Both stories share the theme of the importance of empathy and imagination. In "A&P," Sammy is impressed with Queenie, who, with her two friends, comes shopping in the A&P. The threesome are wearing only bathing suits. Queenie is not a local person. She has the self-confidence of the richer outsiders...
Both stories share the theme of the importance of empathy and imagination. In "A&P," Sammy is impressed with Queenie, who, with her two friends, comes shopping in the A&P. The threesome are wearing only bathing suits. Queenie is not a local person. She has the self-confidence of the richer outsiders who come to rent summer homes in the area. Sammy creates a glamorous imagined life for Queenie and her family, one that expresses his aspirations and longings for something more than his mundane, working-class existence. By the time his boss, Lengel, embarrasses Queenie by telling her that she and her friends have to come into the store dressed "decently," Sammy has so strongly identified with her that he quits his job in protest.
"You'll feel this for the rest of your life," Lengel says.
Lengel means the comment above as a threat, but it is ambiguous in the context of the story. We as readers could interpret Sammy's act as breaking free of the narrow confines of his existence and growing into a different person with expanded possibilities.
In "Cathedral," the narrator at first stereotypes Robert—who is blind—based on his handicap and doesn't see how they can have anything in common. He is also jealous of Robert because of the long lasting bond he and the narrator's wife have. However, as the two sit together in the living room and watch a television show about cathedrals, the narrator begins to feel empathy for Robert. He wonders how much Robert can tell about a cathedral just by listening to words about it. When Robert suggests they draw one together, with Robert's hand over the narrator's, they do so. When he is done with the drawing, the narrator keeps his eyes shut so he can enter imaginatively into what Robert's world must be like. The narrator is moved by the experience, saying:
It was like nothing else in my life up to now.
For both protagonists, an encounter with a stranger leads to empathy and imaginative engagement in another life, with results that lead to change. In neither story do we know what will happen to the narrators, but we know something has fundamentally altered in their lives.