Pigeon Feathers

by John Updike

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Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 331

"Pigeon Feathers" is a short story by John Updike, a Pulitzer-Prize winning novelist and short story writer. The story itself was included in a collection of the same name, which was published in 1962.

The major characters include the protagonist David Kern, who is a fourteen-year-old boy at the story's outset. David and his family have moved from Olinger to Firetown, Pennsylvania. He lives on a farm with his parents and his maternal grandmother. David suffers a spiritual crisis during the course of the novel, inspired by his reading about the historical Jesus in H. G. Wells's The Outline of History.

David's mother is another primary character. She is skeptical of modern farming methods and frequently bickers with David's father. She also talks to David about his views on religion, but her definition of heaven is ultimately unsatisfying to David. David's mother is his primary confidante, but she worries about David's preoccupation with death and eventually tells his father about her spiritual discussions with their son. It is David's mother who asks David to take care of the pigeons in the barn, the event which brings David into close contact with the beautifully-plumed creatures and makes him feel as though he is playing God.

David's father is more receptive to modern farming than his mother, and more standoffish. He acts as if he is at his wit's end with David's mother and provides David glib answers to his quandaries about heaven. David's father, a chemistry major in college, values rationality in all things. He is also scornful of farmers.

Another major character is Reverend Dobson, with whom David begins a catechetical class at a Lutheran church. David inquisitively asks Reverend Dobson about heaven, and Dobson asserts only that heaven "is like Abraham Lincoln's goodness living after him" (11). David finds this answer unsatisfactory, and it causes him to have grave spiritual doubts that depress him and cause him to question his faith. Dobson is well-respected by others in the community, including David's parents.

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