“A&P” depicts an act of empty heroism as a young cashier makes an evidently unappreciated gesture on behalf of three girls.
- Young supermarket cashier Sammy watches three bathing suit-clad girls as they shop.
- When the girls approach the register, Sammy’s manager, Lengel, reprimands them for not covering up before coming into the store.
- Seeing the girls upset, Sammie scolds Lengel for embarrassing them and gallantly quits on the spot. However, the girls take no notice of Sammy’s gesture, and he is left to face the consequences of his romantic ideals.
Last Updated September 6, 2023.
In “A&P,” the narrator—a nineteen-year-old boy named Sammy—works a summer job as a cashier in a grocery store north of Boston. Suddenly, he spots three barefoot, bathing suit–clad teenage girls entering the store.
Distracted by one girl’s untanned back upper thighs, Sammy mistakenly rings up a box of crackers twice and is scolded by a customer. By the time Sammy appeases the angry customer, the three girls have walked a bit around the store and are on their way back.
As they approach the cash registers, Sammy notes differences among the three girls: one is “chunky,” tanned, and wearing a two-piece suit; the second girl has a sunburned “chubby” face and black hair; and the third girl—of medium height with long white legs—seems to be the leader of the group.
The narrator is particularly interested in this third girl (whom he calls Queenie) and closely observes how she moves and dresses. She leads the other two girls around,
showing them how to do it, walk slow and hold yourself straight.
With its straps dangling off her shoulders, her bathing suit falls down slightly, revealing a glowing, untanned strip across her chest. Queenie strides with her head held high atop a long neck set on white shoulders, her light brown hair in a messy bun.
Despite the stares of the narrator and his coworker named Stokesie, Queenie continues to browse as the others tag along. The girls obliviously walk in the “wrong” direction. Other customers, which include harried housewives and mothers, cannot help but notice Queenie’s white shoulders before lapsing back into concentrating on their shopping lists.
Sammy and his coworkers (Stokesie and old McMahon) quietly leer at this unexpected sight of scantily clad girls out of place at a grocery store five miles from the beach. Then Sammy feels some remorse for ogling them.
After Queenie chooses Sammy’s checkout lane to purchase a jar of fancy herring snacks, she pulls bills out of her bathing suit top. Sammy is excited by this action but soon feels disappointed when the store manager, Lengel, appears.
Lengel admonishes the girls for grocery shopping while wearing only a bathing suit (“this isn’t the beach”). The embarrassed Queenie asserts that she came only to pick up pickled herring snacks for her mother; Sammy imagines her parents throwing fancy parties. Despite Queenie’s insistence that she and her friends “are decent,” Lengel tells them that they will need to cover their shoulders in future trips.
Lengel then orders Sammy to ring up Queenie’s order, which Sammy does quickly. The girls leave. In a show of solidarity with the girls, Sammy resolves to quit on the spot. He tells Lengel that the manager did not have to embarrass them. Lengel warns Sammy that quitting is a futile gesture that would disappoint his parents. Sammy sticks with his decision, removes his apron, and saunters after the girls.
Unfortunately, by then, Queenie and her friends are already gone. Much to his chagrin, they do not witness Sammy’s gesture. Instead, Sammy is left seeing Lengel grimly fill his spot. The boy imagines a future of challenges and disappointment.