Is Sammy a Hero in John Updike’s Story “A & P”

Pages: 2
Words: 564

Although John Updike’s story is extremely short, it is long enough to reveal the character of the protagonist, Sammy, fully. As the narrative moves, the reader can see how the hero grows up – he becomes ready to accept the outcomes of his actions and matures. His cynical attitude toward everything in the store leaves him as soon as he witnesses a great injustice. Sammy rebels against a world where a slight deviation from social norms is met with condemnation, risking his future, which makes him a true hero.

“A & P” recounts the influence of three girls on the narrator, Sammy, when they go to the supermarket and ignore social norms by wearing only bathing suits. When met with rebuke and judgment, their bold display inspires Sammy to follow their example and reject his accepted place in society. When the girls leave, the hero tells the manager that he is quitting. He does this in part, naturally, to impress the girls, and in part, he quits because he believes that the manager should not make young women uncomfortable.

In the story, the customers are symbols of society and passive submission to the status quo, while the girls represent true freedom and life; they are symbols of oppressed individuality. The way other characters relate to them reflects the main theme of the story. It is that those who choose to rebel against accepted social norms are bound to be rejected by society. Unlike the other characters, Sammy changes as he transforms from a passive observer to an active participant in the conflict against society. By presenting the short story through the eyes of a dynamic protagonist, Updike allows the reader to take part in the journey from “sheep” to rebel (Updike 491). Much of Sammy’s heroism lies in the fact that he stops associating himself with a conformist world where everyone only follows the role assigned to them.

At last, the class difference between Sammy and the girls means that his rebellion has far more serious consequences than theirs. By the end of the story, Sammy had lost his job, which would likely lead to his conflicts with his parents. He realizes “how hard the world is going to be,” because not becoming a “sheep” will not be as effortless as just walking away (Updike 491). Moreover, it certainly will not be as painless for Sammy as it is for the girls, who come from “a place from which the crowd that runs the A & P must look pretty crummy” (Updike 491). There is heroism in rebelling against absurd and outdated social norms by risking one’s future. The only question is whether this heroism is justified or whether it is an inherent folly that Sammy will soon regret.

In the end, Sammy is a hero, and his actions are not so reckless. For people who view conformity as their priority, such an act may seem devoid of logic. However, Sammy’s heightened sense of justice does not allow him to make any other choice. What happened will certainly affect his fate, just like in any other case when a person decides to take responsibility and stand out. Dismissal is one step toward gaining full independence and shaping the hero’s worldview. However, the very performance of this action requires a certain amount of heroism, which, as it turned out in the analysis, the hero has.

Work Cited

Updike, John. “A & P.” The Bedford Introduction to Literature: Reading, Thinking, Writing, edited by Michael Meyer, Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2002, pp. 487-491.