A&P Questions and Answers
by John Updike

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In John Updike's "A & P," is Queenie a stock character? Explain.

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A "stock character" is...

...a character in literature...requiring no development by the writer.

The stock character is also described as:

A character type that appears repeatedly in a particular literary genre, one which has certain conventional attributes or attitudes.

And, stock characters...

...rely heavily on cultural types or names for their personality, manner of speech, and other characteristics.

Stock characters may be simplistic in one sense, but are also complex because of the role they play in the story. In John Updike's "A & P," Queenie's character is a stock character. She does not require any character development. Almost all of the information about Queenie comes from Sammy, the narrator of the story, who describes his first sight of her.

...the third one...wasn't quite so tall. She was the queen. She kind of led them...She didn't look around, not this queen, she just walked straight on slowly, on those long white prima-donna legs....

He infers that she is a leader...

...you got the idea she had talked the other two into coming in here with her, and how she was showing them how to do it... 

Sammy projects his expectations on her, responding as a nineteen year old male might: he sees her as seductive and regal. At no time does she participate in meaningful conversation. Our vision of Queenie is Sammy's, and he is not a credible source. He gives details of her bathing suit and how she wears it, the color of her hair, etc., but nothing that develops her character.

The name "Queenie" is used to describe her physical presence, not her personality. Sammy repeatedly refers to this young woman as a queen. Several times as he describes how she walks, carries herself and responds to those around her, he notes...

...not this queen.

Queenie is, however, a pivotal part of the story: for her arrival at the store—when Sammy is working—forever changes his life, in a meaningful way, even though she is not aware of doing so. In fact, she pays him little or no attention at all.

We know nothing of Queenie's attitudes except that she defends herself to Lengel, the store manager. However, her attributes are conventional in terms of Sammy's generation in this coming-of-age story. Whereas society expects youngsters to wear shoes in the store, and young women to wear a cover-up over a bathing suit to be "dressed appropriately," Queenie appears in a manner conventional to Sammy's generation (which is also hers). Lengel infers that the girls are dressed indecently. She simply disagrees. She is conventional for her age group. Sammy substantiates this as he responds to "store policy."

That's policy for you. Policy is what the kingpins want. What the others want is juvenile delinquency.

This is the story of a young man who falls for a girl and makes a sacrifice for her—though it comes to nothing: she never acknowledges him, and doesn't recognize (as he had hoped) that he is their "unsuspected hero." However, her presence helps Sammy realize that he is not a sheep (a follower) like the housewives who shop at the store. They choose to follow, but Sammy defies the rules, and ultimately agrees with Lengel's assessment: "You'll feel this for the rest of your life." It's true; Sammy knows he will, but he also knows he wouldn't have it any other way.

His epiphany ("realization") comes from the presence of Queenie, a stock character in the story.

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