The narrator, Sammy, is 19 years old and inhabits an in-between space between adulthood and adolescence, a standpoint from which he can both relate to the girls when they face authority and also observe and act as their unlikely defender, since he's a few years older. He also has to answer to his parents still—Lengel mentions them in an attempt to get Sammy to reconsider his decision to quit—but he's technically (legally) an adult, too. For comparison, Sammy's coworker Stokesie is only three years older and is already married with two kids.
As Sammy approaches adulthood, he also has to face the consequences of his actions more directly. Just a few years older than the three girls who walk into A&P in their bathing suits, Sammy relates to the girls because of their youth. However, unlike the girls, Sammy can't just invoke his parents or use them to excuse his behavior as the girls do when Lengel reprimands them. Sammy, instead, will have to answer to his parents' disappointment and find other means of supporting himself when he quits, and the dejected sense of foreboding he has at the end of the story carries the weight of the consequences he'll have to face for his actions. Sammy's rash act of quitting is a youthful act, inspired by his connection with the girls, but as he faces the consequences of his actions, he realizes that he's no longer a youth as the girls are and will have to answer to the consequences as an adult.
Growing Up ThemeTracker
Growing Up Quotes in A&P
Stokesie's married, with two babies chalked up on his fuselage already, but as far as I can tell that's the only difference. He's twenty-two, and I was nineteen this April.
"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.
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.