This year, Easter is an hour shorter because of Daylight Savings Time. Fogel, an old man, doesn’t care much for the holiday, but he has happy memories about it from childhood, including a time he visited his aunt’s house and looked at a diorama inside a sugar egg. As he has aged, Fogel has become more irritable, resenting anyone who gets in his way, from people in line at the grocery store to motorists on the highway. One time, Fogel deliberately tried to force a young, arrogant-looking driver off the road when the young man attempted to pass him.
Fogel is also upset by the failure of his body. His eyelashes fall into his eyes more and more frequently, but his wife doesn’t take the problem seriously. Once, while riding an airplane, he was seated near two young professionals who flirted and bantered about their jobs for the whole trip. The woman’s light and “feathery” (39) voice reminded him of one of his former mistresses. After that affair had ended, the mistress did not invite Fogel’s family to her annual Easter egg hunt, hurting his feelings and those of his children.
Fogel brings in the Sunday paper. He is startled when his dog flushes out the doves that congregate near the driveway, even though the dog does this every time Fogel gets the paper. He believes this consistent feeling of surprise is a symptom of the absent-mindedness that comes with age. When he returns, his wife asks him to help her with the spring raking, and gives a long monologue about why the raking is necessary. Fogel reflects that this monologue is merely a “matured ... hardened” version of the flirtatious chatter of the woman on the airplane.
Fogel’s wife lectures him, complaining about his tendency to read every article in the newspaper. She then grumbles about his enjoyment of watching sports, complaining that football and hockey are too violent. Later, the Fogels plan to attend a brunch hosted by their friends the Allisons.
The prospect of the brunch reminds Fogel again of the Easter egg hunt to which his mistress failed to invite him. A few weeks after, he had seen home videos of the party at a mutual friend’s house, and felt even more insulted and hurt that his family was left out. Fogel reflects that yard work is pointless and futile, and wishes for a ray gun that would zap trees into “a fine, fertilizing ash” (41).
At the brunch, Fogel is bored by the guests––the same people who come every year––and the conversation, which revolves around yachting. He drinks heavily to get himself through the day, and leaves with his wife at two-thirty. After watching some golf, Fogel sneaks up to his son’s room to read the newspaper, knowing his wife will lecture him again if she sees him. Although his son left for college fifteen years ago, the furniture and posters are in the same places they were when he was a teenager.
Fogel reads about the national deficit in the newspaper, and feels overwhelmed by “interest rates, restructuring, soft markets, debt, debt . . .” (42). He falls asleep in his son’s bed and has realistic dreams of his past that make him feel alternately sad and angry. He dreams of his parents and feels “heavy in every cell.” His emotions are affected so powerfully that he wakes up. Disoriented, Fogel looks around the room, overcome by a powerful sense that something is missing.
“Short Easter” is the only story discussed in this ClassicNote to deal with an elderly character. Updike incorporated more elderly characters into his work as he himself aged, but many of his most popular short stories deal with young characters who are still finding themselves. Despite his age, though, Fogel is similar to Updike’s other characters, like Ace Anderson, who are also reflective and averse to responsibility.
The narrator of “Short Easter” tends to quote characters indirectly, paraphrasing what they say—for examples, the dialogue of the woman on the plane, and the conversation at the brunch. The only person who is quoted directly and at length is Fogel’s wife, and what she says is not intended to interest either the reader or Fogel. Instead, she simply free-associates about raking leaves. Updike’s use of paraphrase, then, suggests the inadequacies of communication to convey human consciousness and emotion.
The story includes several subtle critiques of then-current events. Fogel resents raking the leaves, compares it to “corporate” work, a send-up of both the free-market policies and the cultural sense of entitlement that characterized the Reagan era. “Fogel had become sensitive to his house,” Updike writes, “identifying with its creaks, its corners of decay, its irreversible expenditures of energy. He tried to study the section of newspaper, the financial section. ‘THE DEFICIT PROBLEM—IS IT ALL IN OUR MINDS?’” (42) Just as the newspaper questions whether Americans have fabricated an external economic problem, so Updike questions how whether Fogel’s problems also originate in his mind.
Updike includes many references to obsolescence in “Short Easter;” Fogel muses about “obsolete cassettes” (42) and “He regretted that no movie camera—a video camera was what they used now, with a built-in soundtrack—was at work recording the fact that he was here, at this party...” (41) These refer to Fogel’s age but also the ‘planned obsolescence’ of “Short Easter” as a work of literature and social critique.
“Short Easter” includes so many references to popular and commercial culture that the story itself reads as dated—and would have only a few years after it was published. Given that few of Updike’s stories include so many brand names and allusions to fleeting current events, it seems clear that his intention is to make the narrator as prone to aging and mortality as Fogel himself is.
In the foreword of "The Early Stories, 1953-1975", Updike says his task as a writer is to "give the mundane its beautiful due." (xvii) "Short Easter" is filled with many linguistic flourishes. For example, he anthropomorphizes the Sunday paper, calling it "ponderous" and "pretentious." The end of the story exemplifies Updike's lyricism, "A fur of shadow had grown on every surface, even that of the sleek posters." This description signifies the darkening day - the surprise of the earlier night caused by Daylight Savings Time - and also is symbolic of Fogel's mood. He is growing older and is deeply unhappy about the passing of time. Updike gives life to the mundane and enriches his word choice with thematic meaning.