Character Analysis of Sammy in Updike’s “A & P”

Sammy works at an A & P grocery store near the beach. He works the cash register and is seemingly an ordinary nineteen year old boy. One day at work, Sammy sees three girls enter the grocery store, each girl wearing only a two piece bathing suit. Immediately he begins to analyze each girl and their unique traits, in a rather crude sort of way. He is

a careless young man and gives an impression that he is somewhat ill-mannered at times. One can see this by his actions and diction in the story. For example, Sammy sees the backside of one of the girls that comes into the store and he says, “She was a chunky kid, with a good tan and a sweet broad soft-looking can… (P.310).” The three girls cause Sammy to make a rather rational decision. Perhaps while trying to impress them, while the girls are making their way out of the store, Sammy tells his boss that he quits and he hopes the girls hear it. In this paper, I will discuss how actions like these express Sammy’s language and convey his character.

Sammy acts like most nineteen year old boys do. He thinks he knows the world and the people around him and how they work. However, his careless actions cause him problems at times. Sammy shows that he can be easily distracted when he says, “I stood there with my hand on a box of HiHo crackers trying to remember if I rang it up or not. I ring it up again and the customer starts giving me hell (P.310).” Sammy is so obsessed over the girls that he forgets about his duties as an employee. In return for his carelessness, Sammy gets an earful from the customer. He also seems ill-mannered when he says, “I uncrease the bill, tenderly as you may imagine, it coming from between the two smoothest scoops of vanilla I had ever known were there (P.312),” referring to Queenie’s body parts.

Although Sammy is careless and ill-mannered, he also seems principled and firm. He gets upset with Lengel scolding the young ladies and Sammy, without thinking twice, acts rationally and decides to quit. He knows this decision will upset his parents, but he sticks with this decision. Lengel says, “You don’t want to do this to your Mom and Dad,” and Sammy says, “It’s true, I don’t. But it seems to me that once you begin a gesture it’s fatal not to go through with it (P.313).” This statement shows that Sammy is unyielding and once he has his mind set on something, he doesn’t think twice. I believe Sammy makes a mistake by quitting. He did it because he thought the girls would hear and pay him some attention, but it still is not worth losing a job over a group of girls that he might not ever see again.

The setting of the story is an interesting one. The story seems like an abstract sort of romance, except it takes place in a grocery store. The grocery store does not seem like the proper setting for a romantic story. Instead, it is just an ordinary place around town. The girls could have thought of Sammy as any ordinary guy just like they though of
A & P as any ordinary grocery store, as if the he is just a part of the place where he works. Sammy’s actions and setting help the reader better interpret his character, just as the setting and diction do for any other story. One can understand and visualize the feelings and thoughts of a character through the character’s actions in the story.