An Ecocritical Reading of John Updike's Novel, of the Farm

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An Ecocritical reading of John Updike’s novel, Of the Farm

E.Seethaselvam
Assistant Professor of English
M.K.U. College,
Madurai – 625002.

At Present :
Teacher Fellow
(Ph.D. FDP-UGC-XI Plan)
Dept. of English
DDE, M.K.University
Madurai – 625021.

Ecocriticism is the response of the literary community to restore the balance of the universe because extreme anthropocentrism has resulted in the depletion of the ozone layer and the contamination of the world’s natural resources. This paper gives an overview of representation of nature in John Updike’s novel, Of the Farm.

John Updike was one of the most prolific writers of America who chronicled the drama of small town American life in his novels. Though Updike’s oeuvre is large, he became most famous through his Rabbit series (Rabbit, Run; Rabbit Redux; Rabbit is Rich; Rabbit at Rest; and the novella Rabbit Remembered like Wordsworth he gives importance to nature and aesthetic sense. This sense of love towards nature is found in Of the Farm. Land plays a vital role in most of the American novels. The Eastern land which is the place of action in Of the Farm is not the open country of Nebraska or New Mexico. It is the Pennsylvania countryside, which is the setting for the Olinger stories as well.

Of the Farm, presents an action that occurs over a week end in the life of thirty five year old Joey Robinson in the year 1965. Joey Robinson, an advertising consultant visits his widowed mother over a weekend on her Eastern Pennsylvania farm in the company of his recently acquired second wife Peggy and her eleven year old son Richard. The main purpose of the visit is to give Joey’s ailing mother and his new wife a chance to know each other better. But the woven are alternatively hostile and friendly at times. Joey himself has to tangle not only with the females but also with the ghost of his dead father and his first wife Joan and their three children. The old surroundings and photographs in the farm released Joey’s suppressed feelings of remorse and guilt. Joey mows the overgrown field since his mother has become too old to mow. One Sunday afternoon, the climax takes place when they went to attend the Lutheran Church Service. Mrs. Robinson has a mild heart seizure on the way home but she recovers immediately Joey, Peggy and Richard leave for Newyork as planned inspite of her illness. Joey’s thoughts irresistibly turn to Newyork, against his mother’s innate passion for the farm. He considers the farm as a trap. Despite his dislike for the farm Joey responds to his participation in nature with the breathlessness of primitive man as seen in the following lines : “ I drank from the tin measuring cup that my mother had carelessly left on the bench one day and that under the consecreation of time had become a fixture there. It’s calibrated sides became at my lips the walls of a cave where my breathe rust led and cold well water swayed.” (52). Mrs. Robin’s great affinity and sacred love for the land helps her to resist the pressures of creeping suburbanism and protect her farm, Mrs. Robinson further explains that all she ever wanted in life were a horse when she was a child, and when she became an adult, her son and her farm/” I’ve really wanted only two – no,three things in my life. The first thing I wanted was a horse, and my father got it for me, and then I couldn’t keep it when we moved away. The next two things I really wanted were my son and my farm, and George let me have both.” (27)

According to Mrs. Robinson, both her farm and her son are equals and hence she showers equal love on her son and her farm. In her opinion, living close to the soil and at a distance from other people being able to touch God in Nature is essential to man’s wholeness. She considers life at farm as superior to the life at country side. She says, “living in that...
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