The Power Of The City In John Updike's The Centaur

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In John Updike’s The Centaur (1962), Peter Caldwell is enchanted by the city as type of hallowed ground of freedom, knowledge, and art, claiming that “somewhere there is city where he will be free” (200). From a country town, Firetown, Pennsylvania, Peter longs to live in New York City to be a painter and to move on from being trapped by the small town of his youth. At various moments throughout the novel, the city is presented as a driving force of fate and destiny and a God, through both Christian and Greek mythological images. Ultimately, these images and experiences make Peter, as an aesthete, yearn to live in the city due to its boundless opportunity of creativity. Although from rural Pennsylvania, Peter fantasizes about the city which becomes a sacred character influencing his development. In an enchanted-like state, Peter begins to see the city of Alton as a holy power through the window of his hotel room, with allusions both Greek mythological and Christian images. He observes that “this was the city: the room I stood alone in vibrated on its paper walls with the haloes of advertisement” (159). With an allusion to Christianity with advertisements as “haloes,” it is implied that the billboards and lights were the angels surrounding and watching over Peter. Here, he has a devout…show more content…
Updike can perhaps be reflecting his own life in Peter; he is from rural Pennsylvania and later moved to New York City in pursuit of writing. Peter undergoes a transformation in Alton where he is liberated from his past pain and is able to follow his passions of art and knowledge. By presenting the city as a godly power, Updike emphasizes its attraction as a place where humans can learn, love, and pursue aspirations. “Somewhere there is city where [Peter] will be free”
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