Pride in John Updike’s During the Jurassic
Though John Updike focuses on the Mesozoic in his short story During the Jurassic, the commentary he intertwines with the plot is undoubtedly drawn out of our modern society. Rather than phrasing broad societal concepts in mundane modern terms, however, Updike carefully constructs a Jurassic world in which mankind's sin of pride, as well as our inevitable fall, are reflected through the dinosaur's passion for immensity and their rapidly approaching extinction.
The first key to unlocking Updike's rather carefully hidden commentary is to understand the relationship of the story to our society. Though the Jurassic world has seemingly few corollaries with the modern world, Updike uses one of the most mundane facets of modernity -- the dinner party --to fuse both genres into a somewhat humorous, but ultimately disturbing, juxtaposition. Infused into the volcanic landscape of the Jurassic world are the themes of jealousy, adultery, hatred, and falsity -- hallmarks of the 20th century -- which are made even more disturbing by their placement against the primitive world of the dinosaurs.
The Jurassic environment that Updike constructs in his short tale invites interpretation. First, the majority of the dinosaurs described were found, as one would expect, in the middle to late Jurassic period. By the Cretaceous period, the era that followed the Jurassic, these species had largely faded into obscurity, replaced by huge sauropods. Indeed, the only species in Updike's tale that falls into this class of Cretaceous sauropods are the brontosaurus and the diplodocus, both of which are held in high regard by the narrator. One can clearly infer from this evidence that, though Updike titles his work During the Jurassic, the tension that drives the plot originates at least in part in this transition to a new, more advanced era. Thus, when the iguanodon passionately desires the brontosaurus, and thus her huge size and sophistication, he is in a sense hungering after the future; his desire is directed not at the brontosaurus, but at the evolutionary superiority that she embodies.
Additionally, one can draw a great deal of meaning from the other dinosaurs Updike chooses for his characters. The iguanodon and his wife, a compsognathus, differ ludicrously in size; an average iguanodon measured ten meters from snout to tail, whereas a compsognathus measured only seventy centimeters. This parity in size serves to emphasize the iguanodon's desire for the brontosaurus and, clearly, his jealousy of the diplodocus. The dinner guests are further representations of the iguanodon's struggle with his rapidly approaching extinction. The stegosauri, due to their extremely small brain cavity, are considered to be among the least intelligent of the Jurassic dinosaurs. Indeed, the iguanodon considers that "among their many stupid friends these were the most stupid" (Updike 195). The iguanodon further describes them as...