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In the short story “A&P,” John Updike writes about a character named Sammy,
who transforms from a young adolescent who prioritizes impressing teenage girls, into a
man, who questions authority. In the beginning he is a follower, similar to a “sheep,”
stuck in an ordinary and bland routine. Sammy acknowledges the pretty girls, thinking
and judging them only on their physical features, but as the story progresses, his morals
change and he declares that girls should be allowed to dress how they want, with no
worries of criticism. Queenie, who represents a higher-class, inspires Sammy to think
twice about middle class values. Sammy makes the bold decision to quit his job so he
can go after what he wants in life. He no longer wants to listen to modern middle-class
expectations. He doesn’t want to be a “sheep” that is loyal to society or easily herded in
accordance to its rules and unfair burdens of pressures. Sammy wants to set his own
policies and break ordinary routines. Sammy not only stands up for Queenie and her
friend’s rights, but he starts a new journey for himself, rebelling against conformity.
Sammy evolves as a new man throughout the short story who is able to recognize the
corrupt state of America, an accomplishment that present day individuals still struggle
The short story takes place in 1961, when civil rights movements were gaining
momentum and people were searching for their voice of freedom. Lengel, the manager of
the store, who is a prisoner of middle-class expectations, reprimands the girls for their
attire. Lengel says, “Come in here with your shoulders covered. It’s our policy.” His
conservative and traditional understanding of the world, contrasts Sammy’s unrestricted
and independent new outlook on life. Lengel embarrassing the girls, angers Sammy. This
anger reassures his doubt; the society that people expect him to conform to, is not one
that he wants part of. Sammy believes that if Lengel, and others with similar views, don’t
change their perspectives of life, they will remain clueless Americans with no
understanding of all they can accomplish.
Stokesie, the cashier at A&P, is 22, married, and has three children. Stokesie
portrays a prime example of how Sammy does not want to end up. Stokesie, similar to
Lengel, has a difficult time believing that life and opportunities expand beyond the world
they are accustomed to. They are unaware that society is constantly changing. Stokesie
intends to make a career out of working at A&P, showing he is not dreaming big. In the
beginning of the short story, Stokesie childishly jokes with Sammy about the three girls
wearing swimsuits and says, “ I feel so faint.” Stokesie wants to believe that he is an
adult with a future and a plan, but in this part of the story he acts juvenile. The
established adult life he believes he has achieved will be difficult for a naïve person to
survive in. When Sammy preaches to Lengel that he is fed up with the unfair nature of
his job and the judgmental society he belongs too, Stokesie stays quite and hidden with
fear, instead of adding his own voice and feelings to the matter, he lacks in taking risks.
Stokesie lives life on the sidelines. Sammy looks at Stokesie as someone with no
impactful meaning. Similar to a sheep, Stokesie listens to what he is told with no detours.
Individuals today have a hard time admitting all of the problems America suffers.
Most problems cannot be fixed right away, but with some adjustments and time anything
can be achieved. Sammy realized the faults he was abiding too and wanted to embody
change in his own self and the lives of others such as the three girls in swimsuits. Change
is constant and necessary in everyone’s life. Change is a team effort, but it only needs one
person, like Sammy, to start and show other individuals the potential of what truly can be.
Kelly, Jospeh. "The Seagull Reader." Stories. Jospeh Kelly. New York. 2015. Pages
461-467. Medium Designation.