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Sammie, the narrator, uses slang and colloquialisms from his 1950s East Coast beach lingo. His quips about Queenie's "scoops of vanilla," the sheepish herd of A & P patrons, and Stokesie's "Oh Daddy, I feel so faint" reveal a youthful sarcasm and sexual innuendo reminiscent of Holden Caufield in Catcher in the Rye.
Updike goes for broke in the story, using sound effects, faux names ("Plaid and Big Tall Goony-Goony"), and even supermarket aisle-listing ("cat-and-dog-food-breakfast-cereal-macaroni-ri ce-raisins-seasonings-spreads-spaghetti-soft drinks- rackers-and- cookies aisle"), all of which add up to a send up of pop culture daily life.
All of this light-heartedness is, of course, a set up for the ending of the story, when Sammie quits and realizes how hard life will be hereafter. In other words, modern society isn't kind to the chivalrous types.
Although Sammy's chivalry is misguided, it is, nevertheless, admirable that he is not just a "sheep" who goes about his shopping and lining up "in the shooto" to be check out or, in his case, his tabulating of the customers' items. While he does begin his narrative with cynicism, Sammy later reveals that he has been a repressed idealist as he does not just record his impressions, but finally acts upon them, rebelling against the compromises that must be made in the modern world, compromises to one's individuality and integrity: "My stomach kind of fell as I felt how hard the world was going to be to me hereafter" is the ephiphany of Sammy, not unlike that of the boy in James Joyce's "Araby."
In Sammy's description of the three girls there is, initially, cynicism as he suggests that the one girl would have been burned had she lived in Salem in the 1600s; however, there is also the suggestion of a Homeric tale as the three girls act as Sirens to the adolescent male:"now she was showing them how to do it, walk slow and hold yourself straight." Her straps are off her shoulder seductively, and
there was nothing between the top of the suit and the top of her head except just her, this clean bare plane of the top of her chest down from the shoulder bones like a dented sheet of metal tilted in the light. I mean, it was more than pretty.
But, Sammy comments that when Queenie's white shoulders "dawn" on the shoppers, they
jerk, or hop, or hiccup, but their eyes snapped back to their own baskets and they pushed.
Sammy's eyes do not snap back; instead, he is smitten with Queenie as he is seduced by her beauty: "Really, I thought that was so cute" he remarks as she pulls a dollar bill from the top of her bathing suit. When Sammy is completely smitten and hopes "they'll stop and watch me, their unsuspected hero," the girls leave the store. But, Sammy has integrity; he says,
But it seems to me that once you begin a gesture it's fatal not to go through with it.
And, he does, punching the "No Sale" and leaving. Despite Updike's conviction that the heroic gesture is often meaningless and usually arising from selfish rather than unselfish motives, Sammy, at least, is true to his convictions. Rather naive, maybe, but morally ambitious. For these characteristics, he is admirable and the message of "A&P" is that sometimes the act itself is noble, regardless of the consequences. Sammy is a true existential hero.
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