Tuesday, January 12, 2010


The following is an excerpt from a short-story written in 1964 by John Updike called
The Christian Roommates:

In these months there was often a debate about the subject posed under their eyes:
Hub's vegetarianism. There he would sit, hus tray heaped high with a steaming double
helping of squash and lima beans, while Fitch would try to locate the exact point at
which vegetarianism became inconsistent. "You eat eggs," he said.
"Yes," Hub said.
"You realize that every egg, from the chicken's point of reference, is a newborn baby?"
"But in fact it is not unless it has been fertilized by a rooster."
"But suppose," Fitch pursued, "as sometimes happens--which I happen to know, from
working in my uncle's henhouse in Maine--an egg that should be sterile has in fact been
fertilized and contains an embryo?"
"If I see it, I naturally don't eat that particular egg." Hub said, his lips making that
satisfied concluding snap.
Fitch pounced triumphantly, spilling a fork to the floor with a lurch of his hand.
"But why?" The hen feels the same pain on being parted from an egg whether sterile
or fertile. The embryo is unconscious--a vegetable. As a vegetarian, you should eat it
with special relish." He tipped back in his chair so hard he had to grab the table edge
to keep from toppling over.
"It seems to me," Dawson said, frowning darkly--these discussions, clogging some
twist of his ego, often spilled him into a vile temper--"that psychoanalysis of hens is
hardly relevant."
"On the contrary," Kern said lightly, clearing his throat and narrowing his pink,
infected eyes, "it seems to me that there, in the tiny, dim mind of the hen--the
minimal mind, as it were--is where the tragedy of the universe achieves a pinpoint
focus. Picture the emotional life of a hen. What does she know of companionship? A
flock of pecking, harsh-voiced gossips. Of shelter? A few dung-bespattered slats.
Of food? Some flecks of mash and grit insolently tossed on the ground. Of love?
The casual assault of a polygamous cock--cock in the biblical sense. Then, into this
heartless world, there suddenly arrives, as if by magic, an egg. An egg of her own.
An egg, it must seem to her, that she and Gog have made. How she must cherish it,
its beautiful baldness, its gentle luster, its firm yet somehow fragile, softly swaying
Carter had broken up. He bent above his tray, his eyes tight shut, his dark face
contorted joyfully. "Puhleese," he gasped at last. "You're making my stomach
"Ah, Carter," Kern said softly, "if that were only the worst of it. For then, one day,
while the innocent hen sits cradling this strange, faceless, oval child, its little weight
swaying softly in her wings"--he glanced hopefully at Carter, but the colored boy
bit his lower lip and withstood the jab--"an enormous man, smelling of beer and
manure, comes and tears the egg from her grasp. And why? Because he"--Kern
pointed, arm fully extended, across the table, so that his index finger, orange with
nicotine, almost touched Hub's nose--"he, Saint Henry Palamountain, wants more
eggs to eat. 'More eggs!' he cries voraciously, so that the brutal steers and faithless
pigs can continue to menace the children of American mothers!"
Dawson slammed his silver down, got up from the table, and slouched out of the
dining room. Kern blushed. In the silence, Peterson put a folded slice of roast beef
in his mouth and said, chewing, "Jesus, Hub, if somebody else kills the animals you
might as well eat 'em. They don't give a damn anymore."
"You understand nothing," Hub said simply.

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