The Delinquent English Major speaks truth to literary power:
One of the first things you learn in a Critical Theory and Interpretation seminar is: the author does not equal the hero/ine. The second thing: the author does not equal the narrator. A little later: how a work makes you feel — worth a rat’s ass, from an interpretive point of view (tidied up as “the affective fallacy”). Later still: what the author says about their work is basically meaningless (“the intentional fallacy”). This is all well and good and hopefully prevents us from wasting tens of thousands of tuition dollars to hear a bunch of 19 year-olds say things like “Nabokov was a pedophile and this books sucks” or “The House of Mirth made me really, like, depressed and sad. I think Wharton is saying that life is sad.” or ” I read an interview where he said the horse symbolizes sex.” Hopefully.
So then, when a book features a despicable main character, is narrated by an omniscient third-person voice that gives said main character a free pass on his awfulness, and was written by a man who remarked on the record that the main character’s thoughts and reactions “always seemed to come very readily to me, maybe because they were in many ways quite like my own.”, what’s a good little English major to do? After reading Rabbit, Run it’s terribly tempting to scribble up an I HATE JOHN UPDIKE AND HIS MISOGYNIST BULLSHIT diatribe and call it a day. But in some sense that’s intellectually lazy — Updike’s views are not one and the same as the ones he ascribes to Harry Angstrom, the narrator’s collusion with Harry does not signify Updike’s support, and what he says about his work is no more or less meaningful than what someone else says about it. And if it makes you, in particular, feel nauseous? Too bad — that’s just like, your opinion, man.
Well, psyche! I’m not an English major anymore, soI don’t need anything other than my opinion to make blanket statements like I HATE JOHN UPDIKE AND HIS MISOGYNIST BULLSHIT. However, I’ll include some plot points here to support me.
Well said. I’ve never understood why anyone liked Updike. The rest of the case is laid out here.