picking up herring snacks on toothpicks off a big glass plate and they were all holding drinks the color of water with olives and sprigs of mint in them" (Updike 1028). Sammy realizes that Queenie comes from this sort of background, a very different one from his. When Queenie is being harassed by Lengel, Sammy sees that "she remembers her place, a place from which the crowd that runs the A & P must look pretty crummy" (Updike 1028). Queenie’s family was in the class that he envied, that he admired, that he wanted to become a part of.
So Sammy quits his job to prove to himself, maybe to others, that he belongs in this "place." Quitting his job is his first step in achieving this goal. Sammy was obviously enthralled by the girls from the moment they walked in the A & P. He was not keen on the other two girls, but Queenie overwhelmed him. He may have even taken a liking to Queenie, but any average, nineteen-year old male would do the same after witnessing such striking beauty as is described. On the other hand, the average male would not quit a job and create such turmoil if first impression was the only cause. How interested could he actually be? In trying to figure out Queenie’s persona, he asks, "do you really think it’s a mind in there or just a little buzz like a bee in a glass jar?" (Updike 1026). This is clue enough that he was more interested in the posing the question than in his chances of winning the heart of Queenie.
Nathan Hatcher felt that his quitting the job was a ridiculous and spontaneous decision: "Had he taken the time to think over his actions before he carried them out, he would have seen how foolish he was being and would not have gone through with them" (38). Yet Sammy’s frustration and inferiority complex had been building for a long time. Sammy had to act out and this was the perfect opportunity. His lust for Queenie was not just physical — he wanted to be "of her kind," and this was his chance.
Sammy quits his job for reasons that run much deeper than impressing a couple of girls. He did not necessarily want Queenie, but instead, he wanted her way of living. Sammy admired and envied the girls for their social standing and that’s what he was after.
Hatcher, Nathan. "Sammy’s Motive." Ode to Friendship & Other Essays. Ed. Connie Bellamy. Norfolk, Virginia: 1996. 37-38.
Updike, John. "A & P." The Harper Anthology of Fiction. Sylvan Barnet. New York: HarperCollins, 1996.
Sammy and Queenie
Men will go to extreme measures to impress women. This is the case in the story "A & P" written by John Updike. Sammy, who is a cashier at a supermarket, displays a classic example of a man trying to impress a woman. His rash decision to quit his job was a bad decision and will definitely have an adverse effect on him in the future.
Sammy seems doomed from the very first sentence when he says, "In walks three girls in nothing but bathing suits" (Updike 1026). He notices every little detail about the girls from the color of their bathing suits to their tan lines. At this time he is checking out "one of these cash-register-watchers," and he is yelled at for ringing up her item twice (Updike 1026). This distraction from his job shows his interest in the girls, especially the one he calls "Queenie."
To Sammy’s delight, Queenie and her two friends pick his register to purchase the "Fancy Herring Snacks in Pure Sour Cream" (Updike 1027). When she puts the snacks down on the counter, Sammy notices that her hands are free. While he is wondering where the money is going to come from, she proceeds to pull the dollar bills "out of the hollow at the center of her nubbled pink top" (Updike 1027). This gesture puts Sammy in total awe of the girl, and this is the turning point, this is when he makes his decision that he should try to impress her. His big chance comes when the store manager, Lengel, makes a visit to Sammy’s line.
"Girls, this isn’t the beach," is the first thing Lengel says to the girls when he sees them (Updike 1028). Queenie explains that her mother sent her to pick up some herring snacks, implying that since her mother sent her it is perfectly fine for her to be in the store with only a bathing suit on. While Lengel and Queenie are arguing, Sammy visualizes himself at Queenie’s house during a party. In his imagination he sees, "her father and the other men were standing around in ice-cream coats and bow ties and the women were in sandals picking up herring snacks on toothpicks off a big glass plate and they were all holding drinks the color of water with olives and sprigs of mint in them" (Updike 1028).
This is the beginning of the end for Sammy, because he really wants to impress Queenie now, and he finally sees his opening. After Lengel and the girls finish arguing, Queenie starts to leave. This is when Sammy blurts out "I quit" fast enough and loud enough for the girls to hear before they leave. He is "hoping they’ll stop and watch me, their unsuspected hero" (Updike 1029). Unfortunately, the girls keep walking and don’t even notice his futile attempt. He is left there with his boss who asks him if he would like to reconsider. Even though Sammy sticks to his decision to quit it is not because of any strong principle he has, but merely an attempt to impress the girls.
Suzanne Uphaus agrees with my argument. She states that, as in many of Updike’s works, the heroic gesture is often meaningless and usually arises from selfish rather than unselfish impulses (Updike 372). Sammy’s impulse to quit, which he considers a heroic gesture, is in fact meaningless and selfish. He is reminded that he shouldn’t "do this to your Mom and Dad," yet he goes on and quits anyway (Updike 1029). His gesture is nothing more than a weak attempt to impress a girl.
