John Updike Analysis

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Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

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What is the initiation process like for John Updike’s protagonists? What do they learn while growing up? What epiphanies do they experience?

How does the family function as a unit in an Updike work? Do individuals find support in their families, conflict, or both?

What are the characteristics of Updike’s use of language? Is his style poetic? Metaphorical? Lyrical? Dense? Abstract?

How does Updike characterize contemporary American society in his stories and novels? What is the American Dream like in his fiction, and how easy is it to reach?

What is the state of marriage in Updike’s works? Are couples happy and fulfilled, or constrained andunsatisfied?

Updike has been called the foremost chronicler of the mores of Middle America. What is the portrait that emerges from his accounts?

Other Literary Forms

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

A prolific and versatile writer, John Updike was an accomplished novelist, perhaps best known for his “Rabbit” tetralogy, but he was also the author of The Centaur (1963), which fuses myth and realism in middle-class America; Couples (1968), which examines the social and sexual mores of a modern American town; The Coup (1978), in which the narrator is writing, in memoirs, the history of an imaginary African nation; and Roger’s Version (1986) and S (1988), which are creative reworkings of the situation of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter (1850). His later novels include Brazil (1994), Toward the End of Time (1997), and Bech at Bay: A Quasi-Novel (1998). Updike also published many books of verse and a play (Buchanan Dying, 1974), and he wrote reviews and critical essays on literature, music, and painting for a few decades. His nonfiction works include Golf Dreams: Writings on Golf (1996) and More Matter: Essays and Criticism (1999).


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

The Centaur won for John Updike the National Book Award in 1964. He was elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters, the youngest man to receive the honor at that time. “The Bulgarian Poetess” won an O. Henry Award in 1966.

Rabbit Is Rich (1981) won an American Book Award and a Pulitzer Prize, while Hugging the Shore: Essays and Criticism (1983), a nine-hundred-page volume, won the National Book Critics Circle Award. In 1991, Rabbit at Rest won a Pulitzer Prize, and in 1995, it received the Howells Medal. In 1996, Updike’s In the Beauty of the Lilies (1996) won the Ambassador Book Award, and the next year Updike received the Campion Award. In 1998, he earned the Harvard Arts First Medal and the National Book Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters.

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

From the time he published his first story in The New Yorker in 1954, John Updike truly became a man of letters, publishing in virtually every literary genre—poetry, short fiction, novel, essay, drama, art criticism, and autobiography. His first short-story collection, The Same Door, appeared in 1959; many more followed, including The Afterlife, and Other Stories in 1994. Updike’s play Buchanan Dying was published in 1974. His poetry has appeared in many volumes of his own, beginning with The Carpentered Hen, and Other Tame Creatures (1958), as well as in anthologies. Updike published his first nonfiction prose collection in 1965; most of his nonfiction works are collections of essays and criticism, but the autobiographical Self-Consciousness: Memoirs appeared in 1989 and the single-themed Golf Dreams: Writings on Golf was published in 1996.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

One of the major figures to emerge in American fiction after World War II, John Updike is widely acclaimed as one of the most accomplished stylists and prolific writers of his generation. Showing remarkable versatility and range, his fiction represents a penetrating chronicle in the realist mode of the changing morals and manners of American society. Updike’s work has met with both critical and popular success. His first novel, The Poorhouse Fair, received the Rosenthal Award of the National Institute of Arts and Letters in 1960. In 1964, Updike received the National Book Award for The Centaur , and he was elected the same year to the National...

(The entire section is 2,072 words.)