Techniques / Literary Precedents

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 210

S. is a contemporary example of an eighteenth-century narrative tradition, a novel in the form of letters. Updike updates the epistolary form by introducing tape-recorded messages. He also limits and controls the narrative by having all the letters come from a single character. In this way Sarah's mind is the stage for all that happens in the novel. Her feelings and thoughts, however compromised and mistaken, are the comedy and drama of Updike's narrative.

Another of Updike's techniques is the frequent repetition of the Hindu vocabulary in vogue at the religious commune. Not only is Sarah given a new name, she also learns a whole new language for dealing with her thoughts and feelings. One source of the guru's power, of course, is his apparent ownership of a foreign and exotic language. Updike clearly has fun by writing his novel in both English and Sanskrit. He even provides a glossary of words for the unenlightened.

The most important precedent for Sarah Worth is Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter. Updike makes this quite clear by quoting two descriptions of Hester Prynne to serve as an epigraph for his novel. The many echoes of Hawthorne not only challenge the reader to make connections, but they also lend historical depth to Updike's contemporary story.


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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 77

The Atlantic. CCLXI, April, 1988, p. 78.

The Christian Century. CV, May 18, 1988, p. 508.

Library Journal. CXIII, April 15, 1988, p. 97.

London Review of Books. X, May 5, 1988, p. 20.

Los Angeles Times Book Review. March 13, 1988, p. 3.

National Review. XL, May 13, 1988, p. 58.

The New Leader. LXXI, April 18, 1988, p. 20.

The New Republic. CXCVIII, June 20, 1988, p. 39.

The New York Times Book Review. XCIII, March 13, 1988, p. 7.

Newsweek. CXI, March 14, 1988, p. 58.

Publishers Weekly. CCXXXIII, January 22, 1988, p. 102.

Time. CXXXI, February 29, 1988, p. 98.

The Washington Post Book World. XVIII, March 6, 1988, p. 1.

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