By George J. Searles
In many ways John Updike could be termed America's reigning WASP writer, Philip Roth the chief spokesman for the middle-class intellectual Jew. Although the two writers would seem to have little in common, George Searles' comparison of their works leads to startlingly fresh insights not only into their writings but into contemporary culture as well.
Aside from biographical coincidences and a shared preference for realism, Roth and Updike also treat the same themes: ethnicity, interpersonal relationships, individual moral responsibility and guilt, and a number of secondary issues- the pernicious effects of American materialism, the importance (and absence) of meaningful work, the diminished status of the modern clergy, and sport in contemporary life.
Striking differences exist also: in Roth's work social commentary is present, but the focus is on the individual, a cultural minority; Updike's antiheroes are in the cultural mainstream. Roth writes in the first person; Updike, in the omniscient third. In Roth setting is almost incidental; to Updike it is central. Roth's real setting is the landscape of the mind; Updike can almost be considered a regional writer.
- Carbondale, IL