The main characters in "A&P" are Sammy, Queenie, and Lengel.
- Sammy is the nineteen-year-old narrator of the story. He works at the A&P as a cashier.
- Queenie is the leader of the group of girls who come into the A&P wearing only their bathing suits. "Queenie" is a name given to her by Sammy because of her regal bearing. We never learn her real name.
- Lengel is the manager of the A&P. He chastises Queenie and her friends for wearing nothing but bathing suits in the store.
Manager of the local A & P, Lengel is a man who spends most of his days behind the door marked "Manager." Entering the story near the end, he represents the system: management, policy, decency, and the way things are. But he is not a one-dimensional character. He has known Sammy's parents for a long time, and he tells Sammy that he should, at least for his parents' sake, not quit his job in such a dramatic, knee-jerk way. He warns Sammy that he will have a hard time dealing with life from now on, should he quit. He seems truly concerned even while he feels the need to enforce store policy.
"Queenie" is the name Sammy gives to the pretty girl who leads her two friends through the grocery store in their bathing suits. He has never seen her before but immediately becomes infatuated with her. He comments on her regal and tantalizing appearance. She is somewhat objectified by nineteen-year-old Sammy, who notes the shape of her body and the seductiveness of the straps which have slipped off her shoulders. When the girls are chastised for their attire by Lengel, Queenie, who Sammy imagines lives in an upper-middle-class world of backyard swimming pools and fancy hor d'oeuvres, becomes "sore now that she remembers her place, a place from which the crowd that runs the A & P must look pretty crummy." Sammy becomes indignant at Lengel's treatment of the girls and tries to help them save face by quitting his job. Queenie, however, appears not to notice and leaves the store promptly, diminishing the impact of Sammy's gesture.
Readers do not learn Sammy's name until the end of the story, even though he is the first-person narrator of the story. He is a checkout clerk at an A & P supermarket. His language indicates that, at age nineteen, he is both cynical and romantic. He notes, for instance, that there are "about twenty-seven old freeloaders'' working on a sewer main up the street, and he wonders what the "bum" in "baggy gray pants" could possibly do with "four giant cans of pineapple juice." Yet, when Queenie approaches him at the checkout, Sammy notes that "with a prim look she lifts a folded dollar bill out of the hollow at the center of her nubbled pink top...Really, I thought that was so cute." He vacillates back and forth between these extremes of opinion during the story, calling some of his customers "houseslaves in pin curlers," yet he is sensitive enough that when Lengel makes Queenie blush, he feels "scrunchy inside." At the end of the story, he quits his job in an effort to be a hero to the girls and as a way of rebelling against a strict society. In a sudden moment of insight—an epiphany—he realizes "how hard the world was going to be to me hereafter'' if he refuses to follow acceptable paths.
Stokesie is twenty-two, married, and has two children. He works with Sammy at the A & P checkout. He has little to say or do in this story, though, like Sammy, he observes the girls in the store with interest. He is a glimpse of what Sammy' s future might be like; Stokesie's family "is the only difference'' between them, Sammy comments.
The encounter of Sammy, a checkout clerk at an A & P supermarket, with a trio of swimsuited girls encompasses many of the themes central to adolescence, including accepting the repercussions of one's choices. When Sammy quits in protest of how the girls were treated by the store's manager, he perceives that from now on, the world will be a more difficult place. As Sammy tells the story his language...
(The entire section is 1,990 words.)