Character development in A&P By John Updike

The main characters in the short story A&P, written by Updike, are Sammy and Queenie, although Lengel is also seen as playing an important role in the drama that unfolds at the store. Sammy is caught up in a situation he strongly thinks has been blown out of proportion. He works as a checkout clerk at a supermarket; A&P. The author paints Sammy as cynical, romantic, opinionated, sarcastic and keenly observational. Sammy is able to notice almost all things around him and analyses the girls entering the grocery store in very minute details, ranging from their physical appearance to the texture and threading patterns of bathing suits they are putting on. His focused observations and subsequent descriptions of Queenie’s social status from her dangling straps of bra imply his blind spots as well as prejudices towards other people. He is also dismissive of Stokesie, his co-worker, whom he sarcastically describes as being an unimaginative drone. His desire to distinguish himself from the rest strongly compels him to quit his job. The attention seeking character of Sammy is explicitly shown when he loudly announces his decision to quit with the aim of being overheard by the girls, but this gesture fails to attract resonance when he learns that the girls did not take notice of it.

Queenie’s character is brought out as that of precocity as well as innocence. For example, she goes on to test the set boundaries of behaviour that could be allowed in the public domain. However, she lacks knowledge of the implications of her moves up to the point when she is confronted and publicly embarrassed by Lengel. She stands out as the leader of her group and is the brain behind the spectacle of their entering into the grocery shop in bathing suits. She brings to the scene a performance of sexual power and independence. Her immaturity is seen in the manner by which she handles criticism, when she retorts that she is in the shop to get something for her mother.

Lengel, who is the manager of the A&P, spends much of his time locked behind the manager’s door. His is a representation of the conservative system, policy, management, decency, and order in society. He is depicted as being wise, understanding, and strict, for instance, he advises Sammy not to quit work in a knee-jerk manner, at least for the sake of his parents.

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