Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

In Roger’s Version, John Updike develops a complex narrative interweaving several themes. Primary among them is the investigation of modern religious beliefs. It is no accident that Roger Lambert’s specialty at the divinity school is the exploration of heresies. His comfortable view of God as totally Other and unknowable is challenged by Dale Kohler’s curious brand of fundamental assent to the literal tenets of the Bible coupled with his conviction that God can be discovered through the use of sophisticated computer technology. The conflict is more than a simple test of wills between individuals: Kohler’s approach to the proof of God’s existence is an extension of the scientific community’s method of discovering the nature of all reality. In exhibiting an intense dislike for Dale, and in manipulating the younger man’s research efforts to discredit and discourage him, Roger is actually representing a religious community that still feels threatened by advances in science. He cannot accept the notion that science might in some way help support the tenets of theology.

The novel is also an investigation of modern domestic relations and of people’s sexual needs. Roger appears on first meeting to be a happily married man; readers learn as the story progresses, however, that his earlier affair with Esther led to the breakup of his first marriage and to the loss of his position as a pastor. Nevertheless, Roger and Esther’s conventional...

(The entire section is 435 words.)