Elmer's English 304 Magazine

Style and Diction Analysis

"My New York Girl"

Crazy   |   Manuela  |   Mrs. Jones

John Updike's oeuvre, books and short stories examining adult sexual infidelity, permits him to quickly set the scene of his short story, "New York Girl," about Stan, an engineer turned salesman, who travels to New York and has an affair. I chose to analyze this story because of its title. Updike's title hits on anyone who has traveled to New York and met a girl. Perhaps along with everyone else who has traveled there, I once had a New York girl. Like Stan, I entered a door and found myself with a New York girl, Adrianna. Within two hours we were in bed; within three she asked me to move in with her. Updike's story about Jane and Stan confirms that's the way New York girls are. They make decisions quickly and move fast. After the title, with his inimitable style and diction, Updike invites readers to identify further with the characters and to feel the mood of the story. I chose to analyze the first two paragraphs of the story to see the techniques used by Updike to bid us enter the door and experience the world of Jane and Stan.

Updike writes the story as if he is that engineer, from upstate New York, escaping domestic woes, a boring wife and an affair gone askew. He chooses the words and sketches the scenes, as an engineer would (if he could sketch in words like Updike). In paragraph B, Updike sketches Jane; the way she is put together. Jane is "asymmetrical" with an "extra hinge" somewhere in her arms and hands. She checks herself for "loose parts" and her "bony top half" is "out of kilter" with her hips and thighs. In paragraph A, the time-conscious engineer dislikes the eight-hour train ride from Buffalo. Once in New York, his time is his own, to have an affair and to efficiently place the aftermath of his discovered adultery in Buffalo into perspective.

Putting his paragraphs together with the precision of a MIT engineer, in the first two (Appendix 1 and 3) Updike uses an equal number of simple, compound, complex, and compound-complex sentences, keeping them readable with judicious punctuation. The average length of his sentences is 26.5 words (Appendix 2); the longest sentence (A5) is 56 words; the shortest (A6) is 9 words. Interestingly, the shortest sentence describes the products that Stan sells for his engineering firm; Stan has other matters on his mind. The next sentence (A7) of 33 words describes why Stan stumbles into the world of art and Jane. Updike's longest two sentences, both compound-complex, describe unattractive aspects of his wife, Carole, and Jane. Sentence A5 (56 words) describes the demands his family and house place on him, and Carole's gray hairs and varicose veins. Sentence B6 (51 words) describes Jane's rather wide hips and heavy thighs, her bony upper body, and the beige knit miniskirt that she wears with black pantyhose. Although Stan finds Jane's body interesting, I suppose that he does not really approve of the clothes that Jane, an art gallery operator, wears. However, it is too late. Clearly, Stan cannot do anything about the way Carole has aged. What's more, he cannot do anything about Jane, because sentences B1 to B5 reveal that Stan is already more than just "interested in her."

The sentence openers that Updike uses help to draw the reader into his story. The sentence-openers in the first part of each paragraph are often adverbial clauses, prepositional phrases, or expletives, setting the time and place. Once he has the paragraph moving, he switches to subject openers. Paragraph A ends with 3 subject openers; paragraph B with 4. Once Jane's arms' missing hinges have aroused Stan's engineering curiosity in sentence B3, their empathy gets down to the short strokes. Coolly, Updike finishes the paragraph with subject-openers.

Often described as a "visual writer," Updike uses a preponderance of concrete-nouns and pronouns (74%) and substantive words (273 out of 398) that appeal to a reader's senses. New York is "eight stultifying hours" from Buffalo; Jane has a "bony face, with its high cheekbones and powdered-over freckles." Updike offsets the length of his sentences by combining these words (a majority are monosyllabic) with many active verbs (21 in 15 sentences), rolling along the reader's interest. With a few precise strokes, he takes the reader from Stan's home near Buffalo to New York, and into Jane's art gallery where Stan's attraction for Jane unfolds and, implicitly, Jane's need for Stan. Although he averages one linking verb per sentence, these verbs are usually buried in predicates that expose the subject. For example, by using the expletive and linking verb in sentence B2, Updike places "something asymmetrical" next to "her," the implicit subject of the sentence.

Updike uses a few figures of speech. The metaphor in sentence A4 equates New York with another planet and another shore, and a New York girl with another life. Jane's dull reddish hair reminds Stan of "pencil shavings and the cedary fragrance that arises when you empty the sharpener." Stan has, apparently, laboured long and hard over his drafting bench. (My New York girl's red hair reminded me of sockeye salmon steaks. A friend told me that red hair is common for Jewish girls from New York.) I suppose that "New York Girl" could be a metaphor for Updike's life, if he attended MIT instead of Harvard. Updike's stint at the New Yorker Magazine equals Stan's extended fling with Jane. While Stan, the engineer, peddles picture frames that artists place around their paintings, John, the writer, flogs short stories that editors place in magazines.

