Character Analysis of Sammy in “A&P”
Character Analysis of Sammy in “A&P” ?John Updike’s contemporary short story “A&P” is narrated by Sammy, a nineteen year old checkout clerk at a local grocery store. The story focuses on a specific experience concerning three young girls who enter the store. Through Sammy’s observation and analysis of the girls and the other patrons, the reader is able to better understand Sammy’s personal character. Sammy is immature, boldly chauvinistic, and bored with his mediocre surroundings.
However, by the end of the story, Sammy does undergo a preliminary initiation into maturity, placing his outlook for the future and old way of life in question. ?Besides the obvious examples given throughout the short story, Updike also provides subtle clues of Sammy’s immaturity. As Sammy leaves the store after quitting, he describes walking through the door “in [his] white shirt that [his] mother ironed the night before” (228). It can be assumed that he is finished with high school and has been working for at least a year.
He is still allowing his mother to take care of him or “baby” him. At nineteen, Sammy is more than capable of performing such a simplistic act. Also, during the climax of the story, Sammy announces “I quit” (228) primarily because he wants the girls to overhear him, and the gesture loses resonance when he realizes they didn’t notice. Rather than coherently explaining himself for his reason for quitting, Sammy recites “Fiddle-de-doo” (228) which is a frivolous saying of his grandmother. It is childish to dismiss an authoritative figure so easily with such a ridiculous phrase.
This is supposed to be the dramatic conflict of the story; however, Sammy’s immaturity hides him from realizing the importance of his actions at that moment. ?Sammy has a crude and chauvinistic attitude towards the three young girls who enter the store wearing only bathing suits. He meticulously surveys and judges every inch of their physical appearance, from the texture and patterns of their bathing suits to the different boundaries of their tan lines. When describing one of the girls, Sammy refers to her as “the plump one in plaid, which I liked better from the back—a really sweet can” (227).
Sammy internally addresses and recognizes the girl solely by one of her body parts. It is a very demeaning statement to say her behind is more attractive than her frontal appearance or face. Another example of Sammy’s sexism is when Queenie pulls out money from her suit top and Sammy illustrates it as “just having come from between the two smoothest scoops of vanilla I had ever known” (228). He insensitively appraises the girl in terms of a food item located in the A&P. Sammy casually dehumanizes both girls with a cocky young male attitude repeatedly through the story.
Sammy even makes a general affront when comparing the female mind to a “little buzz like a bee in a glass jar” (225). ?Sammy is obviously bored with his job and his surroundings. He describes the A&P as a maze of aisles and a place upheld by policy, practice, and impersonality. It is understood that nothing exciting or original ever happens in this mechanical world, which is why the presence of the three scantily clad girls is such a spectacle. Sammy even makes up a song to the sound of the cash register buttons to break up the monotony of his repetitive duty, “Hello (bing) there, you (gung), hap-py pee-pul (splat)” (228).
He attempts to add some imagination to such a routine practice. Sammy is also judgmental and unimpressed with the usual customers who shop in the store. He contemptuously refers to the people as “sheep pushing their carts down the aisle” (226) and “scared pigs in a chute” (228). Sammy sees his suburban regulars as dull, stupid, and without individuality. They are simply a herd of farm animals that mindlessly and robotically go through the checklist of everyday life. ?Updike’s “A&P” is considered a coming of age story.
After impulsively quitting, Sammy suddenly realizes it might not have been the best decision. Initially, Sammy’s reasons for quitting were somewhat superficial in the sense that he was seeking the attention and adoration of the girls for his attempted heroic gesture. In the last sentence of the story, Sammy describes his new perspective, “my stomach kind of fell as I felt how hard the world was going to be to me hereafter” (229). Although not entirely, Sammy somewhat recognizes that he has given up his safe and sheltered life for one that is not planned or expected.