John Updike's "A&P" is set in a grocery store just north of Boston and not too far from the beach. It is a glimpse into a day starting like any other but then shaken up by three teenage girls in their bathing suits. The main character is a nineteen year old boy named Sammy. Sammy is like any other teenager. He has very specific views of the different social classes of the store's customers and views of people in general.
The story hints at many of Sammy's ideas about different people, from mindless drones, to daring pack animals, to uptight old geezers. Sammy views the majority of the store's customers as mindless drones. They are mostly middle-aged, middle-class women. He refers to one woman in particular as a "cash-register-watcher" (pg. 606). A lot of middle class women watch the register to make sure they are not over charged.
He immediately puts this woman into this category because she caught him in a mistake while ringing her up. Several times throughout the story he refers to the customers as "sheep" (pg. 607, 609). He is saying they herd together and follow each other without thinking, a lot like sheep do. The customers follow the understood direction of traffic through the grocery aisles without question.
They mutter to themselves about groceries and other everyday things. At the end of the story during the confrontation between Lengel and the girls, Sammy says the customers are like "scared pigs in a chute" (pg 610) scrambling to get away from the scene being caused. They are doing this because they don't want to get involved, which would, in turn, make them stand out and think for themselves. The three teenage girls, on the other hand, are viewed by Sammy as a daring, small pack of animals. I inferred this from the fact that Sammy refers to one of the girls as "Queenie" (pg. 608), she is like the leader of the pack.
The other two girls just follow her around. Sammy thinks "Queenie" talked the other girls into coming in with her and is now leading them around like subordinates. During the confrontation with Lengel, it was "Queenie" who spoke up first, then the other girls. Sammy is very impressed by these girls for being so daring. Not only did they go into a public place half-naked, but they pranced around as if it was nothing, and had the nerve to argue with the manager over it. They walked against the flow of traffic, in a literal and social sense.
Toward the end of the story, Lengel, Sammy's manager, walks in and confronts the girls about their lack of clothing. Sammy refers to Lengel as an "old and gray" (pg. 610) man that is "pretty dreary" (pg. 608). Lengel teaches Sunday school and does other regular, boring, old man activities.
The story says Lengel gave the girls "that sad Sunday-school-superintendent stare" (pg. 609). This makes me think he may be a bit self-righteous and that he looks down on the girls for not sharing his moral beliefs. After some back talk from the girls, Lengel tells them to keep their shoulders covered, that it is "their policy" (pg. 609). Sammy says "Policy is what the kingpins want.
What the others want is juvenile delinquency." (pg. 609). By "others" I think he means himself. Sammy thinks that the commotion the girls are causing is all the excitement he gets, and that Lengel is being too uptight and ruining his fun. It was the play of all these thoughts about other people in Sammy's mind that caused him quit his job at the end of the story. Sammy, being a teenage boy, would rather try and impress the girls that impressed him so much than work for someone he felt was too uptight.
Had the girls not came in and shaken Sammy's thoughts about Lengel, he may have never quit.