Updike on Easter

[John Updike has a] famous closing of his short story “Pigeon Feathers,” written almost 40 years earlier, in which a young boy is plagued by doubt, the fear of death, and questions about the afterlife. The fourteen-year-old protagonist, David Kern, has a series of unsatisfying encounters with adults, including the Reverend Dobson, a Lutheran pastor who tells him the afterlife is like Lincoln’s goodness living on after him. Despite the minister’s vacuous answer, Updike wrote of David: “The sight of clergymen cheered him; whatever they themselves thought, their collars were still a sign that somewhere, at some time, someone had recognized that we cannot, cannot, submit to death.”

As David goes about the farm-boy business of burying six pigeons he has killed as pests, he loses himself in studying the intricate designs on the birds’ feathers: “As he fitted the last two, still pliant, on the top, and stood up, crusty coverings were lifted from him, and with a feminine, slipping sensation along his nerves that seemed to give the air hands, he was robed in this certainty: that the God who had lavished such craft upon these worthless birds would not destroy His whole Creation by refusing to let David live forever.”

On Easter and Updike
by David E. Anderson