Suburban Identity in the Poetry of John Updike

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Abstract

This paper provides a close reading of a representative selection of suburban poems by the American writer John Updike (1932–2009). It also draws upon the existing scholarship by suburban studies historians (including Kenneth Jackson, Dolores Hayden, John Archer, and James Howard Kunstler), who have argued for the cultural importance of American suburbia in fostering identity, and develops the argument by literary critics including Jo Gill, Peter Monacell, and Robert von Hallberg, who have championed the existence of a viable suburban tradition in postwar American poetry. By scrutinizing poems from Updike’s early poetry, represented by “Shillington”, up to his closing lyric opus, “Endpoint”, the paper argues that Updike’s unrecognized importance is that of a major postwar poet whose lyric work chronicles, in memorable, diverse, and important ways, the construction of individual identity within suburbia, in a dominant setting for most Americans from the 1950s up to the present.

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