Big Tall Goony-Goony
The second girl Sammy notices is tall with black hair and a long chin, which detracts from her good looks. Sammy seems to find her the least attractive of the three and gives her the name Big Tall Goony-Goony, although he admits that she is not really all that bad looking.
Lengel is the store manager. He is a staunch member of the local community, teaching Sunday School and taking part in other community activities. He is middle-aged or probably older, and he has been a friend of Sammy’s parents for many years. Sammy finds him dull (“pretty dreary” is his exact phrase) but also notes that Lengel is good at his job and does not miss much regarding what is going on in the store. Lengel disapproves of the attire worn by the three girls, and makes it clear to them that swimsuits are not suitable for wearing in the store. He knows what the community standards are in this small town north of Boston, and he feels he has a duty to uphold them.
McMahon is an older employee of the store who supervises the meat counter. He has a brief interaction with the girls and he answers some questions they put to him. After they move on, McMahon looks lustfully at them.
The first girl Sammy notices in the store is wearing a plaid green two-piece bathing suit, so he thinks of her as Plaid. She is a little overweight (“chunky” is how Sammy describes her), but she is well tanned, apart from her belly, which leads Sammy to think she may only recently have bought the two-piece. He admires her backside. He describes her face as “one of those chubby berry-faces, the lips all bunched together under her nose.”
Queenie is the name Sammy gives to the third girl. She is obviously the leader of the three, although she is not as tall as Big Tall Goony-Goony. Sammy finds her very attractive, admiring among other things her long white legs and how she holds herself straight as she walks. She is wearing a beige or dirty-pink swimsuit (Sammy does not know what color best describes it), with the shoulder straps down over her upper arms. Her hair is bleached from the sun and she wears it in a bun. Her eyes are blue and her skin white. When she reaches the checkout register to purchase the item she has picked out—a jar of herring snacks—she pays for it by plucking out some cash from the top of the bathing suit, or, as Sammy puts it, “out of the hollow at the center of her nubbled pink top.” When he hears her speak Sammy realizes that she comes from an upper-middle-class family, in contrast to his own more humble origins. When Lengel informs the girls they are not properly dressed, Queenie briefly protests. She thinks there is nothing wrong with going to the store in a bathing suit. She is just picking up a single item that her mother asked her to get, she says.
Nineteen-year-old Sammy is a store clerk and also the narrator of the story. He is a very sharply observant young man with a rather irreverent attitude to his job. He makes fun of the older customers, using derogatory termsto describe them (although not to their faces). He calls one customer a witch because she gives him a hard time after he makes a mistake in ringing up her purchases. He calls some of the customers “house-slaves in pin curlers” (rather than saying “housewives”). He gives the girls a good looking over when he spots them in the store, noting their physical features and immediately finding Queenie the most attractive. He loves the way she produces the cash from inside the top of her bathing suit. Sammy does not like it when Lengel intervenes to chide the girls for their inappropriate attire, and he decides on the spot to quit his job. He thinks it was unnecessary to embarrass them. He leaves the store immediately, but he knows inside that his gesture, which was made partially to impress the girls, was an impulsive one. He guesses that from this point on in his life, it is going to be hard for him to fit into society, and that he is likely to feel at odds with the way things are done and what other people believe.
Stokesie is Sammy’s fellow worker at the store, manning a cash register. He is three years old than Sammy, at twenty-two, and he is also married with two children. He jokes with Sammy after they see the girls in the store, but his attitude to his job is rather different from Sammy’s. He is more serious and responsible, and he queries whether the girls are dressed appropriately. “Is it done?” he asks Sammy, referring to whether it is acceptable to wear a bathing suit in the store. Sammy thinks that Stokesie wants eventually to become the store manager.
A&P: Character Profiles