John Updike and Nathaniel Hawthorne Term Paper

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John Updike & Nathaniel Hawthorne

John Updike and Nathaniel Hawthorne are two of the most well-known writers to have contributed to the body of American Literature. Updike, the more recent writer of the two, has been considered one of America's most prestigious writers, often honored by collegiate bodies and authoritative figures. Likewise, Nathaniel Hawthorne in his time was recognized and respected, having come from a background commanding some respect. Both authors however, during their life struggled with negative issues; Updike for example struggled with separation and health problems that plagued him since he was a child. Hawthorne struggled with his ancestry who embodied a rigid Puritanical belief system, and also struggled with the poverty of his family that he was never quite able to overcome during his lifetime.

The works of both Updike and Hawthorne tend to have some autobiographical notes. Each author draws from experiences within their own lives. Negativity, feelings of guilt, insecurity, self-doubt and even the dualistic nature of human beings to live both a positive and negative existence are examined by both authors in their works. These ideas are explored in greater detail below, with special emphasis on two select stories created by each author.


John Updike was worn in Reading Pennsylvania in 1932. He spent a majority of his life living just outside of Reading in a small town called Shillington, and later moved to Plowville, PA (Liukkonen, 2002). As a child Updike suffered many health troubles including psoriasis and a speech impediment which cause him to stammer often (Liukkonen, 2002). He studied at Harvard University, majoring in English and contributing to the Harvard paper, the Harvard Lampoon. He married Mary Pennington but later divorced and re-married in 1977 to Martha Bernhard. In 1955 Updike was working as a member of The New Yorker staff. He left the magazine two years later however to work full time on his writing.

Moving to Ipswich, Massachusetts, Updike took up residence for seventeen years. His first book was a collection of poetry published in 1958 entitled "The Carpentered Hen and Other Tame Creatures." His first novel was "The Poorhouse Fair (1959). His works have always been recognized for their vivid imagery and detail.

Updike is among the most well-known American Writers. His has been considered a 'triple threat writer' well-known for his works of short fiction, poetry and reviews which appear in leading magazines including The New York Times Book Review (De Bellis, 2000). Updike is considered one of America' prestigious writers, honored by a former President and awarded with honorary degrees at various collegiate institutions. His work is well-known for its detail and direction.


In his work "Separating" Updike uses a strong negative imagery to detail the feelings of inadequacy felt by the Maple's in the work. Updike works to express various aspects of the human condition, misery, inadequacy but also amusement and fun, in this way expressing the nature of the human condition which also aspires to be balanced (Searles, N.D.). In his work Updike compares emotion to the weather. In the opening section of the story Updike notes how the weather 'mocked the Maples internal misery with solid sunlight' (Updike, 2001:1652). Other details detail information that describes the tensions and hurting feelings occurring within the Maples household. In this particular work, divorce is challenging many relationships that are occurring within and among various members of the family. Many critics have suggested that Updike wrote this story as a result of his own tensions and emotions arising from his separation with his first wife. The story is most well-known and studied for the rich imagery and symbolism which reveals the manner in which a family is falling apart and experiencing tension at the hands of a divorce.


Nathaniel Hawthorn, also a very well-known and famous American novelist and short story writer was born in Salem Massachusetts on July 4, 1804. Growing up in Salem, Hawthorne is said to have lived a somewhat sheltered and protected life, not particularly conducive to 'artistic development' (Jalic, 2004). Hawthorne attended Bowdoin College and turned to writing shortly after his graduation. One of his first collections of short stories was entitled "Twice Told Tales" published in 1837.

Hawthorne's first novel was actually published in 1828, called Fanshawe. This work actually was printed anonymously and funded in part by Hawthorne himself. Hawthorne is most well noted for his novel "The Scarlet Letter" though he has written numerous other popular tales including "The House of Seven Gables" and "The Marble Faun."

Hawthorne was known by people as an 'avoider of company' reaching out to few friends and representing himself honestly to even fewer (Farr, 2004:1). Hawthorne's family is actually known for living in poverty. Many of his efforts were dedicated toward 'vexed efforts' to alleviate this situation, often without much success (Farr, 2004). Hawthorn according to Wineapple, another recognized other, is portrayed in a light that "invites both respect and pity" (Farr, 2004:1). Wineapple suggests that Hawthorne may have been haunted by anxiety and self-doubt, all of which served to make writing in actuality very difficult for the author.

Hawthorne actually took a position with the Boston Custom House as a measurer in 1839 because of the insufficient earnings he was receiving from his written work. As is the tale with many great writers, his fame seemed to come more so after his passing than during his lifetime. Though his work was greeted with much success it did not bring him much in the way of financial reward.

Hawthorne's fiction is viewed as pessimistic yet luminous; reviewers and critics of Hawthorne's work suggest that the author both felt fear and shame regarding his genetic inheritance, having been the grandchild of a Puritan "hanging judge" and his writing talent (Farr, 2004:1). Though his works were successful, such as the Scarlet Letter, they did not bring Hawthorne enough money to help his family rise out of their desperate situation.

Hawthorne passed in 1864, after struggling with long bouts of illness and dementia.

"Young Goodman Brown."

Hawthorne's work "Young Goodman Brown" was written in the background of great historical context. As noted Hawthorne's background had some puritanical influences. Puritan doctrine teaches that men are depraved and require self-examination in order to realize that they are sinners and unworthy of God's Grace; believers must recognize the negative aspects of their humanity instead of recognizing their gifts, as is common in most other religions (McCabe, 2003).

These influences are commonly noted in Hawthorne's works, particularly that of "Young Goodman Brown." Hawthorne's first ancestors arrived in Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1630 with "his Bible and his sword" (26). His connection to the zealous nature of Puritanism is further evidenced by his ancestry that played a role as persecutor in the Salem Witch Trials. Issues examined within "Young Goodman Brown" parallel some negative experiences that might be associated with the stringent Puritanical setting that Hawthorne was raised in.

Some have suggested that his intention in writing this piece was to express the consequences of the Puritan system of belief. His main character struggles with many complex emotions and circumstances revolving in part around belief systems.

Published in 1835, the work describes the devil discoursing with Brown, saying "I helped your grandfather, the constable, when he lashed the Quaker woman so smartly" (Hawthorne, 2131). In this point Hawthorne comments on the guilt perhaps he felt for the witch tolerance and prosecution the Puritans had of people such as the Quakers. Much like "Updike's Separation" has an autobiographical feel related to separation, Hawthorne's "Young Goodman Brown" also reveals some autobiographical context including his feelings of guilt and a mixture of pride and doubt in his work, much like he must have lived a portion of his life.


During his lifetime in the 1800s, Nathaniel Hawthorne faced…

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