Why does Sammy think of customers as sheep in "A & P"?What does Sammy's reference to sheep in the short story "A & P" by John Updike mean?
In the short story "A & P" by John Updike, Sammy thinks of the customers as sheep because they all appear alike to him, and they seem mindless. Just as sheep will flock and follow one another, so do the customers at the A & P as they go up and down the aisles, blindly reading their shopping lists.
This is different from the girls who enter the store in their bathing attire and walk the wrong way from the sheep, up and down the aisles. Sammy says, "The sheep pushing their carts down the aisle—the girls were walking against the usual traffic (not that we have one way signs or anything)..."(para 5). The girls, therefore, illustrate the unconventional, going against the rules.
Later on in the story, Sammy refers to the customers once again as sheep as they are "all bunched up" when the girls are being reprimanded by Lengel. Again, this illustrates their similar, herd-like behavior. However, when Sammy refers to them as sheep, it also shows that he thinks that the girls are better than the other customers. This also illustrates that he, too, thinks himself better than the sheep. When Sammy quickly quits his job, he also acts in an unconventional manner.
The shoppers in the store are like sheep to Sammy because they blindly go up and down the aisles and then head to the checkout counters just as sheep are blindly herded to slaughter through chutes. When Lengel embarrasses the three girls for dressing inappropriately in the store, the others all crowd together nervously like scared sheep. Only Sammy dares to defy the policy of the store and society and challenge the rules. He's the only one who is willing to say society's rules, written and unwritten, are not always fair. Even the three girls in bathing suits give in to society's mores as they leave the store humiliated by Lengel. Sammy quits because he sees Lengel and the shoppers as blindly following the protocol of society, and yet no one seems to feel that Lengel's embarrassment of the girls is wrong. Sammy challenges whether Lengel should have the right to treat others in this fashion.
Sammy thinks of customers as sheep because he really doesn't care about them as individuals. They are all the same to him...simply people that are there to buy goods. Also, let's think about how sheep are regarded and taken care of. They are not regarded as the smartest animals, first of all. Also, they are herded through gates by Australian cattle dogs or other types of herding dogs, just as the customers are herded through the check out lines at the A & P store where Sammy works. The reference of people as sheep is not a pleasant or flattering one, then, as we can see!
Sammy's calling the shoppers in the A&P sheep says more about him than it does about them. They aren't sheep--animals that crowd together for protection and direction. They're just shoppers. The issue is Sammy's twisted view of almost everyone in the store. He objectifies almost everyone in the store and in doing so lessens their humanity (and his own). Sammy is sick. Deeply so. His calling the woman at the "a witch" who "they would have burned at the stake over in Salem..." reveals just how twisted working in the A&P has made his soul. There's something so soul-sucking about working at the A&P for Sammy that unless he escapes (which he does), he could become a very dark and dangerous man.