John Updike


This seems to be an era of gratuitous inventions and negative improvements. Consider the beer can. It was beautiful – as beautiful as the clothespin, as inevitable as the wine bottle, as dignified and reassuring as the fire hydrant. A tranquil cylinder of delightfully resonant metal, it could be opened in an instant, requiring only the application of a handy gadget freely dispensed by every grocer. Who can forget the small, symmetrical thrill of those two triangular punctures, the dainty pfff, the little crest of suds that foamed eagerly in the exultation of release? Now we are given, instead, a top beetling with an ugly, shmoo-shaped tab, which, after fiercely resisting the tugging, bleeding fingers of the thirsty man, threatens his lips with a dangerous and hideous hole. However, we have discovered a way to thwart Progress, usually so unthwartable. Turn the beer can upside down and open the bottom. The bottom is still the way the top used to be. True, this operation gives the beer an unsettling jolt, and the sight of a consistently inverted beer can might make people edgy, not to say queasy. But the latter difficulty could be eliminated if manufacturers would design cans that looked the same whichever end was up, like playing cards. What we need is Progress with an escape hatch.

Originally appeared in The New Yorker (Jan. 18, 1964).


Points to consider:
• Notice the lack of the pronoun "I": despite the fact we know the work is his opinion, he never mentions that the comments are his opinions. We, as readers, understand the implication of the authoritive voice.

• Consider his topic: the subject may center itself on the theme of the design of a beer can—however, notice the main topic is Progress —and human reaction to negative progressions or "advancements" in our culture.

• Pay attention to his use of language: in simplest terms, his theme is (to use an often utilized colloquial expression) If it aint broken, don't fix it. The theme may be informal, but his vocabulary shifts into a formal, eloquent diction.

• You may ask, "What is a schmoo?" Visit: for full details. If you just want a quick visual, click here.