In the story "A & P" how might the characters be portrayed if the story were told by Lengel?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Lengel, the manager of the A & P [Atlantic and Pacific grocery store chain] is the authoritative figure, the representative of the system, who is in the store to enforce policy and maintain decency. He is one of those proverbial "by-the-book" employees who has probably worked his way up to manager from being a clerk just like Sammy. But, unlike Sammy he has learned to compromise his desires to meet his needs.

So, unlike Sammy, Lengel would not perceive the customers as adversarial unless that were openly confrontational, for long ago he would have abandoned emotional responses to customers such as "the houseslaves in curlers" and "the witch about fifty" whom Sammy feels stealthily watches the cash register as her items are tabulated, hoping to catch him making an error.

When the girls enter the grocery store in only their swimsuits, Lengel would immediately perceive their presence as problematic, rather than sexually stimulating. Unlike Sammy, he would not be as attentive to their features and physical shape as he would to their state of undress and the reaction of the other shoppers. His main objective would not be to get a better look as the other men do, but to get them out of the store, hoping that their entrance into the store does not encourage any other girls to enter from the beach in their bathing suits and, thus, violate company policy. Lengel would, however, agree with Sammy that

...it's one thing to have a girl in a bathing suit down on the beach, where what with the glare nobody can look at each other much anyway, and another thing in the cool of the A & P, under the fluorescent lights, against all those stacked packages, with her feet paddling along naked over our checkerboard green-an-cream rubber-tile floor. 

 But, his response is "Girls, this isn't the beach," is not about how beautiful they are, but about the problem they are causing. He blandly adheres to his tone and attitude and is negative about their nakedness,"We want you decently dressed when you come in here,"  whereas Sammy has observed that Queenie has "a really sweet can." 

Clearly, the narrative of Updike's story would be rather insipid if Lengel were the narrator, and the characters would be blandly portrayed in only a matter-of-fact tone. He is in a poor mood after haggling with a truck driver who has brought cabbages from vendor; moreover, from the description given by Sammy, Lengel seems a rather one-dimensional character with little spirit any more. let alone the hormonal urges of a young male that prompt the rash chivalry of Sammy. At any rate, Lengel reserves his own desires to serve his managerial needs. What is perceived as a significant moment in his life to Sammy would be merely an annoying one to Lengel.

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