The Significance of Minor Characters in A&P

Minor characters are crucial to a reader’s understanding of any story. In John Updike’s short story, “A&P” this idea is very apparent. In this short story, two of the minor characters are quite important. These two minor characters are Queenie, a young women shopper and Lengel, the manager of the A&P. Qeenie and Lengel are vital minor characters, as Updike uses them for the reader’s understanding of the young adult main character, Sammy, including his personality and motivations, which provides further understanding of the story.

In John Updike’s “A&P” Queenie is the lead girl if a group of girls who walk into the A&P. “She kind of led them” (17), as Updike puts it. These girls, including Queenie, are all wearing bathing suits, which at the time the story was written, was considered quite risque. Sammy refers to this girl as Queenie because as he puts it, “- and then the third one, that wasn’t so tall. “She was the queen” (17). Based on how much Sammy talks about her and the way he does it, Queenie is his favorite girl of the group.

Lengel is the manager of the A&P. According to Sammy, “Lengel’s pretty dreary, teaches Sunday school and the rest, but he doesn’t miss much. ” (19) He’s a quiet man, “as I say, he doesn’t say much” (19), but he starts the controversy that eventually leads to Sammy quitting his job. The way Sammy thinks of and talks about Queenie reveals parts of his personality and motivations. As for Lengel, the manor which Sammy interacts and when Sammy interacts with him reveals parts of Sammy’s personality and motivations, as it does with Queenie.

Throughout “A&P,” Queenie and Lengel enlighten the reader’s understanding of Sammy’s personality. Queenie, as the lead girl, has Sammy’s hormones raging throughout the story and shows the reader how Sammy is quite fond of women, but also disrespectfully defaces them by analyzing every part of their body’s as pieces of meat, not as respectful young woman. Updike reveals this when Sammy refers to Queenie by saying, “She just walked straight on slowly, on these long white prima-donna legs” (17).

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Sammy also illustrates this idea when he says, “You never know how girls work (do you think it’s a mind in there or just a little buzz like a bee in a glass jar? )” (17). The fact that Sammy is has no respect for women is undoubtedly true. Author, Patrick W. Shaw explains this in his short story criticism, “Checking Out Faith and Lust: Hawthorne’s ‘Young Goodman Brown’ and Updike’s ‘A & P’”. Shaw states, “He punctuates his juvenile thoughts with chauvinistic asides and double entendres” (1).

When Sammy talks about his manager, Lengel, he does not seem to respect him, which is another reason why Sammy is disrespectful and not only towards women. An example of this is when Lengel comes in from the outside lot, Sammy says, “is about to scuttle into that door marked manager behind which he hides all day when the girls touch his eye” (19). For a regular employee to talk about his manager in such a way suggests that Sammy does not have much respect for Lengel. That quote also illustrates that Sammy also is a jokingly juvenile young man.

The way in which Sammy talks to and about Queenie and Lengel shows very little respect. The fact that Lengel is Sammy’s boss and Queenie is a woman who he doesn’t know says to the reader, Sammy does not feel obligated to show respect for anyone, regardless of who they are or what their status is. This is another large piece of Sammy’s personality, revealed by these two minor characters. Queenie and Lengel also enlighten the reader’s understanding of Sammy’s motivations, which are to stand up to Lengel in order to be a hero to these girls.

Sammy shows this after Queenie and Lengel have an altercation, regarding her and her friend’s bathing suits and how the suits aren’t appropriate attire for a food market. This leaves Queenie feeling pretty embarrassed. As Queenie leaves the store, Sammy says, “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” (20). This is a clear example of how Queenie brings out that Sammy really sticks up for the girls as an attempt to get their attention and come across as a sort of hero to them.

This reason for Sammy sticking up for the girls shows, that is his real motivation. During the same situation, Lengel also brings out Sammy’s motivation, as his words are the reason the girls feel embarrassed and leave. Lengel’s conversation with Queenie was about the girl’s attire in the store. Lengel starts by saying to the girls’, “Girls, this isn’t the beach” (19). He then explains how they should be dressed more decently in the store because it is the policy. After the girls leave and Sammy says, “I quit” (20). Lengel addresses Sammy and tells him not to do that again.

Sammy still refuses; he puts his apron on the counter and walks out. When he gets outside to the lot, he is still motivated to find the girls as he says, “I look around for my girls, but they’re gone, of course” (20). The fact that Queenie is who Sammy sticks up for, along with the fact that Lengel is the reason Sammy feels as if he has to stick up for Queenie show Sammy motivation. This motivation is to be a sort of hero to Queenie by confronting Lengel and even quitting his job, in hopes that Queenie and her friends will recognize his efforts and appreciate him.

The idea that Sammy wants to be a sort of hero to the Queenie and the girls, also is felt by Harriet Blodgett as in her critical essay in The Explicator. Blodgett writes, “Sammy plays a mythic role, too, seeing himself as the distressed damsels’ proverbial knight in shining armor” (1). In addition, in the book “John Updike Revisited”, by James A. Schiff, the idea that Sammy is a hero like character is also present. Schiff writes, “Updike’s apparent intention was to cast his protagonist heroically, via Sammy’s hope that the girls might at some point materialize” (116-117).

Minor characters are a very important part of any story, as they provide a lot of information about others things such as, the main character. In John Updike’s “A&P,” this remains true. Throughout the story, two minor characters, Queenie and Lengel, reveal Sammy’s personality and motivations. Qeenie and Lengel are vital minor characters, as Updike uses them for the reader’s understanding of the main character, Sammy, including his personality and motivations, which provides further understanding of the story.

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