American reality in the works of J. Updike

John Updike is a famous American novelist and journalist. During his creative career, he published twenty-eight novels and forty-five collections of prose and poems. Not all his books are translated into Russian. The writer is a laureate of a number of prestigious literary prizes of the USA, including Pulitzer and the prize of the National Association of Literary Critics.

A future writer was born in the small town of Shillington in Pennsylvania. John was the only child in the family. His childhood was spent in the years of crisis and World War II. He recalled the unemployed father, the painful atmosphere in the family, games with the boys “in the guerrilla,” the grandfather, who watched the progress of the war through the newspapers. It was the grandfather who instilled in his grandson an interest in journalism.

Education Updike received at Harvard University and painting courses in Oxford. During his studies at Harvard, he runs a university satirical magazine. Returning to the United States, he collaborates with the New Yorker magazine. In it were published the first essays, articles, satirical stories and caricatures Updike. His literary debut is a collection of poems “Wooden chicken and other hand creations.”

In his first novel, The Fair in the Almshouse, the writer depicts a world of old age, although he was only twenty-seven years old at the time of writing the book. Updike describes one holiday in the year, when for the old people constant loneliness is interrupted. On this day, music plays, townspeople with children come and give flowers to the elderly. Exploring the inner world of heroes, the writer comes to the conclusion that the happiness of the old can not depend only on satiety, the availability of clothing and shelter. Speaking about the increasing spiritual disunity in society, the author condemns selfish relatives who surrendered the elderly to the poorhouse. The writer sees the main reason for human suffering in his original tragic fate, in his condemnation to death.

His novel “Rabbit, run”, which tells of the hard life of the average American Harry Engstrom, brought great acclaim to Updike. Not finding anything interesting and attractive in life, crushed by tedious work for the sake of a piece of bread, Harry tries several times to flee in search of a better share. But... you can not escape from yourself, and he has to come back. The family life of the hero is full of suffering and misunderstanding. Born daughter does not bring the couple together. The tragedy of everyday life is approaching the finale: after being drunk to insensibility, Harry’s wife bathes the girl and does not notice that the child has already choked.

From this novel, a whole series of works about Harry Engstrom grew: Rabbit healed, Rabbit became rich, Reminiscences of the Rabbit, creating a holistic picture of the life of American society for several decades.

In 1965 Updike published the novel Centaur, which in the same year was awarded the National Book Award. In it, the writer combines two artistic plans: reality and myth. The realistic basis is the description of several days in the life of the school teacher of natural science George Caldwell and his family. The mythological plan gives the narrative a metaphorical and tragic meaning. The novel is intricately intertwined yesterday and today, a reality with an uncontrollable fantasy. The teacher turns into a centaur, the director of the school – in the god Zeus, and the wife of the mechanic – into the goddess Aphrodite.

The novel gives the image of a positive hero, rare for modern American literature. Teacher Caldwell tries to instill in her students the notion of eternal moral human values. But his talented, interesting stories are not perceived cruel, unbridled, capable of any meanness students. The class plays along with the director, who throws down thunder and lightning on Caldwell’s head. The teacher fled from the classroom “for an animal, triumphant roar”. The author expressively shows the impossibility for an intelligent, educated person, such as Caldwell, to overcome the element of gross ignorance. A wonderful teacher, he suffers from bitter powerlessness to change anything with the full connivance of the pupils on the part of the headmaster. A teacher, deprived of support, no longer young and naive, it seems that life has been spent in vain.

Despite the tragic perception of the world, Updike’s novel is distinguished by a sense of the word, a deep knowledge of human psychology, subtle lyricism. Showing the crisis of moral standards in modern America, the author exalts goodness – as a force, way out and salvation.


American reality in the works of J. Updike