In John Updike s A&P, the main character Sammy, is developed through the use of setting. The story starts off with a young man discontent with his ordinary adult surroundings and moves to his need to change it. Throughout the story, Sammy describes and interprets the scenes around him consequently revealing his own character. Although the physical setting of the grocery store is left more to the imagination, Updike uses the vivid images of the other characters to illustrate the setting through Sammy s point of view.
The characters create the setting, and the insight into young Sammy s mind leads us to see it through his eyes. Sammy s character can be seen through his interpretation of the customers, his manager, and the young girls visiting the store. First, Sammy interprets the customers as being old, dull and unable to relate to young people. The fist customer he comes across he describes as a witch about fifty and a cash register watcher. He even notes that it makes her day to see him trip up. It is at this point that he begins to make it evident that he doesn t particularly care for the customers.
In the fifth paragraph he goes on to describe the customers as sheep and house slaves in pin curlers. While he describes the general look of shock and disapproval towards the group of young girls he so admires, he is making it evident of the worlds and decades between he and his customers. He describes them as being so banal that even had dynamite been set off they would keep pushing their carts, muttering to themselves. Towards the end of the story when he announces that he is quitting, he goes on to say that a couple customers that had been heading for my slot begin to knock against each other, like scared pigs in a chute.
While he sees himself as being a risk taker he sees the customers as afraid of confrontation, thereby widening the gap between them. Sammy can t seem to relate to the customers in any way and there shows how his character sees himself as young and much more exciting. Next, Sammy sees himself through the interpretation of his manager, Lengel. Although Sammy depicts his manager as dreary he seems to see him as a good person not unlike his own family.
He mentions that Lengel teaches Sunday school and the rest as if although it isn t bad, that he, like the customers is just an old person who cannot relate to young people. He seemed to feel upset by the way that Lengel spoke to the girls and embarrassed them. When Lengel mentions that the policy of the A&P is to have one s shoulders covered while shopping, Sammy notes Policy is what the kingpins want. What the others want is juvenile delinquency. The others, it seems being him. Sammy put an even bigger separation between himself and his manager when he announced that he quit.
It is as though he is so discontent with the thought of relating or agreeing with his manager that he must leave his job in an attempt to deviate from becoming like him. Sammy seems to feel sorry for his manager after he says that he has quit adding Lengel sighs and begins to look very patient and old and gray. Although he feels a twinge of regret, he seems to want to prove to himself that he is unlike these older people. In some way, he seems to fear that he too, will become like Lengel in time and is trying to ensure otherwise. Finally, Sammy s character is revealed through his analysis of the young girls visiting the shop.
He sees the girls as an unusual occurrence in an ordinary place. Their very presence seems to alter the surroundings in the store. Sammy describes the girl leading the others as though her presence is enchanting, saying With the straps pushed off, there was nothing between the top of the suit and the top of her head except just her, this clean bare plane of the top of her chest down from the shoulder bones like a dented sheet of metal tilted in the light. I mean it was more than pretty. However, it is more than their young beauty that mesmerizes him. Sammy watches them and waits for their next move, bewildered by them.
As he watches and recounts their every move, he makes it apparent that he feels a sort of connection with them. They are attractive young girls that he would rather be spending his time with than working at the A&P. He has illustrated his lack of respect for the majority of the shoppers in the store, and is intrigued by the way that the girls are able to jiggle them. It seems that he is feeling discontent with his surroundings but is unable to do anything about it, where as the girls are unknowingly doing it for him. When his manager says that he will feel this for the rest of (his) life, he recalls that although that is true, it is worth it when he thinks of how when that pretty girl blushed made him so scrunchy inside. In conclusion, it is evident that the character of Sammy is developed through his personal interpretation of the setting around him.
As Updike uses the characters to build the setting, Sammy begins to respond to their behaviors. Through the characters, Sammy sees pieces of his own personality reflected through their actions. He begins to see the contrast between what he sees in himself and who he wants to become.