Publication Date


Advisor(s) - Committee Chair

William McMahon, George McCelvey, Hugh Ager

Degree Program

Department of English

Degree Type

Master of Arts


Although Updike has been recognized as one of the few contemporary writers worthy of serious consideration, critics and reviewers are not in accord about the acclaim that he has received. They cannot agree that Updike has anything worthwhile to say about the fundamental questions basic to contemporary fiction. Updike has been accused of dealing in sentimentalities and trivialities, while touching only slightly problems important to the human condition. Most critics agree that his style is excellent, but some feel that Updike is using this particular skill to cover up the shallowness of his thought. However, throughout Updike's novels major themes are apparent. This thesis treats two of them: the themes of the decay of love relations and of the decay of religious life, which are conspicuous in his fiction.

In handling both themes, Updike is especially conscious of the past and its relation to the present. The past for Updike signifies the time when man believed in the Vorican Dream and lived by the inspiration and guidance of the ideals embodied in it. Updike's major statement of this concept appears in The Poorhouse Fair, but is evident in all his novels. A primary concern in Rabbit, Run, The Centaur, Of the Farm, and Couples is the disintegration of love and religion. In general, Updike believes that the positive and necessary values realized in love and religion were strong and efficacious in the past, while modern life has witnessed their decay and corruption.

Apparently Updike envisions modern love as an antidote to the boredom of the modern society. It is entirely selfish, a for-the-moment-only encounter, not meant to lead to a lasting relationship. Modern love contains none of the qualities of honor, respect, or fidelity that once were so binding in a union of man and woman. Lost also is familial love and the sense of responsibility involved in it.

In treating the decay of religion Updike seems especially interested in the loss of significance of traditional religious thought. The ideas and rituals of the past have no place in modern society. Religious symbols are meaningless; they offer no comfort or basis of redemption to modern man. Morality does not exist; God has become a nobody, and death is a finality.

Updike has written many outstanding short stories in which the germs of his thought can be found. However, since

Updike is a recognized novelist, only his five novels will be considered in tracing the general context of the relation of present to past, and within that context, two particular thematic centers of interest: the decay of love and the decay of religion. Implicit in Updike's concern for the decline of older idealisms is a very urgent and very serious appeal to a world that is in danger of forgetting what ought to be cherished.


Arts and Humanities | English Language and Literature | Literature in English, North America