John Updike is unarguably one of the greatest writers in American history. His writing was famous for capturing the pain, joy, energy, and despair of being an ordinary person. Updike was intentional in writing about ordinary people as his focus was to write to middle-class American suburbia. His various works are artistically saturated with wit, intelligence, theological ideas, and sexual behavior. The website Academy of Achievement explains this thought by writing, “In an autobiographical essay, Updike famously identified sex, art, and religion as "the three great secret things" in human experience.” (AA). So, what made his works standout over other writing with spiritual and sexual overtones? Mr. Updike unapologetically injected the carnal sexual proclivities of his characters while also intermingling Protestant Christian theological paradigms. As a result, his readers were captivated by the proverbial tension of moral and spiritual duplicity.
John Updike was born in Reading, Pennsylvania in 1932. Later in life he would develop an affinity for providing the setting for many of his stories in the areas neighboring Reading (AA). Mr. Updike wrote affectionately about American life with an attitude of respect for its diversity. As mentioned earlier he enjoyed writing about people that were easily understood by middle-class Americans. His patriotism and religion formed a relationship with the common life experience of average Americans. His earliest aspiration was to become a cartoonist and later he desired to be a poet. He wrote many popular short stories however; his most celebrated works are among his novels.
Mr. Updike was a religious man with a Protestant perspective on his Christian faith. He also made a habit of attending church regularly. His Christian faith and theological beliefs greatly influenced many of his works, including popular novels such as Rabbit, Run, Rabbit Redux, Rabbit is Rich, Roger’s Version, Couples, and In the Beauty of the Lilies. His 1968 novel “Couples” contained explicit descriptions of sex among a group of ten promiscuous couples. The work proved to be controversial, provoking an appearance on the cover of Time magazine and remains one of his top selling books. This novel points to a hedonistic view of religion analogous to ancient Greek mythology among an American Protestant community. His readers will experience this cyclical pattern of lasciviousness among religious trepidation throughout the breadth of his writing career.
With this in mind it is essential to appreciate that Mr. Updike is purposely reticent to express his personal convictions but rather creates environments where his characters are continually conciliating with their own moral impasses. Author Bernard Schopen acknowledges this when writing, “Updike has said that the central theme of each of his novels is ‘meant to be a moral dilemma,’ and that his books are intended as ‘moral debates with the reader.’(523)....