Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

As in his other stories and novels, Updike here uses images and scenes that are literal and evoke a strong sense of physical reality while at the same time having symbolic resonance. The gun shop itself is particularized with its “cardboard cartons, old chairs and sofas from the Goodwill, a refrigerator, stacked newspapers, shoot posters, and rifle racks.” It is also, however, a symbol of adventure and death. Going down into the cellar gun shop, Ben moves into a world that seems not only more disorderly and less safe than his own but also closer to reality. He views Dutch as a man who can “descend into the hard heart of things.” Although both Ben and his father are sorry that young Murray has heard Reiner’s gory tales, this knowledge of mortality seems necessary for growth and success. In the images used at the end of the story, Ben cannot hit the targets even though he “aimed so carefully his open eye burned.” On the other hand, the boy’s success comes through his “murderous concentration.”

The dialogue is natural and realistic while also conveying more than characters sometimes know. Talking to Dutch, old Murray says of Ben, “My biggest regret is I couldn’t teach him the pleasure of working with your hands.” The change of person represented by “your” is a typical linguistic error, but it also suggests Murray’s wish that his son had Dutch’s hands. Throughout the story, Updike draws out the deeper meanings of a realistic surface texture.

The Gun Shop Bibliography

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Bloom, Harold, ed. John Updike: Modern Critical Views. New York: Chelsea House, 1987.

Boswell, Marshall. John Updike’s Rabbit Tetralogy: Mastered Irony in Motion. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2000.

Greiner, Donald. John Updike’s Novels. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1984.

Luscher, Robert M. John Updike: A Study of the Short Fiction. New York: Twayne, 1993.

Miller, D. Quentin. John Updike and the Cold War: Drawing the Iron Curtain. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2001.

Newman, Judie. John Updike. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1988.

Schiff, James A. John Updike Revisited. New York: Twayne, 1998.

Updike, John. Self-Consciousness: Memoirs. New York: Knopf, 1989.

Uphaus, Suzanne Henning. John Updike. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1980.