Professor Buell Wisner
English Composition II/Section 606
March 3, 2019
Is Sammy’s Act of Rebellion Heroic or Futile? Why or Why Not?
In John Updike’s short story “A&P”, Sammy seems to be a haplessly, emotionally driven teenaged boy. He aims to make a scene in front of these “three girls in nothing but bathing suits” (paragraph 1), but they most notably and entirely ignore his verbal outburst of "I quit" (paragraph 24). This causes Sammy to lose his job, all the while not getting the girl who he had become infatuated with for what seems to be mere minutes of she and her friends stepping into the store. He does not think things through and makes a hasty decision which in turn, leaves him to become unemployed although his intentions were good natured. He wanted to show in protest, to his manager, that the girls were not inappropriate by dressing indecently in the grocery store. Did Sammy allow his emotions to take control of him and behave irrationally in the moment, or did he stand up for what he believed in with bravery and heroism?
Sammy defends the three girls whom he feels are helpless due to the fact of his personal beliefs on the store’s dress policy to which he states, “Policy is what the kingpins want. What the others want is juvenile delinquency” (paragraph 19). This is expressed in an effort to impede the domineering control of Lengel, the manager at A&P. Sammy is unequivocally certain that he has to be the hero that saves the day for the girls. He feels without any doubts that he must be the savior of these defenseless girls because of his feats that ultimately go unnoticed. The lone reason Sammy quit his job to begin with is the actuality of him wanting the girls to think highly of their ‘knight in shining amour’. Sammy all but clamored for the attention of the girl, who has been labeled as “Queenie”, in hopes that she would like him in return. However, Sammy’s idea failed because none of the girls paid him any attention. The reward Sammy believed he would receive if he quit his job casually left the store after his unsuccessfully deliberate crack at being a hero. Sammy’s convictions were blurred by his adolescent and immature emotions and he paid the price for them in the long run. He was ‘in the moment’ and only thinking ‘in the moment’. No thought of his future and the consequences he would have to endure because of the pointless actions he displayed ever came to his mind.
As he assessed the scene of what seems to be a broken record of a routine on the store’s happenings, Sammy is comfortable in his faultfinding and sarcastic viewpoint. However, all of his self-confidence is taken aback by the three girls. At the beginning of the story, Sammy is relatively conclusive that he is not like the “houseslaves” and “sheep” moving around the aisles of the store. From the opening, Updike underlines the unsystematic development and non-conforming approach the girls have on the traditional regularities of the store. The girls unintentionally cause Sammy to make a mistake at his register, which is something he does not ordinarily do. He is out of his comfort zone and really enjoys the feeling. Queenie and her friends move against the typical, repetitious flow of the store, unsettling the other customers. In doing so, they sidetrack each of the male employees and ultimately attract the objecting awareness of Lengel, “we want you decently dressed when you come in here” (paragraph 17).
Although Sammy’s concentration is captivated by the worldly scene the girls make, their unplanned rebelliousness of the ideals of the surrounding community, in the long run influences him more persuasively. Sammy has become accustomed to projecting himself as a sarcastic spectator of the rules, while Queenie and her friends unassumingly pay no attention to those long-established rules. When Queenie stands up for herself and her friends while being approached by Lengel, she insists, “we are decent” (paragraph 18). She is only trying to get out of a humiliating and noticeably shaming situation on display in front of the other store customers. Sammy gives up his job at the A&P because he is infatuated with the charm and style he envisions in Queenie’s life which makes his desire to impress her not rationally thought through. Life changing decisions with major implications are indisputably soon to follow as Sammy progresses through his every day experiences.
I believe Sammy is an anti-hero because he is an average youth who is not wisely experienced and is still learning and maturing. He falls short of conventional heroic qualities, but does own the most significant characteristic, courage. This empowers him to walk up to his boss Lengel and say, "I quit" (paragraph 24). By walking out, he is declaring against what he sees as the unfair treatment of the three girls by his manager. In principal and belief, Sammy is taking a stance against his manager for being so intolerable and unkind to the girls. Nevertheless, his reasons for doing so are not unquestionable. Sammy stood up for the girls because he wanted them to praise him and thank him for what he perceives as a fearless action. He wanted the attention of the girls therefore his motives for defending them were not precise nor beneficial. Once he gives up his job and walks outside, the girls are not hanging around, waiting on him to show gratitude for his actions. They have exited and moved on to their next destination. Sammy is left to think about his thoughtless choices and he now understands how challenging real life is going to be moving forward. He has now entered the adult world with no welcoming committee.
Updike, John. “A & P.” Literature: An Introduction to Reading and Writing, Compact Edition. Ed. Edgar V. Roberts and Robert Zweig.6th ed. New York: Pearson, 2015. 320–324. Print.