John Updike A & P Gone are the days that humans could live impulsively, only taking physical pain and pleasure into account when making decisions. Or so one would like to believe. In a display of sheer innocence and ignorance, Sammy, a grocery clerk at the A & P, managed to revert back to the original behavior patterns of his ape-like ancestors. One cannot possibly predict the future of Sammy, given his own illogical and irrational behavior.
But one can, through a careful examination of Sammy”s life, determine that Sammy is just a naive, young man whose impulsive acts, partly as a consequence of his upbringing, compel him to participate in a cause not worth fighting for, instead of using his talents for more constructive purposes. No matter how much Sammy tried, he could not transcend the rational barriers of his evolutionary counterpart, the ape. From the moment that Sammy first gazed upon those three young women in bathing suits to his outburst and subsequent resignation, Sammy was not able to separate reason from basic sexual instinct.
Sammy first makes the comment, “The longer her neck was, the more of her there was,” (Updike 408) and later says, “From the third slot I look straight up this aisle to the meat counter, and I watched them all the way” (Updike 408). After hours–perhaps even years–of being deprived of the sight of a beautiful girl, Sammy gave in to the natural animal tendency to “observe” and pursue a member of the opposite sex. It was of no consequence to Sammy that he did not even know the three girls and had not seen very much of them. Sammy”s only overriding desire was, simply put, sex.
Sammy made no effort to rationally think about what he was doing; instead, he acted on an impulse stemming from the most primal instincts. When the three girls walked into the A & P, Sammy was no more a rational being than Spock was a comedian. He had only one goal: do everything in his power to impress the girls, making sure they would not escape the hallowed A & P without having awe-filled reverence for the grocery clerk named Sammy. However, from the beginning, Sammy”s idealistic dreams of renown had a sour taste to them.
Sammy began his grocery clerk glory days as a victim of his own parents” over watchfulness. His parents had known Lengel, the store manager, for years, and took it upon themselves to get Sammy a job. Perhaps his parents believed that doing Sammy”s dirty work would somehow shelter Sammy from the so-called “real world,” or perhaps they merely wanted the best for their son, and getting him a job was their way of giving Sammy what they felt he was due. Whatever his parents” motives were, the end result was somewhat of a loss of Sammy”s independence.
Given the circumstances surrounding the rest of the story, it is not unreasonable to assume that Sammy had felt somewhat dependent upon his parents and did not like that dependence at all. But he had never faced the right circumstance that may have potentially given him a reason, or an excuse, to break his ties with his parents and become truly independent. Lengel points out, “Sammy, you don”t want to do this to your Mom and Dad . . . You”ll feel this for the rest of your life” (Updike 411).
Despite this warning, Sammy is more than willing to break the unwritten covenant he has with his parents and attempts to become a single autonomous agent. He knows that he will disappoint his parents if he decides to quit working, but he feels it more important to stand up for and impress the girls. He has the goal of leaving his victimized life behind him so that he can continue his own life without external impediment. It is unfortunate that Sammy”s lofty goals are not realized. The moment he steps out the door of the A & P, “I look around for my girls, but they”re gone, of course.
There wasn”t anybody but some young married screaming with her children about some candy they didn”t get by the door of a powder-blue Falcon station wagon” (Updike 411). Sammy must come to the harsh realization that the big scene he made, the trusts and loyalties he compromised, and his own hormonal imbalance have brought him nothing. His cause was, on the face, noble. Save “Maid Marion” from the oppressive “king. ” To Sammy it was as if he was actually going to rescue these girls from the seemingly inevitable predicament they found themselves in. But in reality, the cause was not noble at all.
Sammy never really thought about being the hero, at least nowhere else but his own misguided fantasies. He had been deprived of the sight of beautiful women and could not resist the urge to play the “clerk in shiny apron-ware. ” His newfound cause was a trite one at best. More than anything, Sammy wanted to expand his mediocre achievement into some historical event. But he still ended up seeing the girls walk out of the store, never to see them again. At least Sammy had found a cause, but the least Sammy could do would have been to find a cause worth fighting for.
By his attempt to ensure the girls” satisfaction, Sammy went against any rational loyalty that he could have had to his parents and his manager. He opposed the opinions of people who were close to him, and he gained nothing. Sammy did, however, find a talent. He rushed off into his goal without thinking, going where angels fear to tread. Although his actions were drawn almost exclusively from sexual urges, Sammy could become a good leader if he would become better disciplined. He was not afraid to face the potentially adverse consequences of his actions.
The principle of his actions, even if they were just a response to a hormonal imbalance, remains noble. He stood up for his belief despite what others said to him. Sammy concludes his thoughts saying, “His [Lengel”s] face was dark gray and his back stiff, as if he”d just had an injection of iron, and my stomach kind of fell as I felt how hard the world was going to be to me hereafter” (Updike 411). Sammy realized, since he had disappointed those who were very close to him, his life would be more complex and more prone to problems. Yet, he did not back out of his actions and decide to stay at the A & P.
He instead went on with his life, realizing that the past should not be rewritten or regretted. For that, if nothing else, Sammy should be commended. Sammy”s initial motives were driven by his own innate instincts and impulses of wanting girls. Much of his motives were based upon his ape-like tendency to shed inhibitions and seduce the female sex. The ability to judge, inherent in any human being, seemed to be the only thing separating him from his evolutionary counterparts. However, as the circumstances surrounding his actions were divulged, and Sammy began to really realize what he was doing, his actions became more noble.
One can learn from Sammy the importance of not backing down once decisions are made, and to stand up for one”s own opinions despite what other people think. If one can disregard Sammy”s initial ape-like motives which stressed the importance of the sex drive, there is much to be learned from that now-eminent grocery clerk. If people finally decide to stand up for what they believe, themselves and the world indubitably be bettered. And then, the world would run less rampant with people who appear to have missed their fair share of natural selection, and the world would be a much more spiritually sound place.