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Descriptive Language in John Updike’s A & P and Anton Chekhov’s The Lady with the Dog

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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 the...


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...e reader interested but also making the reader aware of the characters’ emotions and sentiments.

Chekhov’s descriptions, although less visual, are just as descriptive as Updike’s. The descriptive wording chosen by these two authors represents more than just the words themselves, but actions, images, and feelings that evoke a response, whether it be a vision or an emotion. Both authors are able to captivate the reader by what is in reality just word choice and sentence structure. Fiction is very much mechanical, putting together well-chosen words in a precise, particular sentence structure, and when executed properly it’s incredible to see the emotional and visual reactions it prompts from the reader. It’s an art, just as painting is mechanical too – putting paint on a canvas in a very certain way. When carried out correctly, the results can be magnificent.


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