The story discusses three girls who visit A & P grocery store wearing bathing suits, Queenie and her two friends. The narrator is Sammy, a young man working as a clerk at the checkout of the grocery store. The theme relating to the power of desire is prominent throughout the plot, character, and setting of the narrative.
The theme of desire is apparent from the introductory of the plot. It begins with Sammy providing a description of three girls that have just walked into the grocery store. He describes the outfits and the physical features of each of the three girls. Sammy does not appreciate an elderly customer who is eager to get the narrator to serve her. The girls distract him so much that he cannot remember if he already rang up a box of crackers. Once the elderly shopper leaves, the narrator continues to analyze the girls. Sammy compares the three girls to older women who wear the comparable clothes but do not attract attention like the one the three girls have.
When the girls finally pick the things that they wanted to purchase, they approach the narrator’s third checkout slot. He is so interested in them that he even notices that they are barefoot. He describes each as the ‘chunky one’, Queenie, and the tall one with a long chin. Queenie attracts the narrator more than the other girls because she straps of her bathing suit are drooping off her shoulders.
Lengel, the manager of the store, approaches the counter and begins to reprimand the girls for their provocative outfits. The girls start to excuse themselves but Lengel is not interested with their explanations. Lengel instructs Queenie and her girlfriends to wear ‘decent’ clothes while visiting the store in the future. Sammy serves the girls but Lengel’s reprimands irk him. When Queenie and the two girls leave the counter, Sammy quits. He tries to locate the girls when he gets out of the store but the girls are gone. He seems to be tentative about his decision to quit. He begins to ponder his future.
Sammy – he is observant, opinionated, and ironical young man who desires the young girls. He describes the physical features of the girls with profound details, which shows the much he desires them. For instance, Sammy describes Queenie’s drooping straps in an interestingly sensual manner. In an attempt to attract the attention of the girls, he tries to show that he is not similar to Lengel by saying ‘I quit’ loudly so that the girls can hear him. Throughout the story, Sammy longs for the girls that he does not concentrate with his work. He eventually abandons his employment to seek a life that is more glamorous, probably with the girls.
Lengel – he is the manager of the grocery store. He is a strict manager and a Sunday-school teacher who abides by the rules. He is an authoritative figure that who is uptight. Lengel confronts Queenie and her friends regarding their skimpy dresses embarrassing them and annoying Sammy in the process.
Queenie – she portrays a blend of intelligence and innocent. She enjoys making the men drool over her and her friends and encourages her friends to walk around A & P wearing scanty outfits. Her confident walk shows that she is aware that other shoppers are observing her. She desires the attention of the men in the store.
Stokesie – he is a clerk in the grocery store. He is married and a father of two children yet he observes Queenie and her friends with interest and even trades innuendoes regarding the girls with Sammy.
The setting of the story is in a grocery store. The A & P grocery store is one of the pioneer stores in the industry. As such, the story is informative about services in grocery stores before the advent of the modern-day 24-hour self-service chain grocery stores. More importantly, the setting shows just how much some people are willing to forego to fulfill their desires. Sammy’s conduct throughout the story shows that when teenagers’ sexual desires come into play, they become aesthetically delighted to the extent that confusion is bound to arise.
For Sammy, the grocery store represents conformist trends within adolescents. He perceives fellow workers at the store as ‘sheep’. This means that the older workers do not think independently but follow rules blindly. He desires the young girls because she thinks that they represent rebellion against subjugation. Ultimately, he is willing to risk quitting his job and embarrassment to attain his distinct goal of attracting the attention of Queenie and her friends.
Updike, John. A & P: Lust in the Aisles (Perfect Present). Redpath Press, 1986.