In John Updike's "A & P," why would the world be hard for Sammy after he quits his job?

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Stephen Holliday eNotes educator| Certified Educator

After Sammy walks out of the A & P and realizes the girls are long gone, he sees the store's manager, Lengle, taking his place at the check out counter, and Sammy's first thought is "my stomach kind of fell as I felt how hard the world was going to be to me hereafter."  This quote epitomizes the "coming-of-age" experience.

Admittedly, Sammy is first drawn to the girls, especially "Queenie," because his teenage hormones control his behavior, but there is a point at which he actually feels sorry for the girls.  When Lengle, the manager, challenges the girls for wearing only bathing suits into the store, Sammy notices that "Queenie's blush is no sunburn now," and in a sort of recompense for Lengle's un-gentlemanly behavior, Sammy says, "'I quit,' to Lengle quick enough for them to hear, hoping they'll stop and watch me, their unsuspected hero."

The girls, of course, do not hear this chivalrous behavior because they are on their way out the door.  And when Sammy finally leaves the store and realizes the girls are nowhere in sight, he realizes his gesture has been in vain.  The questions for the reader at this point are whether or not Sammy regrets quitting his job and whether this event is truly a "coming-of-age" moment.

I think the answer is a qualified "no" to the first and an emphatic "yes" to the second.  Does he regret quitting his job?  Yes, for a moment, but, ultimately, no--throughout the story, we see that Sammy has achieved a rather cynical detachment from both his job and the store's patrons, whom he often refers to as sheep.  One could argue that Sammy has already "moved on" intellectually from this job and is ready for more sophisticated challenges.  Does he truly come of age?  Sammy's realization that life is going to be hard is a very mature acknowledgement that taking a stand on principles (whether hormone or morally driven) will complicate his life.  The fact that he comes to this conclusion is evidence that he has transcended his teenage self-absorption and understands that consequences flow from certain actions.  In other words, the protections accorded to immature teenagers by adults no longer apply to Sammy: he has irrevocably challenged an adult authority figure and indicated his willingness to accept the consequences--in a very real sense, he has come of age.



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William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There are some obvious reasons why Sammy might feel that the world was going to be hard for him after he walked off his job. Although this supermarket is just part of a huge chain, it is probably one of the major busijness establishments in this resort town. Sammy is young. Good jobs are hard to find, as the store manager reminds him. They are especially hard to find for young people. Sammy will not be able to give A & P as a reference when he applies for another job--and it would appear that Sammy's income is very important to his family. He has made a bad impression on the manager, and the manager will send a bad report to the head office's personnel department. The report will include the term "insubordination." Sammy only marketable skill is as a checkout clerk at a supermarket. How many other such jobs are available in this town? The fact that he has walked off the job without giving any notice whatever will be a black mark on his record. Getting up to the level of a checkout clerk, after having probably worked as a box boy and stock clerk, was a high point in his brief career. Now when he finds another job he will probably have to start at the bottom of the ladder again.

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