Sammy, as a store employee, judges everyone who walks through the store based on their appearances, what they buy, and how they act. He imagines what their inner lives might be like (the fifty-year-old woman, for example, who's been watching cash registers for the past forty years, looking for a mistake) and he analyzes the girls as they walk into the store, identifying their leader and envisioning their social backgrounds. The girls are dressed only in their bathing suits, and Sammy spends the entire first half of the story describing what they look like. Other customers and store employees react to their appearance too, which doesn't conform to the social norm of what one should wear into the town's grocery store. The conflict of the story arrives when the store's manager confronts the girls about their appearance, asking them to dress decently when they come in to shop—which embarrasses the girls and leads to the climax of the story when Sammy quits.
At the end of the story, Sammy, who has believed himself able to understand the inner lives of all the customers based on their actions and appearances, is suddenly faced with the realization that he doesn't quite understand why he just quit— in other words, his own inner self is something of a mystery to him. And part of his realization of the difficulty of the world may rest on his sudden understanding that his blithe, arrogant, and youthful way of looking at the world was wrong.
Appearances and Inner Lives ThemeTracker
Appearances and Inner Lives Quotes in A&P
She's one of these cash-register-watchers, a witch about fifty with rouge on her cheekbones and no eyebrows, and I know it made her day to trip me up. She'd been watching cash registers forty years and probably never seen a mistake before.
I bet you could set off dynamite in an A & P and the people would by and large keep reaching and checking oatmeal off their lists and muttering "Let me see, there was a third thing, began with A, asparagus, no, ah, yes, applesauce!" or whatever it is they do mutter. But there was no doubt, this jiggled them. A few house-slaves in pin curlers even looked around after pushing their carts past to make sure what they had seen was correct.
"My mother asked me to pick up a jar of herring snacks." […]All of a sudden I slid right down her voice into her living room. Her father and the other men were standing around in ice-cream coats and bow ties and the women were in sandals picking up herring snacks on toothpicks off a big plate and they were all holding drinks the color of water with olives and sprigs of mint in them. When my parents have somebody over they get lemonade and if it's a real racy affair Schlitz in tall glasses with "They'll Do It Every Time" cartoons stenciled on.
I could see Lengel in my place in the slot, checking the sheep through. His 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.