Updike and dominant metaphors

Another interesting thing I’d like to mention about John Updike is his use of the central metaphor.

In Adam Begley’s biography, Updike, the young Updike is at Harvard taking lectures on Shakespeare from Harry Levin. And it’s at this early stage in Updike’s writing life that he learned about the idea of the “dominant metaphor.”

To Updike, Levin’s resolutely textual approach, orthodox New Criticism with the emphasis on explication, was a revelation: “That a literary work could have a double life, in its imagery as well as its plot and characters, had not occurred to me.” It’s a lesson he never forgot, and one he put to use even in his earliest fiction, where patterns of imagery and metaphor complement and complicate the narrative.

If you’re looking for an example of how dominant metaphor is used, check out Updike’s short story, “Gesturing,” in which the main character is a man who has moved to a bachelor pad in Boston during a brief stint between marriages. Across from his apartment, the main character sees the Hancock Tower, a building of beauty and light, but also of loneliness.

Another good example of dominant metaphor in Updike’s work is in “Pigeon Feathers,” where a young man contemplates his own mortality via the pigeons his family keeps.

About E.S.O. Martin

E.S.O. Martin is a writer, a California native, and a graduate of SF State's Creative Writing MFA program.
This entry was posted in Biography, Craft Techniques, Non-Fiction, Reading Journal, Writer's Notebook and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.