Sam, the narrator in John Updike’s “A & P” comes out as a more reliable narrator than the one in Coraghessan’s “Greasy Lake.” Part of the reason is that although both are in their late teens, Sam portrays a more mature, though impulsive, character than the narrator in “Greasy Lake.” The main reason, however, is because the narrator in “A & P” presents a first-hand account of what he observes directly. The fact that he uses the present participle simple tense suggests a sense of immediacy, reporting events as they occur. This approach increases the narrator’s reliability in terms of the accuracy. This is contrasted with “Greasy Lake,” which is told in the past tense. At the same time, the narrator is giving his own version of what he thought was the character traits of a bad image personality. As part of a group of spoiled kids from upper class society, the narrator in “Greasy Lake” merely recounts the adventures of what they fancied to be a macho lifestyle when they were teens.
The attention that the Sam pays to details about people and the setting marks him as a reliable narrator. He uses vivid descriptions of other characters, which helps the reader to understand them and their actions better. For instance, the description of the ladies who come into the store not only reflects their upper class upbringing, but also the modern culture and cultural change they represent. The narrator describes them as scantily dressed, with bare backs and shoulders. This description suggests their freedom from conservative traditional values like dressing in full, body covering clothes. They are contrasted with the store’s manager, Lengel, who hides all day long in his office cubicle. This suggests a state of being stuck in conservative values, like observing a strict code of dressing.
The close attention that Sam pays to details also portrays him as an observant narrator. For instance, she describes one of the customers as 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” (Updike 227). This assessment show that he’s not only observant, but keen on seeing other characters below the surface of what they project outwardly. This is evidenced when he says of his fellow worker Stokesies that although he is married, that is the only difference between them when it comes to women. Thus, he reveals Stokesie’s hypocrisy when he exclaims that “I feel so faint,” supposedly to express his disgust about the scantily dressed ladies, he being a family man. In addition, he uses figurative language with a deeper meaning than its literal sense. For instance, he says that one of the three ladies, who he nicknames “Tall Goony-Goony” would not be bad “as raw material,” referring to having sex with her.
On the other hand, the narrator in “Greasy Lake” recounts his distorted version of what it means to be a bad guy. This is suggested from the very beginning of the story, when he says that “There was a time when courtesy and winning ways went out of style, when it was good to be bad, when you cultivated decadence like a taste” (Boyle 341). This statement proves that the narrator and his friends were not really bad, but naïve, spoiled youths who wanted to cultivate a bad-guy image by doing the things they believed bad guys do. For instance, he kept a tire iron under the driver’s seat “because bad characters always keep tire irons under the driver’s seat, for just such an occasion as this” (Boyle 343). The occasion he refers to is the fighting they had at the lake. He believes that bad characters engage in fights, and are always prepared for such occasions by driving around with weapons. This attitude mirrors that of the narrator in “A & P,” who thought that his resigning from his job in protest of Lengel’s mistreatment of the ladies will distinguish him as superior in their eyes. However, he learns that it is not the case when he goes out finds that no one is waiting for him. This suggests a sense of having a distorted view of reality. Perhaps this is because of his lower class social background, which prompted him to strive to rise above his inferior status. Likewise, the narrator in “Greasy Road” and his friends were not as brave, daring and courageous as they thought they were. This is evidenced when they encounter the real bad guy at the lake, and their nerves are shaken up. It is at the lake where they come face-to-face with the reality of their fancies; they learn that being bad is not as cool as they had deceived themselves, but living a world of violence and brutality. The narrator loses the keys to his car in panic, showing that he was not the street-hardened guy he thought he was. Together with his friends, they realize that they don’t fit in that world, suggested by the narrator’s hiding in the lake, and eventually longing to go home to his parents. This shows that he is not as independent as he and his friends think, but just immature and adventurous youths who clamor for the lifestyle of “bad characters.”