This is a character analysis of John Updike's Sammy, in his short story "A&P".
| Updike’s Sammy
In the short story “A&P”, by John Updike, Sammy is an unusually observant boy. Sammy is watchful and has the ability to recall all the little things he observes in detail. From the tan and shape of one girls “can”, to the items on the shelves in each aisle of the grocery store, he observes these things individually and retains the information in a way that does not match his teenage age. From this the reader is seeing his character develop with impeccable observation skills.
This characteristic of Sammy becomes apparent as early on as the first paragraph. In this paragraph Sammy is describing one girl in the group that caught his eye first: “She was a chunky kid, with a good tan and a sweet broad soft-looking can with those two crescents of white just under it, where the sun never seems to hit, at the top of the backs of her legs” (pg. 15). Sammy recalls the color and shape of her “can”, or rear end, in such detail that he compares it with crescents of the moon that rarely receive any sunlight.
Further along in this short story, Sammy’s observation skills only seem to heighten. Such as when he is describing the second girl of the group, “…and a tall one, with black hair that hadn’t quite frizzed right and one of these sunburns right across under the eyes, and a chin that was too long—You know, the kind of girl other girls think is very “striking” and “attractive” but never quite makes it, as they very well know, which is why they like her so much…” (pg.16). Sammy observes the usual first, her height, her hair color, and then goes to his detailed description of the location of the sunburn and her elongated chin. He even goes further and describes why, in his view, the girls like her and continue to hang around her. Sammy is only getting better as the story unfolds.
Finally Sammy gets to the one he calls “Queenie”. He gives descriptions of how she looks in much detail, but his observation skills are really shining through when he also views the reaction the “Sheep”, or old gossiping woman, have to how little clothing “Queenie” has on in their grocery store: “You could see them, when Queenie’s white shoulders dawned on them, kind of jerk, or hop, or hiccup, but their eyes snapped back to their own baskets and on they pushed… A few houseslaves in pin curlers even looked around after pushing their carts past to make sure what they had seen was correct” (17). He proves his capabilities in this observation by not only viewing his main point of interest, “Queenie”, but the reactions of the others around her. While most other teenage boys would solely focus on a girl in a bikini, Sammy observes the older woman’s surprised expressions and actions.
Updike creates Sammy as a teenage boy working in the grocery store, thought at first glance completely ordinary, but transforms him into a natural born observer. Maybe it’s the boredom of his job that had him catching even the smallest of details. If it is, he proves that a high quality of skill can be obtained from observing the town grocery store.
Updike, John. “A&P” Backpack Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama. Ed. X. J. Kennedy and Dana Giola. New York: Longman, 2006. 15-21.