Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

A familiar theme of John Updike’s work is the relationship between generations, particularly the ambivalent feelings of fathers and sons: the combination of guilt, pride, rivalry, and inadequacy. It is clear that Ben feels inadequate both as a father and as a son. In his role as son, he has not been quite what he thinks his father wanted: He does not work with his hands and he does not have the drive that his father sees in young Murray. He has led a cautious, orderly life, never exposing himself in the way his father does. He recognizes that the traits his father praises in young Murray are not inherited from him. As a father, he feels he has not done his job: “to impart the taste of the world” to his son. In paying for Murray’s golf lessons or skiing instruction, he has simply purchased amusements for the boy. It is his father, not he, who finds a way to get the rifle fixed on Thanksgiving Day. Similarly, old Murray feels inadequate in his role as a father. He thinks Dutch would have given Ben something more.

On the other hand, although fathers and sons may feel inadequate, they also have a sense of rivalry. Young Murray’s threat to kill his father may have been the result of a childish tantrum, but it also expresses the resentment of the younger generation toward the domination of the older one. Sally frequently sides with young Murray, telling Ben that he is too hard on the boy, a suggestion that the hostility young Murray feels may be more...

(The entire section is 451 words.)