John Updike and his novel ‘The Centaur’

8 August 2016

American novelist, poet, essayist and playwright, John Updike belongs to the post-war generation of writers the U. S. They came to literature with university degree and having philological training. The object of his image always was a life of intellectuals; he was well familiar with life and habits of the upper-middle-class. One of the most famous and significant novels of Updike is “Centaur. ” “Centaur” is a book where for the first time, in English literature – originated reception “semantic complexity.

“1 This novel has a two-dimensional structure: the common level and the mythological level. But mythological plots and characters are not just borrowed by writer, but he also creatively reworked them. John Updike appealed to mythology to emphasize the depth and scope of tasks solved by it. John Updike aggressively sought new ways of adapting of myth to the eternal problems of modernity. The main theme of “Centaur” is impoverishment and degeneration of public and private life.

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Updike talks about a crisis of ideas, values, moral concepts, spiritual aspirations.

The author chose centaur from a rich artistic history of Greek mythology to express the idea of the duality of human nature, in which the spiritual beginning and physiological eternally confront each other. Mythological imagery is constantly present in the narrative and it is the cause of deep generalization. “Centaur” – a novel-imagination, in which myth and reality intertwined. Almost every character has its prototype in the Greek myth. In myth, Chiron is wise and benevolent mentor for famous heroes Theseus and Jason. George Caldwell is Chiron.

In the class he sees wild teens whose interests do not extend beyond basketball and mockery of teacher, who desperately tries to talk to them about the origin of life and the essence of man. Zimmerman, director of the school is Zeus. According to legend, Zeus is omnipotent and majestic god. But Zimmerman retained from this mythological prototype only his sense of unlimited power over subordinates, lust which turned into obsession of nasty old man, and willfulness official, who is not under control. Blacksmith Hephaestus on Olympus was an equal among equals is mechanic Hammel with gold hands.

He is barely making ends meet and do not withstand competition from well-established firms. Aphrodite always was a symbol of beauty for humanity, and physical education teacher Vera even for Caldwell who is in love with her, no more than a dream. In the dream, animal passion drowns out voice of reason. And Prometheus, who appeared on the pages of a novel in the guise of Peter Caldwell. He is suffering from the sense of social exclusion, and from the inability to adapt itself to the mores of the environment. Finally, He is suffering from the skin disease. It can be perceived only as a tragicomic decline legend.

2 All the action of the novel, takes place in the imagination of the protagonist Peter Caldwell, who is the prototype of John Updike. So we can say that this is the autobiographical novel. The narrative of the novel is in the first person, Peter acts as the narrator, which is logical, as he recalls the events of his life. He is priori subjective. In his imagination he tries to understand his father, mother and other people. He tries to find the answer, find himself. Peter is type of diegetic narrator, it is present not only in the narrative, but also he is a part of the narrated story.

And despite the fact that everything is happening in his mind, he does not have absolute knowledge. He is limited in it. Peter just gives us his view of the world; his point of view on things allows us to better understand him as a person. It is through the prism of the Peter’s attitude to his father; we understand how similar they are. Eventually, Peter himself comes to this conclusion. He realizes that he is just like his father, he is his continuation. Considering that Peter Caldwell is a prototype Updike, we can say that some of the thoughts set by the author of this character, peculiar to the author himself.

It is also worth noting that Peter is an example of an explicit image of the narrator. Despite the lack of self-presentation and the fact that we learn his name only in the second chapter, the constant use of the pronoun “I” indicates this. But in that novel there are two of the narrators. In several chapters of the novel, where describes imaginary mythical scenes involving George Caldwell, the explicit narrator is absent. Instead there is an objective narrator. He is dissolved in the text, he is impersonal, and he has no name. He is omnipresent.

Precisely it is closest to the author, because, despite the fact that the narrator is not involved in the story, he is the author of evaluative judgments about the characters. For example, wondering about George Caldwell, he says that George was professional in his field and gives him other flattering epithets. Another example, when he described the body of Caldwell as “tall and handsome. ” From this we can judge about the author’s positive attitude to this character. We should also talk about the time of the narrative. Artistic time is a sequence of events in the specification.

