Commentary on “Lifeguard by John Updike:

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Amongst John Updike works, style is articulated in the way the writer chooses his words and organizes them. Style, is the verbal identity of a writer, as distinctive as his face or voice. In the short story, “Dear Alexandros,” Updike experiments with several different writing styles. The use of style in “Dear Alexandros” principally influences the impression the reader derives about the main character.

This short story was written in a first person point of view. “Lifeguard” is more of a reflection by the narrator on his view of his world. The protagonist, the lifeguard for most of the year, uses many abstractions and concepts in his rhetoric. For example the lifeguard says, “Young as I am, I can hear in myself the protein acids ticking; I wake at odd hours and in the shuddering darkness and silence feel my death rushing toward me like an express train.” The lifeguard of this story is concerned with the life of the spirit, and what he knows is that every seduction is a conversion. This language instantly distances the reader from the lifeguard, who comes off as particularly arrogant.

In the text of “Lifeguard,” there seems to also be a clear sense of tone. The lifeguard of this story is concerned with the life of the spirit, and what he knows is that “every seduction is a conversion.” “Someday,” he believes, “my alertness will bear fruit; from near the horizon there will arise, delicious translucent, like a green bell above the water, the call for help, the call, a call, it saddens me to confess, that I have yet to hear.” To have that ability is to be saved by saving, by experiencing a love that is intensely and specifically physical, because “our chivalric impulses go clanking in encumbering biological armor.” John Updike also presents that, the lifeguard’s words parody the theologians’ by showing how meaningless intellectualisms can be disguised in important sounding language. No doubt, the lifeguard’s vocabulary disturbed them.

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