54 pages 1 hour read

John Updike


Fiction | Short Story | Adult | Published in 1961

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Character Analysis


The unreliable narrator and protagonist is 19-year-old Sammy, an A&P clerk in a small New England town. He works the check-out slots and is very familiar with the regulars. The reader never learns how long Sammy has worked at the store. With keen observation, he intricately describes everyone—from the customers to the girls to his boss. His eye is almost entirely fixated on physical appearance, and he draws (often very objectifying) conclusions about people accordingly. Sammy is friendly with his coworker Stokesie, but he suggests that Stokesie has less freedom; Sammy is still free to shape his life as he wishes, unlike Stokesie, who must care for his wife and two children. The larger irony is that, by the end of the story, Sammy has indeed shaped his own life, and perhaps poorly (though not irredeemably).

As the story unfolds, Sammy grows increasingly self-conscious of his class standing. The tension is driven partly by his attraction to Queenie, which is both physical and emotional. He fantasizes about parties held at her home, envisioning the sort of life that he may only dream of. This increases his frustration not toward Queenie but toward Lengel, as Sammy is seemingly angry with those in his own class who, he assumes, are content with a stagnant, monotonous life.