In "A & P," is Sammy a hero? Why or why not?
Is Sammy a hero? This is a good question. In John Updike's short story "A&P," Sammy is the first person narrator of an event that takes place in the grocery store where he works as a checkout clerk. Sammy's actions may not be so much an act of heroism but, instead, a step towards manhood, a rite of passage.
Sammy watches the girls who are wearing nothing but bathing suits and are barefooted as they walk through the store: "The whole store was like a pinball machine and I didn't know which tunnel they'd come out of" (paragraph 12). The metaphor of the pinball machine to the store aisles emphasizes Sammy's interest in the girls as they traipse up and down while he has "nothing much to do except lean on the register and wait for the girls to show up again" (para 12).
The girls, led by Queenie, finally reach Sammy's register with the jar of herring. At this point, Lengel, the store manager, reprimands the girls for entering the store in bathing suits while giving them that "Sunday-school superintendent stare." This becomes too much for Sammy, and he quits his job. Lengel attempts to convince him differently, but Sammy sticks to his decision. When he leaves the store, the girls are gone.
Was Sammy's act of quitting his job heroic? Perhaps, because the girls symbolize freedom and life's spontaneity. They broke the rules of convention by entering the store scantily clad. Sammy's actions are heroic not so much in defending the girls, but in realizing that the girls are a catalyst for change in his own life. As Sammy tells the reader, his parents thought that his quitting was the sad part of the story "but I don't think it's sad myself" (para 12). Sammy learns to take a path of his own choosing; he is on his way to becoming a man. He also comes to the realization that he" felt how hard the world was going to be to me hereafter" (para 31). Taking responsibility for one's decisions is a difficult part of adulthood.
On the other side, Updike does make Sammy heroic. His heroism is flawed, as is true of most modern protagonists, but it is present. He is offended by the treatment the girls receive. Granted, his offense is in direct proportion of his attraction, but there is validity to it. Sammy makes judgments about all the customers at the store, but he does not stoop to insult any of them. He treats them all the same, and expects his manager to. However, as a well-raised young man, Sammy would not consider challenging authority. The girls provide a change. Sammy finds in them the impetus he needs to challenge society, challenge authority. Although readers can argue he only wants the girls attention, it is important to note that the girls ignore him. Sammy knows that they are ignoring him, but he still walks out. He does not try to talk his way out of the situation, he does not allow Lengel to convince him to stay. Sammy, having been given the opportunity, now wants to see it through. That is heroic, the convinction to beliefs that he shows as protagonists, especially when coupled with his epiphany of "how hard the world was going to be to me hereafter''.
No, Sammy would not be characterized as a hero. His actions were foolish, actually, and immature. By quitting his job, he has made a huge mistake and he realizes at the end of the story that life is much harder and will be much harder than he ever anticipated. He seems to realize the foolishness and hasty nature of his actions. Because he wanted to impress the oldest girl in the group of girls that were in the store, he resorted to try to "take up" for them; however, in doing so, he overstepped his boundaries (he should have kept his mouth shut LOL!) and thought he would be seen as a hero by the girls. As he walks out, though, the girls are gone and he realizes that he is not a hero at all.