Updike, John. "When Everyone Was Pregnant".
Summary & Analysis
The story is rooted in the consciousness of the first-person narrator, a middle-aged middle-class American, who reminisces as he travels by train to his job in the city. It is 1970s and the fifties are supposed to be coming back. But not the fifties of the narrator. To him the decade and a half after the Second World War were ‘kind’ and ‘beautiful’ years. He recalls them with an air of melancholy. His reminiscences have almost the quality of poetry, as suggested also by his allusions to Shakespeare.
He entered the fifties as a young innocent man, but also a poor man yet on the beginning of his career. He left them a husband to Nancy and father to Katherine, Sarah, Liz, and Peggy. Two more daughters, Angela and June, were born in the sixties. The family had meanwhile moved to a town with a beach. They owned their house and car, they were enjoying all the comforts of consumer society. Under Eisenhower the Korean War came to an end and the Americans were free to embark on the era of a ‘precarious peace’ and ‘rising market’. There was still the Cold War, though, accompanied by the arms and space races, and the threat of nuclear war. The Vietnam War was soon to come. As if America, in the expectation of an apocalypse, was intent on making the best out of the time remaining. The motto was ‘to consume’ and ‘to procreate greedily’. The world was viewed both with ‘fear and gratitude’. The narrator associates the fifties with summer on the beach, summer parties, and young pregnant women.
In the sixties the careless existence already started to dissolve. The children were growing up and went out to the streets to protest. It was an age of ‘assassinations, protests’, and ‘a decade’s overdue bills heaped’ and demanding payment. The narrator’s wife could not have any more children––one of the symptoms of the age of innocence having come to its end. Two of the narrator’s daughters moved, two are divorced, and two live still with their parents and their husbands. They have replaced the narrator and his friends as the new young generation. The seventies, though, are something different; it is the decade of economic crisis.
The narrator recalls his lost youth with a characteristic ‘sicking sensation of love’. His train passes first through idyllic towns, then through lesser cities, then disgruntled and decaying cities, and then the unwelcoming haze of the metropolis and the terminal comes. The train journey copies the journey through life of the narrator. He watches the train sliding along, like the decades. And he still feels ‘afraid’ and ‘grateful’.
AuthorUpdike, John. (1932 - 2009).
Full Title"When Everyone Was Pregnant".
First PublishedIn Museums and Women, 1972.
Updike, John. ‘When Everyone Was Pregnant’. Antologie americké literatury. Ed. Josef Jařab. Praha: SPN, 1985. 404-7.