A&P Questions and Answers
by John Updike

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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 "A&P," Sammy thinks of the regular customers in the A&P as sheep because they seem to him timid and obedient like sheep, flocked together in one indiscriminate herd. Calling them sheep shows his contempt for them but also helps him distinguish between them and the girls he admires, Queenie and her friends.

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Sammy refers to the regular customers in the A&P as sheep because to him, they are like a herd of sheep. They are timid and do what they are told. They flock, to his mind, into one indiscriminate herd. Calling them sheep shows contempt and helps Sammy make a distinction between them and the teenage girl he calls Queenie and her two companions. Sammy observes that

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)—were pretty hilarious. You could see them, when Queenie's white shoulders dawned on them, kind of jerk, or hop, or hiccup, but their eyes snapped back to their own baskets and on they pushed.

The "sheep" in the quote above are a contrast to Queenie. She stands out, but they avoid trouble and mind their own business, even though it is clear they notice with surprise—a "jerk, or hop, or hiccup"—that the girls are dressed inappropriately for the store.

A short time later, Lengel, the...

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jonnydee | Student

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.