The Anatomy of a Decision
At the end of John Updike’s short story, all the main characters were at odds with each other.A&P grocery store clerk Sammy, who is the main protagonist of the story, Lengel the manager of the grocery store, and the three young bikini-clad ladies who caught Sammy’s attention, were all arguing over the dress code of the store.
The ladies in bikinis just came by to buy a herring snacks from the grocery, much to the delight of Sammy, who enjoyed observing and sexually fantasizing about the bodies of the three women.
However, the ladies were reprimanded by Lengel for their inappropriate clothing which he deemed should only be worn in a beach.Seeing that the ladies of his interest were embarrassed, Sammy willingly resigns from his job in order to stand for what he feels is right.
On a personal note, although his decision to quit his job as a store clerk in order to protect the ladies’ interests is notable, I do not agree with Sammy’s actions simply because it was immature and irrational.
At the beginning of the story, Sammy fantasizes about the ladies, who enter the grocery store in bikinis, like any young boy would. He observes their clothing and bodies in a very detailed manner as if he wanted to remove them himself: “There was this chunky one, with a two-piece. It was bright green and the seams on the bra were still sharp and her belly was still pretty pale” (Updike, 1961).
He also comes up with his own opinion of their personalities: “There was this one, with one of those chubby berry-faces, the lips all bunched together under her nose, this one, and tall one, with black hair that had not quite frizzed right…. You know their kind of girl other girls think very ‘Striking’ and ‘Attractive.’ She was the queen with ‘Long white prima-Donna legs’” (Updike, 1961). In short, his vivid descriptions of the three ladies no doubt show that he has a profound interest in them, which taints the moral justification of his decision to quit his job.
Initially, it would appear that his resignation was mainly to protest the undue embarrassment that his boss, Lengel, caused the ladies. However, as shown in the end, Sammy’s move was primarily for the purpose of appearing as a hero to the three women.
When he decided to quit his job, Sammy said, “The girls, and who’d blame them, are in a hurry to get out, so I say ‘I quit’ to Lengel quick enough for them to hear, hoping they’ll stop and watch me, their unsuspected hero.” Meaning to say, although he pointed out that he resigned in protest of his manager’s harsh actions towards the ladies, his actions were simply meant for show.
Clearly, Sammy’s actions were signs of immaturity, which is arguably common among people his age. One does not simply quit a job in order to show off to women. His decision can be likened to a young boy desperately trying to impress a girl he likes, but fails in his attempt. He is a classic case of acting first without thinking and only realizing the folly of his actions after seeing the end result, which is expectedly not what he desires. Sammy obviously acted on impulse and as a result, the consequences were severe.
As implied in the story, Sammy’s job as a clerk in the A&P grocery store is very important to his parents, who possibly partially depend on his income. As Lengel said in his attempt to convince Sammy to reconsider his decision to quit, “Sammy, you don’t want to do this to your Mom and Dad” (Updike, 1961.). It can then be deduced that Sammy was not only working for himself but also helping his parents augment their family income.
Meaning to say, Sammy’s decision to resign from his job possibly had a greater impact than what he imagined. And he realized this in the end, as he knew that his parents would not understand and accept that the reason behind his sacrifice to protest the actions of Lengel, whom he believes was very harsh towards the girls.
Furthermore, despite his belief that what he did was heroic, Sammy cannot, in any way, be conceived as a hero in the context of the story simply because his efforts were fruitless. Although it can be argued that Sammy symbolizes a revolt against the prejudicial mentality epitomized by Lengel, in the end, the former still gained nothing out of his actions and therefore, cannot be considered as someone who fought for a justifiable cause.