Sammy, like many other characters of Updike’s stories, puts himself in a position in which he can hurt or disgrace his family (Magill 2335). He is left to make the decision of whether to quit or not, after the girls leave. Lengel is a family friend, and reminds Sammy that his parents would not be happy if he were to quit. At this time, Sammy also realizes that if he backs down he will never be able to stand up for his beliefs later in life (Magill 2335). He decides to take the consequences and realizes the world will be a little tougher from that point on.
It is clear that Sammy tried to win the girls over by being their hero. The girls’ arrogance and fancy snacks showed that they were upper-class, and this was a change for Sammy, who was a small town boy. By quitting, he only tried to make the girls notice him. Unfortunately, he impressed no one, and made life harder on himself.
Magill, Frank N. Critical Survey of Short Fiction. Vol. 6. Pasadena, California: Salem Press, 1993.
Segal, David. "John Updike" Short Story Criticism. Vol. 13. Detroit: Gale Research Inc., 1993.
Updike, John. "A & P." Harper Anthology of Fiction. Ed. Sylvan Barnet. New York: HarperCollins, 1989.
Sammy’s Growing Up
Researching John Updike’s story, "A&P", I found many readers agreed that the main character Sammy is viewed as a hero or martyr for quitting his job at an A&P store in a northern beach town. I did, however, find that critics disagreed on why Sammy quit. Initially it appears that Sammy quits his job to impress girls who were reprimanded for wearing bathing suits in the A&P. I intend to prove in this paper that Sammy did not ultimately quit his job to be the hero for three girls who walked in to this A&P one day. I will agrue that "A&P" is not just a story about a nineteen-year-old guy trying to impress a group of girls by quitting his job, but it is also a story describing in detail the day this nineteen-year-old realizes that sometimes, in the transition from boyhood to adulthood, one must take a stand and ultimately follow through with this affirmation of adulthood.
From the beginning of the story Updike "uses Sammy’s youth and unromantic descriptive powers" to show his immaturity and apparent boyish nature (Uphaus 373). We see this in the opening line of the story: "In walks three girls in nothing but bathing suits" (Updike 1026). Even the voice of Sammy is very "familiar and colloquial" (Uphaus 373). Much of the information that Sammy relays about the three girls is sexually descriptive in a nineteen-year-old boy’s way: "and a sweet broad looking can [rear] with those two crescents of white under it, where the sun never seems to hit" (Updike 1026). It is apparent that Sammy looks at the three girls who happen to walk into the A&P only as objects of lust or possibly boyish desire. Thus, on the surface it is easy to take this story as that of a boy who would do something like quit his job to "impress" these girls. It is even possible that most readers wouldn’t even question the immaturity of a lusting teen age boy leaving his job for the possibility of "wooing" the girls.
However, at a closer look Updike suggests that possibly Sammy is in a transition from boyhood to adulthood. In one respect he is a boy wearing his "white shirt that his mother ironed the night before" (Updike 1029). And it is even possible that Sammy is working for his parents rather than himself. When Sammy’s boss Lengel tells him, "Sammy you don’t want to do this to your Mom and Dad" (Updike 1029), I feel Updike is suggesting that Sammy is working to please his parents.
But Sammy is not completely a brash teenage boy. He knows that he is young but entering into the realm of adult responsibilities; thus, Sammy is in a transition from a teen to an adult. Sammy equates himself with his co-worker Stokesie who is an adult. Even though "Stokesie’s married, with two babies chalked up on his fuselage already" (Updike 1027), Sammy sees Stokesie and himself equal, with Stokesie’s family life as "the only difference" (Updike 1027). Sammy also seems to be pretty worldly for working in an A&P. Sammy hints on life existing beyond the A&P. He even makes this comment about Stokesie: "I forgot to say he thinks he’s going to be manager some sunny day, maybe in 1990" (Updike 1027). His disenchantment with the job of manager only suggests Sammy’s ideas of real life existing outside of his work at A&P. The most obvious display of Sammy’s maturity is his sympathy for the girls after they are harshly reprimanded by Lengel. His established sympathy is shown in "the contrast between the girls and the typical cash register watcher" (Greiner 389).
The possible reasons for Sammy quitting his job are numerous: Sammy might have just used the treatment of the girls as an excuse, or maybe Lengel did actually upset him that much. It is possible that Sammy did initially quit to impress the girls and be their hero. Susan Uphaus says, "Sammy’s quitting has been described as the reflex of the still uncommitted, of the youth still capable of the grand gesture because he has not learned the sad wisdom of compromise."
