Discussion Topic

Sammy's characterization of the customers as "sheep" in "A&P"

Summary:

In "A&P," Sammy characterizes the customers as "sheep" to highlight their conformity and lack of individuality. This metaphor underscores his disdain for their unquestioning adherence to social norms and contrasts sharply with the boldness of the girls who challenge the store's rules.

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In "A&P," why does Sammy refer to the store's customers as "sheep"?

Anyone who shops in supermarkets (which includes practically everyone) must often get the impression that the cashiers have very little regard for them and consider them just faceless figures to be processed and gotten rid of. The shoppers have to funnel through the checkout aisle like sheep being processed for one purpose or another, either to be sheared or disinfected or herded onto railway cars. Sammy obviously is too intelligent for the kind of work he is doing. He is college material and only working to make a little money for school. Naturally he would come to hate his boring job and--especially after having difficulties with the many difficult customers to be found in any supermarket--would come to hate customers in general. The pretty girls in bathing suits are, of course, an exception. They not only appeal to him on a physical level, but they remind him of the greater world outside the supermarket where people are enjoying themselves in many different ways, including swimming and lying in the sun. Young men like Sammy are often unpleasant to have to deal with at checkout counters. They often seem to have a characteristic "attitude" of boredom, resentment, and superiority. They never intended to be cashiers wearing aprons and doing the same things over and over again. Sammy can't see himself, but he may be like that himself.

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In "A&P," why does Sammy refer to the store's customers as "sheep"?

In John Updike's short story "A&P," Sammy calls the people in the store sheep. Sammy refers to the people as sheep because he fails to see any differences between them. Essentially, he does not look at them as individuals. Instead, Sammy thinks that they way they walk aimlessly up and down the aisles and through the checkout, without any true thought process, show them to be like the herded animal which simply follows the crowd.

This idea is supported when three girls walk into the store wearing bathing suits. Given the girls are not dressed according to the norm (for the store), they are thoroughly embarrassed and leave quickly. The girls do not follow the unstated rules and are not considered sheep by Sammy.

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In "A & P" why does Sammy call the people in the store sheep?

The fact that Sammy calls the people in the market “sheep” is an indication that he is getting fed up with his job. He is obviously more intelligent than the average grocery clerk and is probably only working to pay his way through college. John Updike chose a setting for the story which practically everyone is familiar with. All supermarkets look pretty much alike, and all the customers look and behave pretty much the same. It is easy for the reader to visual the scene. Supermarket customers tend to move along in slow motion, following each other like sheep, sometimes bunching up like a flock of sheep where something obstructs an aisle, and then lining up passively and patiently like sheep to get to the checkout counter. These people have all been conditioned by the modern world to think and act alike. They lead humdrum lives and rarely experience any strong emotions. Sammy quits his job abruptly because he has a sudden impulse to escape, to live adventurously and not get trapped in the same world as the sheep-like people he has to deal with, including the store manager himself. It is the intrusion of the three girls in bathing suits that causes Sammy to want to break out of the routine that seems to be suffocating him; but he realizes as soon as he takes off his apron and walks outside that the world has nothing to offer him except a routine, regimented existence—especially if he has no education and is nothing but a semi-skilled wage-earner. The A&P store is one tiny unit of an enormous conglomerate like all the other organizations that are shaping Americans’ lives.  

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Why does Sammy refer to the customers as sheep in "A & P"?

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 manager, tells Queenie that she and the other girls have to come into the store with their shoulders covered, as this is store policy. Queenie argues back, but Lengel insists it is the policy. At this point, Sammy notes that the other customers, sensing a scene, stay away from the girls and all move together into the cash register line run by Sammy's friend Stokesie. Sammy once again contrasts Queenie's bold behavior to the compliant behavior of the regular customers:

All this while, the customers had been showing up with their carts but, you know, sheep, seeing a scene, they had all bunched up on Stokesie.

At this point, Sammy feels he has to make a decision, either to be one of the sheep or side with the girls, whom he admires. He knows he is one of the sheep. He, too, is a working class townie who does what he is told, not an affluent summer vacationer. However, he rebels against a life of being a sheep. He quits in solidarity with the girls and walks out. Once outside, he notes,

I could see Lengel in my place in the slot, checking the sheep through.

