Discussion Topic

Sammy's perspective and actions regarding his job, coworkers, and customers in "A&P"

Summary:

In "A&P," Sammy's perspective and actions reveal his disdain for his job, coworkers, and customers. He views his job as monotonous and expresses contempt for his coworkers' conformity. Sammy is also critical of the customers, whom he refers to as "sheep." His impulsive decision to quit his job after a confrontation with the store manager reflects his desire for individuality and change.

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In "A&P," why does Sammy quit his job?

In John Updike's "A&P," the three girls who come into the store in their bathing suits provide the catalyst for Sammy's departure. He hopes they will notice his heroic gesture and will stop and watch as he heroically defends them. However, even when it is clear that this will not happen and Lengel gives him a chance to reconsider, he sticks to his decision.

It is clear that Sammy has been bored with his job for some time. This is shown partly by contrast with the fascination in his minute description of the girls. Clearly, this is the most exciting thing that has ever happened at the store. He quickly adopts the perspective of the girls, commenting that it is one "from which the crowd that runs the A&P must look pretty crummy." His boredom is shown particularly clearly in the details with which he describes the repetitive nature of his job, such as the "little song" made by the till when a purchase is rung up.

Sammy quits out of both rebelliousness and boredom. He is nineteen years old and feels that life is passing him by. The sudden, revelatory force with which he is hit by the harshness of life at the very end of the story also shows that he has not paid much attention to practical difficulties before.

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In "A&P," why does Sammy quit his job?

In Updike's short story "A&P," the protagonist, Sammy, quits his job in the A&P as a misguided attempt to gain the interest and devotion of the girls who are walking around the store in their swimsuits, in defiance of store policy. Sammy is captivated by the beautiful one of the group, Queenie, and he objects to the comments his boss, Lengel, has made about their clothes being less than "decent." Sammy feels inspired to quit his job in a grand gesture because he hopes that they will stop and look at him and think of him as their "unsuspected hero."

Sammy protests that Lengel did not need to embarrass the girls. However, when he leaves the store, he realizes that his gesture has been without purpose. The girls have gone, and he recognizes that Lengel's comments advising him not to quit in such a dramatic fashion were completely justified. The girls for whom Sammy has made this grand gesture have not even paused to thank him for it; it is utterly meaningless to them, and they simply leave once they have accepted that they will not be allowed to stay in the store. Meanwhile, Sammy realizes that his world has been changed by this action and that nothing will ever be as easy again in his life as this simple job at the A&P has been.

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Why, exactly, does Sammy quit his job in "A&P"?

Sammy's motives for leaving his job at A&P are not entirely clear, even to him. The reason he gives to Lengel, the manager, is his discomfort at seeing the girls humiliated for coming into the store wearing swimming costumes. He makes the decision quickly because he hopes the girls will notice before they leave and regard him as their hero, staying to watch the drama of his departure. When this does not happen, the wind is taken out of his sails to some extent, and he persists in his determination to quit at least partly to avoid looking foolish by retracting. He is obviously very concerned with the impression he makes, remarking that "once you begin a gesture it's fatal not to go through with it." He even says that he is glad this happened in summer, since having to fumble for his coat and galoshes, as he would in winter, would have ruined the effect of his exit.

Before his departure, Sammy talks about the monotony of his work at the grocery store. Although he quits impulsively, this may well be a factor in the background. His motivation, therefore seems to be composed of boredom, a sense of frustration that he is missing out on life (awakened by his thoughts about the girls), annoyance at Lengel's treatment of the girls, and desires to impress them and appear heroic. Once he has made his impulsive announcement, he persists because he is afraid of looking foolish if he backs down.

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Why does Sammy quit his job in "A &P"? What are the factors that lead up to this action?

Sammy talks about the customers as "sheep" and complains about their behavior to them, such as the old lady who watches closely to make sure that he isn't "cheating" him.  The truth is, though, Sammy has also been a sheep, doing what is "right" in the eyes of society.  When the girls walk in, Sammy gets a new view of the world.  He is intrigued by the girls, but particularly the one that he calls "Queenie". 

