John Updike

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Student Question

What is the significance of the boy finding his own drawings in the chest in "The Brown Chest" by John Updike?

Quick answer:

When the boy finds his own drawings in this chest, he says he’s “shocked.” You could consider “shocked” an emotion. In that case, D would probably be your best answer. If you took a more general view, you could reasonably argue that any of the options are applicable. The narrator never specifically clarifies his exact feelings on the chest.

Expert Answers

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In a way, all of the possible answers to your question could be right. In another way, all of the possible answers to your question could be considered too clear.

When I read John Updike's short story, it was hard for me to find an example where the narrator clearly states his feelings on the chest. Perhaps part of the intrigue of the chest and the story itself is that the attraction of the chest remains somewhat ambivalent and elusive.

Early on in the story, the narrator says “he didn’t want to know” about everything that was in the chest. Perhaps that gives you a clue as to how the narrator felt about finding his own drawings—among other things—in the chest.

In that case, D seems to be the most correct answer. The chest provokes so many memories that he’s overwhelmed. While the narrator never explicitly says he’s “thankful,” the fact that he and his son go through great pains to preserve the chest appears to suggest that he is thankful.

Although, I don’t think you can absolutely rule out the other answers either. The narrator seems to indicate that he understands the “value” of the chest by keeping it. You could also reason that “family history” and “time” are a part of the narrator’s relationship to the chest. Many of the items in the box have dates that take the narrator and his son back in time and back over the history of the family.

However, if you had to focus only on drawings, I would go with D. Remember, when the boy finds the drawings, he’s “shocked.” You could argue that “shocked” represents a type of emotion.

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