A&P

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Lengel Character Analysis

Lengel is the A&P's manager. Also a Sunday school teacher, he runs the A&P with a watchful eye, and Sammy describes him as "dreary." Lengel acts as a kind of force for conformity, and reprimands the girls for wearing their bathing suits into the store, embarrassing Queenie and, ultimately, causing Sammy to quit.

Lengel Quotes in A&P

The A&P quotes below are all either spoken by Lengel or refer to Lengel. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Growing Up Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Fawcett Columbine edition of A&P published in 1996.
A&P Quotes

"Girls, I don't want to argue with you. After this come in here with your shoulders covered. It's our policy."

Related Characters: Lengel (speaker), Queenie
Related Symbols: Bathing Suits
Page Number: 194
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Lengel is changing tactics in his confrontation with the girls, which reveals his own confusion about his values and motivations. While his first attempt to chastise the girls rested on his moral conviction that the girls should be decently clothed in public, here he pivots and claims that he is merely enforcing store policy. This appears to occur in reaction to the girls' embarrassment, which may have left Lengel conflicted about whether or not he still had the moral high ground—but also in response to Queenie's indignation, which suggests that she comes from a place of privilege and is immune to punishment. It is this shift to claiming the importance of policy that disgusts Sammy, who frames his reaction not in terms of the moral mismatch between policy and the distress it causes, but in the much more youthful and simplistic terms of old people having power and young people wanting rebellion. Still, Sammy is moved by this interaction that causes the young women's emotions to modulate in a way that reveals to him some of the nuances of their inner lives. 

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The girls, and who'd blame them, are in a hurry to get out, so I say "I quit" to Lengel quick enough for them to hear, hoping they'll stop and watch me, their unsuspected hero. They keep right on going, into the electric eye […]

Related Characters: Sammy (speaker), Queenie, Lengel
Page Number: 195
Explanation and Analysis:

This is the climax of the story, in which Sammy, moved by the interaction he has just witnessed, impulsively quits his job. In keeping with his youthful lust, his initial motivation for quitting seems to be to impress the girls, but he frames it to himself as solidarity, in that he feels he is quitting to protest their poor treatment. This is obviously a muddled chain of logic, since his attempt to stand up for their dignity is conflated with his sexual desire and longing to impress them. It also seems that Sammy's motivation is partly personal, in that, by quitting, he is proving to himself that he lives by the individualism that he admires instead of bowing to social norms and continuing to ring up customers. When Updike shows the girls walking out the door as Sammy is quitting, though, he gives readers a sense that all the muddled things Sammy is standing up for are unattainable.

"Sammy, you don't want to do this to your Mom and Dad," he tells me. It's true, I don't. But it seems to me that once you begin a gesture it's fatal not to go through with it. I fold the apron, "Sammy" stitched in red on the pocket, and put it on the counter, and drop the bow tie on top of it.

Related Characters: Sammy (speaker), Lengel (speaker)
Page Number: 196
Explanation and Analysis:

With the girls gone from the store, Sammy has to face the reality of what he is doing. Since it does not seem that he has successfully impressed the girls, this moment is a test of whether his conviction that individuality is more important than bowing to social pressure is strong enough to make it worth quitting his job. The answer is inconclusive here; Sammy's rationale for following through is not that his belief in what he is doing is strong, but rather that he must finish what he has started, or that he feels he cannot now take it back. Ironically, this mindless continuation of action mirrors the sheep-like behavior of the people Sammy has criticized. It is also important that in this passage, for the first time, Sammy recognizes that he has a responsibility to others. His mom and dad seem to depend on him, perhaps to help the family financially, and his quitting will have an effect on others besides himself. Though this consideration does not keep him from quitting his job, it foreshadows the complex adult realities that his decision will usher in.

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Lengel Character Timeline in A&P

The timeline below shows where the character Lengel appears in A&P. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
A&P
Sex, Gender, Power Theme Icon
Class Theme Icon
Lengel, the store's manager and a dreary Sunday school teacher, comes inside the A&P after haggling... (full context)
Sex, Gender, Power Theme Icon
Individualism and Ethics Theme Icon
Class Theme Icon
Lengel repeats that the store's not a beach, which strikes Sammy as funny and makes him... (full context)
Individualism and Ethics Theme Icon
Class Theme Icon
The store is quiet after this scene, with the customers nervously converging on Stokesie's lane. Lengel asks Sammy if he's rung up the purchase yet, and Sammy responds that he hasn't... (full context)
Growing Up Theme Icon
Appearances and Inner Lives Theme Icon
Individualism and Ethics Theme Icon
Sammy informs Lengel that he didn't have to embarrass the girls, but Lengel replies that the girls were... (full context)
Growing Up Theme Icon
Individualism and Ethics Theme Icon
Class Theme Icon
...but they're gone. Looking back through the windows into the A&P, Sammy can see that Lengel has taken his spot at the cash register. As he watches Lengel, whose back looks... (full context)