Initiation Story Essay, Research Paper
17 February 1997
“A&P”, written by John Updike, is based on a moment in the life of a cashier. He was known as Sammy and he referred to his position in the grocery store as a slot checker. Sammy spent his time watching and wondering about customers. One day, while working, three girls dressed in bikinis entered the store and attracted his attention. He describes the three girls movements and watches them as they roam throughout the store. Eventually, the girls work their way to Sammy’s cashier station to purchase the item which they have selected. Then Lengel, the manager of the store, enters and embarrasses the girls for their attire. As a result, Sammy quits his job at the A&P. This short story is an example of an initiation story through its use of characterization and plot.
Sammy, the slot checker, at the “A&P” evolved throughout the story. Initially, he was only a cashier who was using his idol time to critique the customers who came passing through. His job was beneath his mental capabilities and so this was the only way he could keep himself busy. This is demonstrated when Sammy states, “Slots three through seven are unmanned and I could see her wondering between Stokes and me, but Stokesie with his usual luck draws an old party in baggy pants who stumbles up with four giant cans of pineapple juice (what do these bums do with all that pineapple juice? I’ve often thought to myself)” (489). This is the only way Sammy
seems to keep himself busy during days when there are not so many customers.
His boss, Lengel is a symbol of authority to Sammy in this literary work. Sammy seemingly
dreads the sight of his manager. This is depicted when Sammy states:
Then everybody’s luck begins to run out. Lengel comes in from haggling with a truck full of cabbages on the lot and is about to scuttle into that door marked MANAGER behind which he hides all day when the girls touch his eye. Lengel’s pretty dreary, teaches Sunday school and the rest, but he doesn’t miss that much. (489)
However, when the girls were embarrassed by Lengel Sammy’s personality changed. He stood up to his manager and quit his job. This is demonstrated in the dialogue between Sammy and Lengel which states:
The girls, and who’d blame them are in a hurry to get out, so I say “I quit”….
“‘Did you say something, Sammy?”
“I said I quit.”
“I thought you did.”
“You didn’t have to embarrass them.”(490)
This dialogue between the two characters exhibits Sammy standing up to authority. He no longer wanted to witness this kind of behavior. Consequently, he had to quit his job. Initially, Sammy was behaving in this manner to impress the females so that it was “quick enough for them to hear” because he was “hoping they’ll stop and watch” since he wanted to be ” their unsuspected hero”(490). Upon doing so, the girls departed from the grocery store. However, he continues to quit his job because “remembering how he made the pretty girl blush makes me so scrunchy inside
I punch the No Sale tab” (491). This passage shows that he truly believed in quitting his job, not just to impress the girls but for the way it made him feel when those girls were embarrassed. As a result, Sammy came to the realization of what kind of a world would be out there for him. He had to choose his own direction from now on. This is shown when Sammy states, “His face was dark gray and his back stiff, as if he’d just been injected by iron, and my stomach kind of fell as I felt how hard the world was going to be to me hereafter” (491). In this passage, Sammy is describing his manager as cold and upright and while he is looking at Lengel he finishes evolving into the “new” Sammy. This is when he has the realization that life is not as easy and aimless as “checking the sheep through”(491) has finally reached him.
“A&P” is an initiation story. This is reflected through the character, Sammy. As a cashier
in a grocery store he was not challenged. He went along with everything until the day those
girls walked in. Although, he was first trying to impress the females he ended up having a valuable life experience. He took control of his life and ended up having the ability to choose his own direction.