Sammy: A Typical Teenager
John Updike’s “A & P” gives an intimate view of a fictional teenager named Sammy. As a grocery store cashier, Sammy seems like any other nineteen-year-old: observant, critical, impetuous, and quick thinking. Sammy is an intricate character whose many traits show his different contradictory personality, which, in fact, is a response to his regulated surroundings. His detailed criticism could just be viewed as normal teen sarcasm, but it can also be viewed as sexism. He focuses his attention on women, particularly three girls who walk in to the grocery store wearing only bathing suits. They are the objects of his piqued curiosity and he feels the need to observe them with commentary and interest.

Through his observations, Sammy refers to the customers as “sheep,” and with each one, he has comments degrading their appearance and behavior. He notices each minute detail about a person, usually focusing on one major characteristic to identify them by. The characteristic he focuses on is usually the person’s most unattractive feature; he refers to one of the girls in bathing suits as “the fat one with the tan.” The girl he is attracted to has “long white prima-donna legs,” and he notices the exact way she walked, conjuring up theories about her. He nicknames her “Queenie,” because she is the supposed leader of the group. He decides in his mind that she doesn’t walk around on bare feet very often. His eye for detail is revealed with his detailed account of all three girls in bathing suits.

Updike portrays Sammy as a male chauvinist in “A & P.” He makes sexist comments towards women, although they are harmless because he only thinks them to himself. He was exceptionally excited when the three girls walked in wearing only bathing suits, and these three girls were blatant sex symbols for him. He mentioned Queenie’s breasts more than once and described them as “the two smoothest scoops of vanilla.” Besides sexuality, he views the women in his town as people who go shopping with their “six children and varicose veins.” He proves himself to be sexist with the line “You never know for sure how girls’ minds work (do you really think it’s a mind in there or just a little buzz like a bee in a glass jar?).” (228)

Sammy calls attention to the undesirable features of people, as if he is looking down upon them, which shows himself to be a inconsiderate person. Meanwhile, he shows the softer side of himself when he attempts to rescue the girls. Perhaps he is just impetuous or looking for attention, but he does quit when Lengel, the manager, embarrasses the girls in bathing suits. The audience questions the reason he quits. Does he really just want to be the girls’ “unsuspected hero,” or does he genuinely care about their being embarrassed? Most likely, it would be a combination of the two. He had an infatuation with these girls, and wanted to be their hero, but he also did have feelings, and did not want the girls to feel embarrassed. Sammy feels that the world will be harder after this event, knowing that there will be many others like Lengel out there. He feels responsibility for Lengel’s actions and quits his job to show his true values.

Sammy’s sexism was a cover for his underlying sympathy for the girls. He tries to take a stand against his shameful manager. Sammy shows compassion when he sticks up for the three young ladies. This action contradicts his previous characteristics shown at the beginning of the story. Even with his juvenile character, he still manages to uphold his values and stand up for what he believes is right. He believed that people, regardless of what they do, should be made to feel bad or embarrassed by others. His morality is questioned when he is faced with the daunting task of deciding who will it be, him, or the girls. Since he is not their unsuspected hero, he is the only upholder of individuality in the supermarket. His maturity seems selfish, but rather is for the greater good for all that enter the store.