Giving Blood Essay Example
Giving Blood Essay Example

Giving Blood Essay Example

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In 1961, when President John F. Kennedy established the President’s Commission on the Status of Women, John Updike began to write the short story, “Giving Blood” (Lewis pg. 1). One year after “Giving Blood” was published; this Commission documented numerous incidences of how women were discriminated in the workplace, and recommended changes to improve female employees. That same year, 1963, Betty Freidan’s book was released, The Feminine Mystique, depicted middle –class American housewives as unhappy, and repressed.

The book was a best seller and helped spur the women’s movement (Politt 1-4). John Updike was born in Pennsylvania in Reading, Pennsylvania on March 18, 1932. He itched constantly from psoriasis, and stammered when speaking, yet despite these difficulties, with his mother’s help, he excelled, especially in reading and writing. After high school,


Updike graduated from Harvard before attending Oxford school of art and design for post graduate work and enjoyment.

While still at Harvard, he married Mary Pennington – a woman with whom he argued constantly.After having three children with Mary, John decided the marriage had lasted long enough. He filed for a divorce. In 1977, he married a second woman, Martha Ruggles before moving with her and her three children to New England Suburbs (Hannon 1-4). Years later, John reflected back on his former marriage. He gleaned ideas from typical suburban sexual relationships to write his 15 stories about the couple.

“Giving Blood” illustrates the idea that when someone is caring and giving, they receive more in return then they would if they never gave at all.With blood being symbolic for giving from the heart, Updike uses blood to show that in relationships, one must giv

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the most important, life sustaining quality to a relationship; one must give their life to a relationship. This point is further exemplified by Updike because the Maples are extremely superficial individuals, not givers. Updike also uses irony, allusion and imagery in this story to embellish this theme of giving in a relationship. Irony plays an important role in this story.

It is ironic that Joan and Richard Maple, supposed aristocrats, discover that not only do they not have rare blood types; they have the most common, ordinary blood (Updike 365). Kleiman notes “the Maples appear as members of a class whose values resemble those of a corrupt aristocracy. (Kleiman 153). Although the irony of this is not mentioned in the story, it is apparent John Updike uses this example to show how absurd it is for the Maples to think they are special. Instead of discovering they are unique by the process of giving blood, they discover similarities between each other.Neither husband nor wife rank higher than each other and must both donate the same.

However, it is only while giving that the Maples are able to give to each other and stop bickering if only for a few minutes. This ironic situation is used to convey the theme that relationships require giving. Another example of irony is illustrated when, after having given blood, as the needle is drawing blood from each of the Maple’s arms, they look at each other and share a moment of compassion (Updike 366). In their day to day life, they have not been able to share each other’s pain but in suffering together, they can share.In this way, pain actually

equals pleasure.

They are giving blood, but receiving a greater reward -- a positive, sharing moment with each other. When the couple has this momentary understanding, the theme becomes apparent. As soon as the needle is pulled out, the couple begins arguing again, showing that once giving stops, so does the relationship. Uphaus explains that as they get closer, “its is shown that they are drawing further apart (Uphaus 1-5).

After the Maples leave the blood donation center, they tell each other that they feel as if they have just stolen something or done something illicit (Updike 369).This is very ironic because instead of feeling as if they have given, they feel as if they have received. What they did receive, of course, was more time together. In addition, they feel undeserving because they gained a moment with each other that was unearned.

Rather than giving to each other, by giving to someone else, they stole a moment of bonding. The criticizer, Uphaus notices the maples closest moments, and best parts of their relationship are ironic, because of their location, and actions at the time (Uphaus 5). Consistently, the imagery in this story has a subtext of loyalty.When Richard proclaims Joan looks like “Queen of the Dew surrounded by a ring of mushrooms”, it not only shows his jealousy, but also concerns that they are not a bonded couple (Updike 362). By exalting Joan as a queen and reducing short admiring men to mushrooms, Richard reveals his true opinion of his wife: she is much way above all others Uphaus commented on “Dick’s occasional attraction to his wife, and his frequent rejection as well” (Uphaus


The imagery of blood is used metaphorically throughout the story. As Richard explains “his blood andJoan’s merged on the floor and together their spirits glided from crack, from star to star…”, he seems to feel that their blood is actually being mixed, bringing them back together as one (Updike 366). It is as if the blood donation is actually a blood letting of the evils in their relationship and once removed from their bodies, they are free to love again. Ed Kleiman interpreted Richard’s thoughts to be “the completed image -- two spirits alone in a setting that is both pastoral in nature and a newly discerned cosmos …” (Kleiman 3).But even with the best of intentions, reconciliation is “scrambling uphill,” (Updike 371).

The task to keep the marriage together is as difficult as trying to scramble against gravity, or up a hill. Trying hard to keep the positive feelings between them flowing, there is too much negativity and communication is too poor. In the same scene, Richard attempts to pay for their coffee, but he finds only “a single worn dollar”. Rather than two dollars or more, the image of one worn dollar represents their worn marriage and single status.

Ed Kleiman also makes his own assumption about the reason for this small conversation, “Richard suggests that they have not yet finished giving blood” (Kleiman 4). Envisioning the hospital as a royal castle where miracles might happen, Updike used allusion to describe the street leading to the hospital as “majesty,” with the hospital then becoming the castle at the end of the road, (Updike 363). It might seem bizarre to equate a hospital

with a castle since a hospital often conjures up scary feelings. However, Updike may be implying that the Maples relationship is so sick; they need a hospital to cure it.

Kleiman explains, “instead of the Maples heading directly towards maturation, they head backward in time toward innocence and origins (Kleiman 2) Richard wonders if they will see “the King of Arabia” at this hospital castle. While they didn’t see royalty, something royal did occur – they found each other for a few short moments. Traveling unknown territory through hospital corridors, using allusion, Richard thinks of the journey as if the couple is“Hansel and Gretel” lost in their relationship (Updike 363).With the vision of birds eating the bread crumbs behind them, Richard sees him and his wife becoming more lost in their relationship, with bread crumbs eaten, there is no trail for them to travel. Ironically, the opposite happens.

Richard and Joan are able to find a new course, once they have lost their former path. “He relies on the accumulated power of this trail-of- bread crumbs motif to reinforce a truth about the necessity of growing up” said Kleiman, about Updike’s use of allusion (Kleiman 1).Continuing with the same theme of being lost and not knowing which direction to travel in, as Hansel and Gretel, Updike uses allusion in Richard’s thoughts. “It seemed as if he and Joan were caught together in a classroom where they would never be recognized…. ” and “a charade that would never be guessed” (Updike 368).

With this allusion, the futility of their relationship without a map or guide for the future would mean the couple would continue to be lost.

However, Richard thinks the solution would be “Two Silver Birches in a Meadow” or a pair of free birds flying together in an ideal setting.Ed Kleiman said, “We now encounter what appear to be two obedient children with their arms raised awaiting with infinite patience. ” (Kleiman 1-6). While the resolution of Richard and Joan’s marriage unclear at the end of the story, there seems to be hope in the main idea of the story.

Sometimes when one gives, one receives unexpected gifts in return. In this case, the same needle used to take blood from one body to help heal another is used to sew or mend a sick relationship. Updike uses this story to illustrate the important lesson, that one can receive more, by giving to someone in a relationship.

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