• Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

An Analysis of John Updike's "Lifeguard"

Free essay example:


An Analysis of John Updike’s


By Zoe Lambert

Zoe Lambert


Aesthetic Experiences and Ideas

An Analysis of John Updike’s “Lifeguard

An individual comes to a point in his/her life where there is a controversy in his/her own faith and beliefs. In John Updike’s “Lifeguard”, we see that the protagonist is struggling to find meaning in his life. It is a very simple story that takes us through an individual’s understanding of existence, faith, skepticism and death. At first, the protagonist is struggling to find out what life is and what lies beyond it. He is constantly questioning the ideas of philosophers and studying his surroundings. He shows signs of a struggle with existence and religion. He asks unanswerable questions that tie into the depression that is overwhelming him.  The lack of knowledge about life and death causes a realization of his fear of the lingering presence of death. There is a temporary relieve in his troubles when he realizes that life is a journey, and that simple enjoyment can be a balance to the controversies about life. An individual can find happiness through simple things to get through the overbearing emotion brought on by the more complicated things. The protagonist, who is deeply troubled by the environment he was born into, finds fulfillment in the physical world to relate back to his problems in the metaphysical world.

The protagonist, who remains nameless throughout the story, is bothered by the questions attached to the existence of life. I can understand his point of view, because I, myself, frequently think of the creation of human and life on this planet. He, literally, takes the thoughts from my head and puts it on to paper, when it comes to showing the controversies he has about life. Updike presents a beautiful metaphor, to compare life to swimming, when he says “We enter the sea with shock; our skin and blood shout in protest. But, that instant, that leap, past, what do we find? Ecstasy and buoyancy. Swimming offers a parable. We struggle and thrash and down; we succumb, even in despair, and float, and are saved”. (214) This shows one that we are thrown into life unwillingly and unknowingly, in which, we find many discomforts but these are overlapped by life’s many comforts and pleasures.  I am constantly aware of the disorganized mess we call life. I agree with Updike’s metaphor about swimming because we do take life in like a natural movement. The worries about these things make him reach out for answers and other comforts, such as faith and love.

        He converts to probable answers in his search to find self fulfillment. He dabbles in faith and philosophies to comfort him about his situation. You can see that in the search for himself, he disregards a lot of ideas brought forth to him and in return, it makes him feel numb. He loses his faith in humanity when humanity loses faith in religion. One can see this when he talks about “hollow heads” that fill the beach on Sunday morning. (Updike, 219) He talks about how people have lost their ability to listen and this relates back to an individual’s ability to review.  Then, the protagonist talks about his faith in love. This is a beautiful description, in which, I could relate to personally. When Updike describes love, he talks about how it’s more of a conversion, and almost puts it as a cry of help from an individual. One can see this when Updike questions “Who has loved and not experienced that sense of rescue?” (117). I like this question because it opens our mind to the idea that we might be looking for answers in other individuals. It shows love in a way that partners are used as a crutch to bear the events in one’s life. This fluctuation of faith causes a growing fear of death and the uncertainty of afterlife.

        One can see the protagonist’s growing fear of the unknown and the presence of death. One can really capture this inner struggle with his own growing demons in this statement: “We seek God now in flowers and good deeds, and the immensities of blue that surround the little scabs of land upon which we draw our lives to their unsatisfactory conclusions are suffused by science with vacuous horror.” This statement really reflects on how this character has fear, and was extremely uneasy about being born into this world. I have been thinking a lot of my existence and how I was given this life just to get it taken away but something unknown. I can relate to the main character because death confuses and frightens me. This character finds a conclusion to his controversies in the act of enjoyment. He states this beautifully when he discover that life is not a destination but a journey. Updike uses another metaphor relating life to the sea when he says “You are borne continually toward the horizon” (219). This statement hides so much meaning in it. Updike uses a play on words using the word “borne” to relate to being “born” into the world. The act of continuously going towards the horizon shows use that we are going towards something that is unknown and that in any direction we go, we cannot escape it.

        An individual needs to enjoy the little things in life to help balance the discomfort of the larger controversies in one’s life. In the story “Lifeguard”, a man is put through the regular controversies that come up in one’s life. After studying others’ ideas and absorbing information from his environment, he comes to a conclusion that will temporarily settle his worries. He takes his own consideration in to the equation and come up with his own solution to this world wide controversy. An individual will always come to a point in his/her life where they will have some personal controversies. The short story “Lifeguard” has insight on how to handle one’s own interpretation of life and how to handle regular developing events in life.

This student written piece of work is one of many that can be found in our International Baccalaureate World Literature section.

Not the one? Search for your essay title...
  • Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

Related International Baccalaureate World Literature Skills and Knowledge Essays

See our best essays

Related International Baccalaureate World Literature essays

  1. An Analysis of John Updike's "Pigeon Feathers"

    This shows us that David is a intelligent, knowledge seeking individual. The comparison Updike uses to compare David to the couch shows us that David needs to find his place in this new town. One can see this when Updike states "like the furniture, he had to find a new place".

  2. Two short stories, A&P by John Updike and Araby by James Joyce, use teenage ...

    He arrived at the Araby at late night because his uncle had come home late and the train going to bazaar was delayed. Most of the stalls in bazaar were already closed. There was calm and dark. While these things happened, the boy had nothing to do.

  1. Lord of the Flies Critical Analysis

    uses it to summon all the children that may have survived the plane crash. Piggy: As with the conch, Piggy is an important symbol in the book. Piggy represents the low-class citizens of society. He is not listened to by those with 'authority' (namely Ralph and Jack).

  2. Hamlet Act II Questions and Answers

    6. How are Rosencrantz and Guildenstern foils to Hamlet? Be thorough in your explanation. Already in Act II, scene 2, Hamlet can be seen as the scholarly man and a man of reason as opposed to action, but Rosencrantz

  1. Comparative Analysis, Haroun and the sea of stories and Inanna

    They often complement each other to form a whole, like the ying-yang symbol. For example, Inanna who is Queen of Heaven and earth does not have knowledge about the underworld; she therefore descends to come in contact with the unconscious, rejected dark side of herself who can be considered a

  2. Sammy in A&P by John Updike, shows how internal conflict helped him understand himself ...

    Sammy, in this story has several conflicts. He has an inner conflict with himself trying to build his pride and prove to himself that he will not end up like the conformed Stokes or Lengel. He sees a bright future for himself, one with non-conformed ways that makes him successful.

  1. Literary Analysis: Julius Caesar v. The Lord of the Flies

    At one point, Ralph learns that there are "some littleuns" and "no biguns" other than Sam and Eric. Soon after, he watched as "Piggy fell forty feet and landed on his back across the square red rock in the sea."

  2. Moods, colors and people of the deep blue sea are portrayed in The Sound ...

    ?The ocean-going ship he saw already near, heading for harbor; so up behind her swam the island-shaker and struck her into stone,rooted in stone, at one blow from his palm.?(l.202,b.XII) 226. ?Phaiakians, would come to grief at the god?s hands; and great mountains would hide our city from the sea.?(l.221,b.XII)

  • Over 160,000 pieces
    of student written work
  • Annotated by
    experienced teachers
  • Ideas and feedback to
    improve your own work