What are the main charaters of A & P like?

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Sammy and Lengel are the two main characters of John Updike's "A & P". Sammy is a nineteen-year-old teenager who is on the threshold of adulthood and is beginning to see life with a bitterly critical eye. But he also still sees life out of the other side of his vision with the idealism of someone who could have been raised on tales of the chivalry of King Arthur's Knights. When alone, his thoughts do battle with the other working people he sees and the successes, failures and puzzles who walk through his check-out lane.

But when Queenie and her friends walk in, all he sees is fair damsels who make his head swim so that he can't remember whether he has has done his job correctly or not. When the manager points out to the three teenage barefoot swimsuit clad young ladies that they are in violation of acceptable standards and therefore must vacate the premises, making the dear damsel Queenie blush a lovely red, Sammy metaphorically sees dragons to fight and in an act of heroism defends the damsels' honor by shedding his attire (clerk's apron) and quitting his job. He discovers the rashness of his action and the life altering error of his choice when he walks out and discovers that his heroism was not noticed, claimed, wanted, recognized or lauded by the young ladies who had already vanished leaving him quite alone.

Manager Lengel is a compassionate man who is a friend of Sammy's and a friend of his parents'. He sincerely likes Sammy and wants the best for Sammy. He doesn't judge or condemn Sammy. He does however remind him that as the manager, he represents something larger than his personal feelings and beliefs and he must faithfully represent the larger reality. He also warns Sammy that his act of self-sabotage will make things much harder on Sammy hereafter, suggesting as this warning does that other employers will think twice about hiring Sammy if he walks off his A & P job for three barefoot girls who blush because they are reminded that they are violating public safety policy.