Critical Context

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Roger’s Version is the middle novel in a trilogy Updike wrote as an extended commentary on Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. Hawthorne’s story of religious intolerance and sexual repression is for Updike a profound commentary on the American character. Over a thirteen-year period, Updike wrote three novels, each focusing on these topics from the point of view of a character modeled on one of the three principal personages in Hawthorne’s tale: the adulteress Hester Prynne, whose character is reprised in Sarah Worth in the novel S. (1988); her lover, the respected minister Arthur Dimmesdale, recast as Tom Marshfield in A Month of Sundays (1975); and the relentless persecutor of Hester and Dimmesdale, Roger Chillingsworth, the model for Roger Lambert in Roger’s Version. As in almost all of his works, Updike focuses on the domestic scene, detailing the lives of everyday middle-class people struggling with their sexual desires and with a feeling of angst brought on by a modern world which has turned its back on God and is much the worse for having done so. The characters in this novel share many similarities with others in the Updike canon. In several ways, Roger is an intellectual version of Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom, principal character of four Updike novels which also examine people’s preoccupation with their sexual desires and their anxieties about the significance of their lives.