Themes and Social Concerns

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Last Updated on May 12, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 214

S. is a novel about a woman's search for sensual and spiritual fulfillment. In typical Updike fashion her attempt to find Nirvana involves a series of comic turns and remains inconclusive. The heroine leaves her husband and respectable life in Massachusetts in order to join a religious commune in Arizona headed by a man who pretends to be a holy master from India. Life at the commune turns out to be a charade of spiritual enlightenment, a comic rite of sexual initiation, and a wild mixture of jealousy, fraud, embezzlement, and self-deception. The leader of the commune is an imposter who actually comes from a poor suburb of the heroine's native Boston. She is more disappointed by the revelation of his class status than by the exposure of his pseudo-religious credentials. The comedy of adultery is complete when the narrator learns that her husband is about to marry her best friend and confidante.

Updike's contemporary romance is a mixture of social and religious satire. He explores the delusions of trying to escape from an empty marriage, the pratfalls of a religious commune, and the infinite capacity of the heart and soul to experience desire and betrayal. The road to Nirvana in S. is a sad and comic journey into a contemporary maze of self-deception.

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