Most importantly, Sammy takes a stand and follows through with it. Even after Lengel understands Sammy wants to quit, Lengel still asks him to repeat that he was quitting to give him the opportunity to take it back. Lengel was "a friend of his parents for years" (Updike 1029). Lengel even states to Sammy, "You don’t warn to do this to your Mom and Dad" (Updike 1029). However, Sammy walks out into the parking lot thus, asserting his position and disassociating himself from the A&P.
The day Sammy quit the A&P was an important day in the life of this character. He remembers every detail vividly, and "his response to the situation has made an impact which he continues to ponder" (Greiner 399). It is important to note that Updike even maintained some boyish qualities in Sammy after his stand. This is expressed when Sammy, after quitting, notices that the girls are not waiting around for him in the parking lot. David Greiner states, "’A&P’ is the record of an incident which Sammy has already lived through but not forgotten." As Updike ends the story with our hero Sammy staring at a empty parking lot, Sammy’s last line is, "my stomach kind of fell as I felt how hard the world was going to be to me hereafter" (Updike 1030). This was the day that Sammy grew up.
Greiner, Donald J. Short Story Criticism. Vol. 13 Detroit: Gale Research Inc., 1991. 398-399.
Updike, John. "A&P." The Harper Anthology of Fiction. Ed. Sylvan Barnet. New York: HarperCollins, 1991.1026-1030.
Uphaus, Suzanne Henning. Short Story Criticism. Vol. 13 Detroit: Gale Research Inc., 1991. 372-373.
Coffman, Kelly. "A Turning Point." Ode To Friendship & Other Essays. Ed. Connie Bellamy. Virginia Beach, 1997. 190-191.
Hatcher, Nathan. "Sammy’s Motive." Ode To Friendship . Ed. Connie Bellamy. Virginia Beach 1997. 188-189.
Luscher, Robert M. John Updike: A Study of the Short Fiction. New York: Twayne, 1993.
Uphaus, Suzanne. John Updike. N Y: Frederick Ungar, 1986.
John Updike’s story, "A&P," starts off: "In walks three girls in nothing but bathing suits," and that pretty much sums it all up (Updike 1026). In the story, not only are the girls in bathing suits looked upon as sex objects, but other women are negatively viewed as witches, farm animals, or slaves. This story is about how a young man in the early 1960s viewed women as a whole, including his own mother.
At the beginning of the story Sammy complains about an older woman, a fifty-year-old "witch" with rouge on her cheekbones and no eyebrows, who is waiting to check out her groceries. She gets annoyed with Sammy because he is too busy drooling over the young flesh which has just walked in the door (Updike 1026). The first half-naked girl who walks into the A&P and catches Sammy’s eye is a chunky girl with a two-piece plaid bathing suit on that showed off her "sweet broad soft-looking can" (Updike l026). As if staring at this girl’s backside wasn’t enough, Sammy also noticed "those two crescents of white just under it, where the sun never seems to hit" (Updike 1026).
How would this girl feel if she knew just how intensely this guy was scoping her out? Or better yet, how would you feel if someone’s eyes were glued to your backside when you were grocery shopping? That behavior, no matter what she was wearing, is totally unacceptable especially in a grocery store. Is Sammy at fault for not having any self control? It might be acceptable for this nineteen-year-old guy to check out a girl in her bathing suit; however, that would not have excused old McMahon, the deli guy, who patted his mouth and "sized up their joints" as the girls walked away from the counter (Updike 1027).
"Goony-Goony," the next victim of Sammy’s intentional harassment, was presented in the story as a rather tall girl with "black hair that hadn’t quite frizzed right" for Sammy’s taste (Updike 1026). He found some reason not to be interested in this girl, probably because he was intimidated by her height.
Obviously, perfection was not something he saw in anyone, except maybe the girl he referred to as "Queenie," who Sammy says, "has the nicest two scoops of vanilla breasts" he has ever seen (Updike 1028). However, if this girt was so perfect, why did he wonder if she had a mind or if it was just "a little buzz like a bee in a glass jar" (Updike 1026)? Is this not just another sign that maybe Sammy is not very interested in the way a female thinks or feels, but only in how she looks? He believes that the only thing on a girl’s mind is her mother’s lessons on "how to do it, walk slow and hold yourself straight" (Updike 1026). It seems as though Sammy has the "bee in a glass jar" kind of mind himself.
As Sammy watched Queenie "buzz" over to her two friends, it made his stomach (and who knows what else) rub the inside of his apron (Updike 1027). Sammy also observed the women in the store turn away when they noticed the girls (Updike l027). At this point, Sammy views all of the older, less attractive shoppers as "sheep" pushing their carts around in a herd, or as "house slaves in pin curlers" (Updike 1027). An example Sammy gives of a house slave is his own mother who ironed his white work shirt the night before (Updike 1029).