As he watches, Sammy realizes that his life has suddenly gotten much harder: he has made a bold decision, but it is easier to go through life as a sheep.

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Why does Sammy refer to the customers as sheep in "A & P"?

In the short story "A & P" by John Updike, Sammy thinks of the customers as sheep because they all appear alike to him, and they seem mindless. Just as sheep will flock and follow one another, so do the customers at the A & P as they go up and down the aisles, blindly reading their shopping lists.

This is different from the girls who enter the store in their bathing attire and walk the wrong way from the sheep, up and down the aisles. Sammy says, "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)..."(para 5). The girls, therefore, illustrate the unconventional, going against the rules.

Later on in the story, Sammy refers to the customers once again as sheep as they are "all bunched up" when the girls are being reprimanded by Lengel. Again, this illustrates their similar, herd-like behavior. However, when Sammy refers to them as sheep, it also shows that he thinks that the girls are better than the other customers. This also illustrates that he, too, thinks himself better than the sheep. When Sammy quickly quits his job, he also acts in an unconventional manner.

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Why does Sammy refer to the customers as sheep in "A & P"?

The shoppers in the store are like sheep to Sammy because they blindly go up and down the aisles and then head to the checkout counters just as sheep are blindly herded to slaughter through chutes. When Lengel embarrasses the three girls for dressing inappropriately in the store, the others all crowd together nervously like scared sheep. Only Sammy dares to defy the policy of the store and society and challenge the rules. He's the only one who is willing to say society's rules, written and unwritten, are not always fair. Even the three girls in bathing suits give in to society's mores as they leave the store humiliated by Lengel. Sammy quits because he sees Lengel and the shoppers as blindly following the protocol of society, and yet no one seems to feel that Lengel's embarrassment of the girls is wrong. Sammy challenges whether Lengel should have the right to treat others in this fashion.

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Why does Sammy refer to the customers as sheep in "A & P"?

Sammy thinks of customers as sheep because he really doesn't care about them as individuals.  They are all the same to him...simply people that are there to buy goods.  Also, let's think about how sheep are regarded and taken care of.  They are not regarded as the smartest animals, first of all.  Also, they are herded through gates by Australian cattle dogs or other types of herding dogs, just as the customers are herded through the check out lines at the A & P store where Sammy works.  The reference of people as sheep is not a pleasant or flattering one, then, as we can see!

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Why does Sammy refer to customers as sheep in "A&P"?

In “A&P,” the protagonist, Sammy, works a summer job as a supermarket cashier. This store—located five miles from the beach—attracts shoppers like housewives and mothers who do not pay much attention to each other. Sammy notes that although many of the women wear coverups over their bathing suits, their gesture is pretty useless, since

nobody, including them, could care less.

Sammy lumps all the customers in one group he describes as “sheep.” He views them as herds that mechanically shop without any independent thought or emotion. They simply march up and down aisles picking up and putting down products like docile animals. They are startled from their collective stupor when they spot Queenie and her friends dressed in bathing suits.

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. I bet you could set off dynamite in an A&P and the people would by and large keep reaching and checking oatmeal off their lists and muttering “Let me see, there was a third thing, began with A, asparagus, no, ah, yes, applesauce!” or whatever it is they do mutter.

So absorbed with their mundane and obligatory tasks, they cannot be derailed from their concentration by almost anything, except briefly to watch outliers (e.g., the teenage girls) being scolded. The second time Sammy describes the shoppers as sheep is when the manager Lengel reprimands Queenie and her friends for wearing uncovered bathing suits in the store.

All this while, the customers had been showing up with their carts but, you know, sheep, seeing a scene, they had all bunched up on Stokesie, who shook open a paper bag as gently as peeling a peach, not wanting to miss a word.

The herd of customers silently crowds around a check-out clerk, hoping to hear and see everything. This event is scandalous to them and constitutes excitement in the store. After Sammy quits his job, he realizes that business continues as usual.

Looking back in the big windows, over the bags of peat moss and aluminum lawn furniture stacked on the pavement, I could see Lengel in my place in the slot, checking the sheep through.

Still viewing customers as a monolithic herd of sheep, Sammy watches them being processed as they move through the checkout line, purchasing items and remaining undisturbed by the story’s events.

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