Graduation Year

2009

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree

Ph.D.

Degree Granting Department

English

Major Professor

Phillip Sipiora, Ph.D.

Keywords

Terrorist, Symbolic interactionism, Literature, Novelist, Textual analysis

Abstract

My dissertation explores two critical points in understanding John Updike's recent career. First, I examine him from a perspective outside the heavily-studied Rabbit tetralogy. Focusing on Updike's novel Terrorist, I attempt to counter the misperception that he offers little beyond the chronicling of middle-class, suburban America. Instead, this work digs for a deeper understanding of Updike. Next, I consider Updike's role as an artist, professional writer, and celebrity to draw out a sense of the writer's life in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Using him as a case study enables the analysis to include his changing role as a literary writer who also had major bestsellers, as well as his standing as a celebrity and public intellectual. Rather than dismiss these cultural influences, I explore how they intersect with audiences, readers, and critics.

Piecing together his commentary regarding fame and celebrity creates a model of the public Updike for scholars to examine. The central task of this dissertation is a close examination of Terrorist, including the themes Updike addressed and literary techniques he employed to advance those ideas. From this textual analysis, Updike's vision of America and the world in the twenty first century emerges. By reassessing Updike's evolution as a writer, both in subject matter and literary technique, one realizes how his work reflects an increasing preoccupation with global issues, from American imperialism to terrorism. This study broadens the general conceptualization critics and scholars hold regarding Updike's work by exploring the themes and literary devices he used to portray the broader world.

Focusing on Updike the writer and Terrorist, his final standalone novel, this dissertation helps Updike scholars and critics address a central point that may well define his historical reputation: Is there an Updike beyond the Rabbit novels and is there an Updike beyond suburban nostalgia? I argue that Terrorist reveals a great American writer at his full powers as the world around him undergoes a watershed moment.

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