In “A&P,” the protagonist, Sammy, is bored with his cashier job at a local supermarket. His attitude toward and observations of the store foreshadow his decision to quit by the end of the story.
Sammy reveals his discontent early on. First, he shows that he is not invested in his work and tired of customers. When the teenage girls enter the store wearing only bathing suits, Sammy is distracted.
I stood there with my hand on a box of HiHo crackers trying to remember if I rang it up or not. I ring it up again and the customer starts giving me hell. She’s one of these cash-register-watchers, a witch about fifty with rouge on her cheekbones and no eyebrows, and I know it made her day to trip me up.
Sammy’s lack of concentration reveals a lack of concern for his task at hand. Instead of bothering to check whether or not he already rang up the crackers, he just rings them up again, possibly overcharging the customer. The customer is justifiably irritated, but Sammy exaggerates her reaction (“giving me hell”) and caricatures her as a clownish “witch.”
Second, Sammy views the customers with condescension. Most shoppers are harried housewives and mothers with many young kids. He lumps them all into one group: sheep. He describes them as if they are all unthinking and robotic in their devotion to mundane tasks of buying food. Sammy—who seems to still live at home—does not understand the necessity and importance of such tasks. Although the girls’ appearance shocks them, they all quickly resume shopping as if nothing unusual happened.
Third, Sammy distinguishes himself from his coworkers, all of whom he looks down upon. Nineteen-year-old Sammy wears shirts that his mother irons for him. On the other hand, fellow cashier Stokie is only slightly older (age twenty-two) but married with two young children. Sammy disdainfully labels Stokie a “responsible married man” who aspires to be a manager someday. Sammy implies that the butcher, “old McMahon,” is lecherous. He also emphasizes how uptight Lengel the manager is, even though Lengel is just doing his job when reprimanding the girls for their uncovered shoulders and indecent dress, a store policy violation.
Direct foreshadowing occurs when Sammy states,
Now here comes the sad part of the story, at least my family says it’s sad but I don’t think it’s sad myself.
His statement seems to foreshadow Lengel’s scolding of the girls. However, the “sad part of the story” actually is Sammy’s ineffective gesture of quitting his job in order to protest Lengel’s reprimand of the girls. Sammy rings up Queenie’s pickled herring snack
all the time thinking.
Sammy thinks about using the manager’s reprimand of the girls to take a stand for their supposed mistreatment; he also thinks that he may gain favor with Queenie by walking out. At the end, though, he realizes that this strategy does not work—the girls are gone when he leaves—and that he will face a life of hardship and crushed ideals:
I could see Lengel in my place in the slot, checking the sheep through. His face was dark gray and his back stiff, as if he'd just had an injection of iron, and my stomach kind of fell as I felt how hard the world was going to be to me hereafter.