Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Though written as prose, Updike’s “Leaves” borders on poetry with its dense layering of meanings into a concise and rich imagery. The primary metaphor of leaves refers to the leaves of grape vines and trees, the pages on which the author writes, and the action of leaving each other. It brings together nature, spirit, and the events that bind them. The image also gradually draws the reader into the emotional process of a man taking leave of his past life and entering into the unknown patterns of a new stage of his existence.

The multiple meanings of this story’s words and images suggest the inability of people to find clear and simple interpretations of their actions. Helen, the writer’s wife, represents the naturalness their love once had, but as a participant in creating and maintaining the break in that love, she also represents the current pain and confusion of its loss. The sun shining on the leaves symbolizes life, love, and the guilt-free abandon of nature; it is also the image used for the guilt that casts shadows within the writer’s soul and burns through his memories, changing them in the light of his sorrow. Updike’s interweaving of this writer’s reflections on nature, human nature, the art of writing, and his memories and emotions shows the complexity of the ways in which a person’s life is shaped by, and shapes, the world around him.

This man is in the middle of his world in all ways. He is in the middle of...

(The entire section is 404 words.)


(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.