Thesis Blog: Solving my own problems

So I was writing an email to my thesis adviser, but I got most of the way through it when I realized I was solving my own problem. I didn’t send the email, but am posting it here instead. Onward, ho!

Hi, Chelle,

I was wondering if we could meet to talk about my integrative project. Mondays are my designated IP days (but, of course, I think about it constantly throughout the week) — which means it’s my primary meltdown day.

Basically I know what my question is — how does Updike read Augustine’s view of the body? (Because Updike reads it a very specific way — Augustine is responsible for centuries of Western/Christian men hating the flesh and honoring the soul. Updike has pretty much said those exact words.)

But now I’m unsure of which works to use. I was so sure the Scarlet Letter trilogy would be the best option, now it’s seeming overwhelming and not quite right. Because I’ve discovered that Updike’s story about Augustine is so important, because he creates this “prototype,” or I guess “archetypal” man that he reuses in all his books. (Every Updikean Christian male is the same way — the way Augustine is in this story — a horny jerk.)

But it still feels important to use the final book of the Scarlet Letter Trilogy because it seems that Updike is doing something completely different. His story is about a woman, not the archetypal Christian male. And this woman is trying to escape this Western view of the body by joining an Eastern religious co-op-thing. But she discovers that her guru, who’s supposed to be this enlightened Indian guy, is really a Jewish guy from Jersey who just wants to sleep with her.

[This is when I realize — duh — I should just focus on that short story, “Augustine’s Concubine,” and then the final book of the trilogy, S. Because even though they were written 10 years apart, S. does something no other Updike book does. He has a woman protagonist (not antihero — protagonist) trying to escape this Augustinian world. But, she fails.]

Now instead of focusing on how Updike does this or that in A Month of Sundays to show how Augustine influenced him, blah blah, I can focus on what I think Updike is trying to do, which is to show how condemning the body is bad. But also “freeing” the body to have whatever it desires — consequence and guilt-free — is bad. Because lust and sexual sin makes sex more interesting.*

* Says Updike, not me.

About Lauren Sawyer

I am an assistant instructor at a graduate school in Seattle, Washington, and I hold a master of the arts in theology and culture. I love coffee, rainy days, and John Updike. Learn more about me at