Style and subject matter are intimately related (Corbett 381). Having entered the door Updike opens with such style and diction in the first two paragraphs, I suddenly felt like an alien for the rest of the story. I couldn't identify with Stan's pre-Vietnam ways, and Jane was not my New York girl. Although I experienced New York through Adrianna, as Stan does with Jane, Adrianna was a lover, not a wife away from home as Jane becomes with Stan. We took in a play on Broadway, ate dinner at the Russian Tea House, danced at clubs with numbers for names, and ice-skated at the Rockefeller Center. Except for the emphasis on sex, Stan and Jane do the same things that Stan and Carole do at home in Buffalo. So, my interest in the "New York Girl" tapered off, just as Stan and Jane's affair did in the story. But, I like John Updike. The first two paragraphs are enough.

Appendix 1

Style and Diction Analysis

Paragraphs A & B (first two)

SentenceTypeOpenersWords ABDEGIK MOPunct
A1 Cx Prep Phrs 14 10 7 6 5 2 1 0 0 1 1
A2 Cx Subject 37 23 13 13 11 3 0 3 0 2 7
A3 S Subject 19 11 6 6 5 1 0 1 0 3 2
A4 Cp-Cx Adv Claus 23 18 14 8 7 3 2 1 0 3 4
A5 Cp-Cx Subject 56 36 29 20 12 6 1 3 1 4 8
A6 S Subject 9 9 2 3 2 1 1 0 0 3 3
A7 Cp Subject 33 21 6 10 3 3 1 1 1 6 3
A8 Cp Subject 24 14 10 9 8 3 0 3 0 2 4
B1 Cp Subject 10 8 3 4 2 2 2 0 0 2 2
B2 Cp Expletive 29 21 14 7 6 1 1 0 0 8 4
B3 Cx Adv Claus 17 12 85 5 2 1 1 0 2 3
B4 Cx Subject 19 13 6 6 6 2 1 0 0 2 2
B5 Cx Subject 29 219 9 8 4 0 4 0 6 2
B6 Cp-Cx Subject 51 37 22 13 8 4 1 3 0 15 4
B7 S Subject 28 19 9 8 5 1 0 1 0 8 4
Total398 273 158 127 93 38 12 21 2 67 53
A.Substantive wordsB.Monosyllabic words
D.Nouns and pronounsE.Concrete nouns-pronouns
G.Finite verbsI.Linking verbs
K.Active verbsM.Passive verbs

Appendix 2

Study of Style

A. Number of words 398
B. Number of sentences 15
C. Longest sentence 56
D. Shortest sentence 9
E. Average sentence 26.5
F. Sentences 10 words over the average 3
G. F as a % of B 20%
H. Sentences 5 words less than average 6
I. H as a % of B 40%
J. Paragraph length in sentences 
Longest paragraph 8
Shortest paragraph 7

Appendix 3

Grammatical Types of Sentence

A. Total number of sentences: 15
B. Simple sentences (S) 3
C. Percentage simple sentences 20%
D. Compound sentences (Cp) 4
E. Percentage compound sentences 27%
F. Complex sentences (Cx) 5
G. Percentage complex sentences 30%
H. Compound-complex sentences (Cp-Cx) 3
I. Percentage Cp-Cx sentences 20%

Sentence Openers

Sentences beginning with
A. Subject 11 73%
B. Prepositional Phrase 1 6.7%
C. Adverb Clause 2 13%
D. Expletive 1 6.7%

Diction - use of words

A. Number of substantive words273
B. Monosyllabic words 158
C. B as a % of A 58%
D. Nouns and pronouns 127
E. Concrete nouns and pronouns 93
F. E as a % of D 74%
G. Finite verbs 38
H. G as a % of A 14%
I. Linking verbs 15
J. I as a % of A 5.5%
K. Active verbs 21
L. K as a % of A 7.5%
M. Passive verbs 2
N. Number of adjectives 67
O. Average # adjectives / sentence 4.5
Punctuation marks 53
Average # punctuation marks / sentence 3.5%

Works Cited

Corbett, Edward P.J. Classical Rhetoric for the Modern Student. 3rd ed. New York: Oxford UP, 1990.

Updike, John. "New York Girl." Licks of Love. New York: Knopf, 2000. 28-43.


Copyright © Elmer G. Wiens:   EgwaldTM Web Services  

  All Rights Reserved. Direct comments to