Sammy reveals in the story that he thinks it is all right for the young girls to walk around the store in their bathing suits, but other women, "women with six children and varicose veins," should put on some clothes before they get out of their cars (Hatcher 188).
Was Sammy’s behavior typical of a nineteen-year-old guy in the early 1960’s? Most likely it was, since he was raised in a time when women were not considered equal to men in many ways. Nevertheless, he was a teenage guy and they’re sometimes inclined to rude behavior. Sammy’s perspective of women in the 60s, however, would not be suitable today in the 90s.
Hatcher, Nathan. "Sammy’s Motive" Ode to Friendship and Other Essays. Ed. Connie Bellamy. VWC, 1996, 1997. 188-189.
Updike, John. "A&P." The Harper Anthology of Fiction. Ed. Sylvan Barnet. New York: HarperCollins, 1989. 1026-1030.
Coffman, Kalli. "A Turning Point." Ode to Friendship and Other Essays. Ed. Connie Bellamy. VWC, 1996, 1997. 190-191.
When Boy Meets Girl
You know how people always tell you to make a good first impression? That is what Sammy was trying to in John Updike’s "A & P." Although some people believe that Sammy is a hero for standing up for his beliefs when he quit, there is conclusive evidence that he quit for a good impression with a girl he was obviously attracted to, Queenie. Because he was attracted to Queenie he wanted to do something to bring attention to himself the way that she had done for herself.
We know he is attracted to Queenie because he goes to great lengths to tell us what she looks like, what her mannerisms are, and the way that the other girls follow her. For example, he says, "She was the Queen. She kind of led them, the other two peeking around and making their shoulders round" (1026). This simple quote shows that Sammy immediately identified Queenie as the one in charge. Another quote that describes this perfectly is, "but you got the idea that she had talked the other two into coming in here with her, and now she was showing them how to do it, walk slow and hold yourself straight" ( 1026). Naturally Sammy is attracted to Queenie and wants to be noticed by her. Sammy thinks to himself "She must have felt in the corner of her eye me and over my shoulder Stokesie in the second slot watching, but she didn’t trip. Not this queen" (1027). Sammy is surprised to see something like this in his town. He says, "and the women generally put on a shirt or shorts or something before they get out of the car and into the street. And anyway these are usually women with six children and varicose veins mapping their legs and nobody, including them could care less" (1027).
Sammy’s descriptions also indicated he had a lot of sexual interest in Queenie. He describes her as vividly as he can. He starts with saying, "With the straps pushed off, there was nothing between the top of the suit and the top of her head except just her, this clean bare plane of the top of her chest down from the shoulder bones like a dented sheet of metal tilted in the light. I mean, it was more than pretty" (1026). Someone who is attracted to someone else would usually notice something as striking as that. He continued with, "She held her head so high her neck, coming out of those white shoulders, looked kind of stretched, but I didn’t mind. The longer her neck was, the more of her there was" (1026). All of the above examples demonstrate how sexually interested Sammy is in Queenie, but this one is the clincher: "Still with that prim look she lifts a folded dollar bill out of the hollow at the center of her nubbled pink top. The jar went heavy in my hand" (1028).
Sammy uses Lengel’s reprimand to bring attention to himself. He was acting as a boy trying to defend his girlfriend. Sammy says, "The girls, and who’d blame them, are in a hurry to get out, so I say ‘I quit’ to Lengel quick enough for them to hear, hoping they’ll stop and watch me, their unsuspected hero." This is the most obvious attempt that Sammy makes to impress the girls. However, it doesn’t work. The girls leave before Sammy can even get outside. Sammy’s family says that that is the sad part of the story. Sammy also says, "and my stomach kind of fell as I felt how hard the world was going to be to me hereafter" (1030). Now, is this the sort of thing that someone would say after standing up for something they believe in? I should say not! Most people would feel a sense of accomplishment that they stood up for something that others wouldn’t have had the heart to do. Instead Sammy feels that life is going to be bad now that he has quit his job foolishly and has nothing to show for it. And he is scared to face life and the way that it will be from there on.
Sammy was able to bring attention to himself, but it did not work the way that he had hoped it would. The girls most likely didn’t even acknowledge that he even quit. He tried very hard to get Queenie to see him and accept him, but that didn’t work either. Since Sammy’s attempt to impress the girls did not work, he was left standing in a deep shadow called life. I agree with Nathan Hatcher who wrote, "Sammy quits his job not on a matter of ideals, but rather as a means of showing off and trying to impress the girls, especially Queenie" (37).
Hatcher, Nathan. "Sammy’s Motive." Ode to Friendship & Other Essays: Student Writing at Virginia Wesleyan College. Ed. Connie Bellamy. Norfolk, Virginia, 1996. 37.
Updike, John. "A&P." Harper Anthology of Fiction. Ed Sullivan Barnet. NY: HarperCollims, 1989. 1026-1030.