When Sammy quits, he asserts his individualism. The other characters in the story all follow someone or some code of conduct. Lengel enforces the polices of the store and general social norms without being able to explain why they exist, only responding, "This isn't the beach." Stokesie follows the normal path of ambition to become the next store manager. The customers, who Sammy refers to as "sheep," avoid confrontation and choose not to disturb their usual routines. As Sammy says, "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."
Sammy, in contrast, confronts the authority figure, Lengel—the store manager and a Sunday school teacher who represents all the conservative moral and social codes of conduct of the town—and presents him with his own ethical code, saying that Lengel shouldn't have embarrassed the girls. The girls in their bathing suits, and Queenie in particular, represent the sort of willingness to break social norms that Sammy admires ("Policy is what the kingpins want. What the others want is juvenile delinquency"), even if the girls' breaking of those norms is more in line with a prank or game than a real rebellion. When Lengel disagrees, Sammy does something completely unexpected and quits, as the customers nervously back away, uncertain how to proceed in this unforeseen turn of events. Yet the end of the story provides a further comment on individualism, as Sammy realizes how hard the world will be on him, how hard the world is on anyone who resists its rules and norms.
Individualism and Ethics ThemeTracker
Individualism and Ethics Quotes in A&P
You never know for sure how girls' minds work (do you really think it's a mind in there or just a little buzz like a bee in a glass jar?) but you got the idea she had talked the other two into coming in here with her, and now she was showing them how to do it, walk slow and hold yourself straight.
The sheep pushing their carts down the aisle—the girls were walking against the usual traffic (not that we have one-way signs or anything)—were pretty hilarious.
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.
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 […]
"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.