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 give 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 o
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 1-5).
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
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