Different types of mismatch temporal order of the narrative with a temporary order of story is called anachronism according to Gerard Genette. There are two types of anachrony, but in the novel is only present analepsis. Genette called so any mention backdating events are preceding the point in history in which we are. For example, in the first chapter the narrator says: «Until they had moved ten miles out of town, the Caldwells had done without a car. They could walk everywhere in Olinger and take the trolley to Alton. But when they bought back the old Kramer place they needed a car.

Hummel had put them on to a ‘36 Buick for only $375. »3 Anyway, it is very difficult to judge the time in this novel, given that all the action takes place in the imagination of the hero, while he is lying in bed with his mistress. In the novel “Centaur” the action goes as if at the same time and in the mythical Greece, and in a small town in the United States. Episodes just flow like one from the other that can be called a scenic narration. All episodes are mapped and linked in a complex manner. The narrator is only used in the chapters are devoted to father of the main character.

That allows you to look at this character more objectively, without the prejudice protagonist Peter Caldwell. Advantageously, this novel was written from the face of narrator. There are just a few chapters in third person. Bearing in mind that it is autobiographical novel, we can suggests that using a “narrator”, the author tried to make the story more real and more fully reveal the inner world of the character, through his inner monologues and attitude towards the world. One of the main features of this work is that every word hides a multitude of meanings and it allows each time interpreted episodes of the novel in many ways.

For example, we can take an episode from the beginning of the second chapter. It is here that it becomes clear that everything that happens in novel, it is just a figment of the imagination of Peter Caldwell, who is lying in bed with his mistress. The impression is that he tells her memories of her childhood. Here Updike masterfully connects two realities with help dream of adult Peter (“last night I dreamt that Hitler, a white-haired crazy man with a protruding tongue, was found alive in Argentina”) and the dream from that time when he was fifteen.

This dream can be interpreted as a kind of reminder of Peter from his unconscious that an evil and good live in him. Hitler is evil, destructive force, and the “a white-haired crazy man with a protruding tongue” reminds me of Einstein and he is associated with a good, a creative force in man. In dream of Peter of fifteen age, he feels yourself like a tree. It reminds him that he is part of the universe. The tree, ingrown deeply rooted in the land – is a metaphor for the idea that the people belong to the earth. Perhaps it is also a metaphor for what a person is attached to their roots; you are the continuation of someone else.

Dream contrasts with reality, where fifteen years Peter tries to isolate itself from the outside world, like and his father. But this is not the only thing that combines Peter and George Caldwell. They both feel a “live poisonous lump”, but only one perceives it as fear, and the other, like a disease. The epithet which uses Updike suggests the idea about tangle of snakes, and according to Christian tradition, snakes – is the evil that lives in man and he should to beat it. In this case, evil is the pride of personages. Peter rebels against his father, trying to find himself.

And George isolates himself from the outside world, removed from his family and wants to die. It is a selfish act of tired man. Senior Caldwell complains constantly, trying to get sympathy, and when gets it “begins to be stubborn and capricious. After all, technically, if he is terminally ill, George is the walking dead and he is no longer a part of this world. In other words, he has every right to arbitrarily delete itself from the universe. Until he has a pride, he will strive to loneliness and death. That feeling is his lump of snakes. Each page of the novel can be analyzed.

Reader can found hundreds of meanings, but, nevertheless, the author’s intention is often not completely understood. Since the first works, Updike developed typical motifs of the slow but irreversible degeneration of personality, decline and impoverishment of its spiritual potential, a crisis of faith, a substitute indifference or nihilism. Most often, these motives are related to the fate of ordinary people who have achieved material prosperity , but they are persecuted vague sense of aimlessness of his outwardly sustainable life and seeking to diversify everydayness through all sorts of surrogates of intense and vivid existence.

The combination of satirical colors with a nostalgic tone, that creates unconcealed sympathy of the author for his characters, helped Updike create a multifaceted picture of the life of the “average American” 1950-70es4. In conclusion, one can say that Updike remains one of the most visible figures in American letters, a perennial candidate for the Nobel Prize, and the rare writer who can combine literary merit with popular success.

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John Updike and his novel ‘The Centaur’. (2016, Aug 05). Retrieved September 16, 2019, from https://newyorkessays.com/essay-john-updike-and-his-novel-the-centaur/
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