The encounter of Sammy, a checkout clerk at an A & P supermarket, with a trio of swimsuited girls encompasses many of the themes central to adolescence, including accepting the repercussions of one's choices. When Sammy quits in protest of how the girls were treated by the store's manager, he perceives that from now on, the world will be a more difficult place. As Sammy tells the story his language indicates that, at age nineteen, he is both cynical and romantic. He notes, for instance, that there are "about twenty-seven old freeloaders" working on a sewer main up the street, and he wonders what the "bum" in "baggy gray pants" could possibly do with "four giant cans of pineapple juice." Yet, when Queenie approaches him at the checkout, Sammy describes her "prim look" as "she lifts a folded dollar bill out of the hollow at the center of her nubbled pink top." "Really," he says, "I thought that was so cute." He vacillates back and forth between these extremes of opinion during the story. He considers some of the customers "houseslaves in pin curlers," yet he is sensitive enough that when Lengel makes Queenie blush, he feels "scrunchy inside." At the end of the story, he quits his job in an effort to be a hero to the girls and as a way of rebelling against a strict society. Experiencing an epiphany, he suddenly realizes "how hard the world was going to be to me hereafter" if he refuses to follow acceptable paths. Sammy most pointedly embodies an important theme in "A & P": that of choices and consequences. While all of the main characters in the story must make a choice and endure the consequences of that choice,
Sammy makes the most obvious and most meaningful choice, and on some level he is aware of the consequences. When he chooses to quit his job, he knows that this decision will have ramifications in his life that will last for a long time. His family is affected, and it causes him to recount the situation as "sad." Because he has stood up for something on principle—he acted in protest of the manager's chastisement of the girls—he knows life will be difficult for him. If Sammy quits his job every time he encounters a situation he dislikes, his life will become extremely complicated. In the short term, the consequence of quitting is having to find another job, and with his rash decision comes the possibility he will be branded a troublemaker or misfit by the community in which he lives.
"Queenie" is the name Sammy gives to the pretty girl who leads her two friends through the grocery store in their bathing suits. He has never seen her before but immediately becomes infatuated with her. He comments on her regal and tantalizing appearance. She is somewhat objectified by Sammy, who notes the shape of her body and the seductiveness of the straps which have slipped off her shoulders. When the girls are chastised for their attire by Lengel, Queenie, who Sammy imagines lives in an upper-middle-class world of backyard swimming pools and fancy hor d'oeuvres, becomes "sore now that she remembers her place, a place from which the crowd that runs the A & P must look pretty crummy." Sammy becomes indignant at Lengel's treatment of the girls and tries to help them save face by quitting his job. Queenie, however, appears not to notice and leaves the store promptly, diminishing the impact of Sammy's gesture.
The three girls must suffer the consequences of having gone to the grocery store in their bathing suits. It is hard to believe that they had no idea they were improperly...
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