  • She was the queen. She kind of led them.... She didn't look around, not this queen, she just walked straight on slowly, on these long white prima donna legs.
  • She must have felt in the corner of her eye me and over my shoulder Stokesie in the second slot watching, but she didn't tip. Not this queen.

Sammy is impressed by the courage and self-confidence shown by this young lady.  He is also, of course, attracted to her.  So when the manager embarrasses her, Sammy reacts. 

"You didn't have to embarrass them."

"It was they who were embarrassing us."

"I don't think you know what you're saying," Lengel said.

"I know you don't," I said. "But I do."

This is a coming of age.  In the last line, Sammy is admitting he fully understands what he is doing.  He has chosen to not be a sheep, and to stand up for what he feels is right. 

  • Policy is what the kingpins want. What the others want is juvenile delinquency.
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Why does Sammy quit his job in "A &P"? What are the factors that lead up to this action?

Sammy is a nineteen year old boy who works in the A & P supermarket.  One day a trio of girls, dressed only in bathing suits, comes into the store and Sammy cannot keep his eyes off of them.  They, of course, are dressed inappropriately for shopping in the store, and when the manager informs the girls that they should dress properly to shop in the store, Sammy feels he must protest.

"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." 

Sammy's act of defiance in the presence of the manager's reprimand has consequences that he probably has not thought all the way through. 

Quitting his job is an act of the impetuousness of youth, for a brief moment, he feels a strong connection with the girls.  

Sammy feels like he is expressing his individuality by standing up for something he believes in by quitting his job on the spot.

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Why doesn't Sammy like his job in "A&P"?

Sammy doesn’t like his job because he’s at the mercy of a lot of people who are persnickety and irritating to him. For example, when he accidentally rings up a box of crackers twice, the customer, whom he refers to as a “witch,” begins to give him “hell,” and he feels like it “made her day to trip [him] up.” He says that she’s probably been watching cash registers for the better part of her life and had probably never actually caught someone making a mistake before. It is part of his job to “smooth” her feathers, now that he’s ruffled them with his error, and this is clearly annoying to him.

Further, Sammy refers to the customers at the A&P as “sheep” several times throughout the story, implying that they are all mindless followers who fail to think critically or truly do anything of significance with their lives. Toward the end of the story, when Sammy quits his job on principle, attempting to stick up for the three girls who have come into the store in their bathing suits and have been publicly embarrassed by his manager, he describes the customers in his line as “knock[ing] against each other, like scared pigs in a chute.” Again, he compares the individuals he is compelled to serve all day to livestock, to animals we might often think of as dumb, as less than we are, as meant for our consumption; he obviously does not like having to be at their beck and call.

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What is Sammy's attitude towards his job, coworkers, and customers in "A&P"?

In "A&P," Sammy has a poor attitude towards others overall. He looks down on most of the customers in the store and thinks terrible things about them that suggest he finds them dumb and inferior to himself. One of the most significant lines that reveal his attitude comes at the start of the second paragraph. He is ringing up a middle-aged woman at the cash register, and she gets annoyed that he trips up by ringing up an item twice. He then explains,

By the time I got her feathers smoothed and her goodies into a bag—she gives me a little snort in passing, if she'd been born at the right time they would have burned her over in Salem.

His use of the word feathers here and his reference to Salem compare this woman to both a bird and a witch. He clearly does not like people like her and takes out his frustration by degrading them in his thoughts. There seems to be no filter to his critiques and no awareness or concern for thoughts that are inappropriate and cruel. For instance, recall how he referred to some female shoppers as “house-slaves in pin-curlers.” Comments like these suggest that Sammy is angry about his job and with society in general. He seems to think that he is different from these people and somehow better. This attitude really comes across when he tells Lengel he quits and commits to the act even when Lengel tries to talk him out of it. Of course, when he leaves the store, he realizes he is not really all that special and that life is going to be really difficult from now on.

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