Tomorrow and Tomorrow and So Forth Themes

John Updike

Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Like Macbeth’s soliloquy, this story is concerned with the failure of the passage of time to produce significant meaning. Mark Prosser, as a teacher, is supposed to help his students by guiding them in their search for meaning. Unfortunately, he lacks the self-knowledge, which ought to have come with maturity, that is necessary to do this. His actions are determined by his concern with how others, students or fellow teachers, perceive him. He identifies with Geoffrey Langer, the smart boy, but he behaves like Peter Forrester, the cutup, as he vies with Peter for the attention of Gloria. He picks on Peter through envy of the relationship between the two adolescents.

He wants to retain his authority as a teacher on the one hand; on the other, he wants to be seen as a friend, as a member of the group who happens to have read a little more than the others. Instead of attempting to bring them up to his level, he consistently lowers himself to theirs. When he does attempt to say something significant about the play, he allows himself to become distracted by Gloria, becomes self-conscious about what he is saying, and consciously attempts to sound diffident, as if what he is saying is not important to him either. Naturally he loses the attention of the class. To retrieve their attention, he resorts to reprimanding them and once again attacks Peter, who has taken the opportunity to talk to Gloria. He cannot convincingly answer any of their questions because,...

(The entire section is 413 words.)