Descriptive Language In John Updike’s A & P And Anton Chekhov’s The Lady With The Dog

1734 words - 7 pages

One of the talents necessary for great fiction is the ability to use descriptive language to captivate the audience and to allow them to visualize characters and scenery.  By using specific words and phrases, writers focus attention and stoke the imagination, to enable the reader to create in his/her own mind a unique and detailed setting. A striking way to illuminate the importance of this ability is to juxtapose an authors original text with less colorful wording.  For example, one can take certain exemplary samples from two different stories, John Updike’s “A & P” and Anton Chekhov’s “The Lady with the Dog” and dull down the language, to state it in a more factual manner, completely taking away any scenery the author so brilliantly created. In doing so, it will allow insight into the intricately employed craft, mechanics, and descriptive wording within the stories.

John Updike, in his story “A & P,” uses an array of similes, metaphors, and descriptive language to allow the reader to visualize the scene, to take the reader into the A & P grocery store and provide vivid, detailed images of the unique characters and environment that would not otherwise be evident.  In this work he makes a point to give the reader a clear idea of his Sammy’s perception and outlook of A & P and the people who shop there.  In reference to a woman at his cash register he writes:  “She’s 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.  She’d been watching cash registers for fifty years and probably never seen a mistake before.  By the time I get her feathers smoothed… she gives me a little snort in passing, if she’d been born at the right time they would have burned her over in Salem…”  This portrayal of an aged, angular, make-up wearing lady without eyebrows – a witch no less – immediately stimulates the reader’s imagination.   Not only does she hold high expectations, but she looks for mistakes, she seeks confrontation.  The phrase “get her feathers smoothed” is an interesting choice, in that it almost identifies her as inhuman.  From this phrase, one could go so far as to imagine her nose as beak-like, as a feathered-bird’s would be. Had Updike not cared to describe her as such, he would have presented us with a second-rate illustration:  “She’s one of these fifty-year-old ladies, eyebrow-less and wearing make-up, that likes to harass cashiers that make mistakes… she snorted as she passed me, rude as she was.”  While adequate to represent the event, the previous sentence offers no detail whatsoever to the old woman, besides the fact that she is wearing make-up, has no eyebrows, and is probably unpleasant.  Updike’s description, however, enables the reader to see past the facile characteristics and into the woman’s personality, ways, and behavior, and practically forces the reader to conjure a visual of this character.  The word “witch” alone gives one the...

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