How accurate are Sammy's judgments about the other characters?John Updike's "A & P"

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

John Updike's nineteen-year-old character, Sammy, vacillates between being cynical and romantic.  As a cynic, he is a disappointed idealist, so he looks at the shoppers and perceives their imperfections.  For instance, women who come in from the beach wear a shirt and shorts if they come into the grocery store. But, as mothers of several children, they have spider and varicose veins.  Other shoppers move like "scare pigs in a chute." Of his employer, Lengel, Sammy expresses disdain, for the man is too compliant with "policy."  He sees on Lengel's face "that sad Sunday-school-superintendent stare."  However, when Queenie and her entourage enter the grocery store, Sammy's cynicism metamorphoses into romanticism.

Sammy watches the girls enter the store with Queenie "showing them how to do it, walk slow and hold yourself straight."  As he describes Queenie, Sammie objectifies her, describing her straps down, with nothing "between the top of the suit and the top of her head except just her..."  But, then, he becomes romantic, "I mean, it was more than pretty."  Ironically, while it has been all right for him to objectify Queenie and the other girls, Sammy is offended by the "house slaves"' and the "slaves"' having stared and reacted to the girls who enter in swimsuits.  When the other men he works with view the girls with lust, Sammy suddenly has another romantic urge and "feel[s] sorry for them, they couldn't help it." 

Clearly, Sammy's judgments of others are distorted by his cynicism. His attitudes towards Queenie and the other girls, however, are colored by his teen-age urges and his romantic heart. Wishing to make an impression upon the girls, Sammy makes what he considers a chivalric gesture and tells Lengel that he should not have embarrassed the girls.  When Lengel retorts, "It was they who were embarrassing us," Sammy acts romantically and quits his job.  However, the girls take no notice of his chivalric act, hurriedly departing and mitigating the impact of Sammy's chivalric and romantic act.  And, it is his poor judgement that brings Sammy to the insight of knowing how hard "the world is going to be."