Date of Award

Fall 1974

Document Type

Dissertation - Restricted

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Criticism of the work of John Updike is a small but continually growing field. A survey of the direction this criticism has taken confirms Updike's concern with two major subjects: contemporary man's loss of religious faith, and his inability to relate to others in his society. However, one subject in Updike's work that has not received extensive attention is the relation between man and woman, especially in marriage. That marriage and its problems is one of Updike's major concerns in fiction is not difficult to discern. A large percentage of his short stories are devoted to the difficulties of married love, eight of these stories about one couple--Joan and Richard Maple. In addition, four novels are directly concerned with marriage: Rabbit, Run, Of the Farm, Couples and Rabbit Redux. Although his other novels, The Centaur and Bech: A Book, do not examine directly the marital state, they do examine the bases for successful or unsuccessful. man/woman relations. Almost all of these marital relations are marked by jealousy, cruelty, adultery, childishness, and, in some cases, divorce. As Updike states in "The Music School," "We are all pilgrims, faltering toward divorce." Updike demonstrates in his fiction that difficulties between marital partners. (and the unmarried in love relationships) are a direct result of an individual's false relations with God, the Self, and others. The individual adopts or lives by the code of "romantic love" instead of by the concept of Christian love. In romantic love the final object of love is the Self (eros), while in Christian love the object is an other (agape). Updike asserts in his review of Denis de Rougemont's Love in the Western World that romantic love is an arena for self-affirmation and exaltation in which the other is merely a mirror reflecting the Self rather than a genuinely other person. When the Self becomes the focal point of existence, any love relationship only serves to enhance the Self at the expense of the other. In opposition to the idea of romantic love Updike offers the Christian love tradition based on self-sacrifice to an other rather than the subservience of an other to the self. Updike in his Christian views has been strongly influenced by the Swiss theologian, Karl Barth: thus, understanding some of Barth's basic ideas, such as the totaliter aliter (Wholly Other) God, and the eros-man and the agape-man in marriage, will help clarify Updike's concepts of marriage and contemporary man.



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