There can be little doubt to the fact that there are a number of formally romantic overtones to John Updike’s short story Wife Wooing. Nevertheless, despite the fact that, while reflecting upon the particulars of his marital relationship with his wife, narrator did prove himself being a rather courteous husband, he nevertheless never ceased sounding as nothing short of a male chauvinist.
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This allows us to refer to the overall massage, conveyed by Wife Wooing, as being rather pragmatic/realist than romantic. In this paper, I will aim to substantiate the validity of an earlier suggestion at length.
Even though that, is it was implied earlier, Updike positions himself as being utterly appreciative of his wife, such his appreciation appears being concerned with wife’s reproductive ‘functionality’, rather than with her basic humanity: “What soul took thought and knew that adding ‘wo’ to man would make a woman? The difference exactly. The wide w, the receptive o. Womb” (653).
As it appears from this Updike’s suggestion, it is specifically his wife’s ability to give birth to children and provide its husband with a ‘sexual relief’, which he thinks to be the measure of her actual worth. However, as an old saying goes – the favor that has already been provided, loses in its value.
This is exactly the reason why the contextual manner of how narrator refers to his children, betrays his tendency to think of them as merely a distraction: “His (son’s) egotist’s mouth opens; the delicate membrane of his satisfaction tears. You pick him up and stand. You love the baby more than me” (655).
Apparently, Updike simply could not help ‘objectualizing’ his wife, which explains clearly fetishist undertones to how he refers to the essentials of her ‘sexual magic’: “You allow your skirt, the same black skirt in which this morning you with woman’s soft bravery mounted a bicycle… to slide off your raised knees down your thighs” (654).
Obviously enough, it was namely narrator’s exposure to the sight of wife’s hitched skirt, which was filling him with a desire to make love to her – not the Updike’s sensation of being emotionally connected with her.
Therefore, the fact that, while sitting by the fireplace with his wife, Updike felt suddenly amorous, cannot be thought of as a proof of him being a romantic individual, but rather an indication of the sheer strength of narrator’s male sexual anxieties, which unlike what it is being the case with female sexual anxieties, appear eruptive but discontinuous.
This explains why narrator experienced the sense of relief, after having realized his wife’s unattractiveness on the following morning: “In the morning, to my relief, you are ugly… The skin between your breasts a sad yellow” (656).
Given the fact that men’s sexual arousal can be compared to a skin-itch, which goes away after having been scratched (as opposed to female sexual arousal, which only becomes even more acute, while being subjected to ‘scratching’), the earlier mentioned Updike’s remark makes a perfectly good sense.
After having woken up the next morning, he simply felt ashamed for not being his normal ‘self’, while sitting at the fireplace with his wife and kids.
Apparently, while pursuing a relation with its wife, Updike never ceased thinking of her as merely the part of his life’s socially constructed ‘decorum’. This is the reason why narrator refers to the process of staying ‘romantically involved’ with his wife in terms of a burdening duty, which requires the application of a great deal of effort, on narrator’s part: “Courting a wife takes tenfold the strength of winning an ignorant girl” (655).
Updike perceives his obligation to indulge in marital ‘courting’ as an integral part of maintaining his own identify – just as he perceives the actual purpose of playing the role of a ‘gatherer-provider’ in the family: “The man, he arrows off to work, jousting for right-of-way, veering on the thin hard edge of the legal speed limit… Oh the inanimate, adamant joys of job!” (656).
This, of course, exposes narrator as a self-centered individual, who tends to assess the significance of a marital relationship with his wife in terms of how such a relationship is helping him to lead a socially responsible lifestyle. Yet; whereas, there is nothing wrong with such Updike’s tendency, it nevertheless cannot be referred to as being utterly romantic.
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The reason for this simple – whereas, the concept of a true romanticism invokes the notion of passion, Updike’s version of romanticism is being solely concerned with the notion of ‘comfortableness’: “You serve me supper as a waitress – as less than a waitress, for I have known you” (656).
Therefore, it will not be much of an exaggeration, on our part, to suggest that, in order for Updike to continue remaining ‘passionate’ about his wife into the future, she would have to start wearing a white apron over her skirt.
I believe that the provided earlier line of argumentation, in defense of a suggestion that Updike’s marriage to his wife can be best referred to as such that emanates the spirit of pragmatism/realness, as opposed to emanating the spirit of romanticism, is being fully consistent with paper’s initial thesis.
Even though that it probably occurred despite his conscious will, but in Wife Wooing Updike did position himself as an arrogant male chauvinist, who can only act ‘romantically’ for as long as it serves his pragmatic agenda.