Masculinity in “Disposable Rocket” by Updike Essay

July 16, 2021 by Essay Writer

Updated: Dec 1st, 2020

John Updike: On Masculinity

In his essay, the Disposable Rocket, John Updike talks about the image of a man that must have specific values, behaviors, abilities, and purposes, and other aspects associated with the idea of masculinity. It is evident that the essay is targeted at a mature and predominantly male audience; however, it is also important for women to explore Updike’s approach toward masculinity for understanding the challenges of being a male. The author writes, “I used to jump and fall just for the joy of it” (Updike, 1993, p. 517). This quote gives Updike credibility and makes it possible for readers to understand that he, as a male, has the same experiences as the millions of others. The central idea of the essay is that the male body has a specific purpose of reproduction, as it is compared to a “delivery rocket” of children, and therefore cannot last forever (Updike, 1993, p. 517).

Updike’s use of rhetorical devices such as symbolism is associated with enhancing the idea that a large majority of men perceive their bodies as tools, rockets, which they use to take risks in life. The author then goes on to say that men want to experience freedom, “to experience the release from gravity” (Updike, 1993, p. 518). It should also be mentioned that Updike explores the contrast between female and male bodies and uses a comical tone to expand on the reproductive parts of the male body and how they influence the day-to-day life of a man (Loughran, 2011). Later, this idea is linked to the overall purpose of the male body – to make children. However, his discussions about the purpose of men as a group end with a contented mood as Updike says that men should go “along, gratefully, for the ride” (1993, p. 519). Therefore, despite the fact that men are unable to wander the zero-gravity space for eternity, Updike provides an interesting perspective on how to enjoy it as long as possible – having fun and not taking life too seriously.

Updike’s look at masculinity and the purpose of men in life is both ironic and refreshing. It is interesting to read the work of an author who is not afraid to make blatant sexual references associated with the human body while also acknowledging the cultural and social forces that give an unlimited meaning to the male body (Goldstein, 1994). The author’s approach is especially refreshing since the male body has been recently seen as something that should not be praised or respected, especially in the wake of third-wave feminism and the unfortunate stereotypes that its development has spread (Cousens, 2017). Today, the terms such as ‘mansplaining,’ or ‘manspreading,’ have become very popular despite them being directly disrespectful of the male body or the male perspective on the world (Gurian, 2017). If Updike was alive, it is possible that he would have written a satirical piece on how the society divides men and women based on their physiology or worldview but fails to see that everyone has the same goal of procreation and expanding the humankind.

To conclude, Updike’s account of masculinity is an interesting look at how men perceive their bodies outside the existing cultural and social stereotypes. The author’s satire is a breath of fresh air, and despite being appealing to the predominantly male audience, it reveals a lot about the nature of men to all genders. In the author’s opinion, men should not take their life too seriously because it ends inevitably. Therefore, it is important to respect one’s body and its functions while enjoying life: going along gratefully for a ride on a disposable rocket.


Cousens, D. (2017). The curious case of third wave feminists. Spectator. Web.

Goldstein, L. (1994). The male body: Features, destinies, exposures. Ann Arbor, MI: the University of Michigan Press.

Gurian, D. (2017). When feminism goes too far [Blog post]. Web.

Loughran, C. (2011). American impotence: Narratives of national manhood in postwar U.S. literature. Web.

Updike, J. (1993). The disposable rocket. Michigan Quarterly Review, 32(4), 517-520.

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