Once during my undergraduate days, a professor assigned the class to write an essay about our group, utilizing the collective pronoun “we”. She asked us what attributes the class shared and wrote them on the board. At the time I was reading John Updike’s Rabbit novels, whose main protagonist is Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom, a WASPy, middle class, suburbanite, these attributes being not unlike those of our group. (I had returned to college when my second child was three.) Updike often relied on third-person plural, especially in passages that meditated on the lives of Rabbit’s world. Here’s an example: “We were all brought up to want things and maybe the world isn’t big enough for all that wanting.”

Many of my fellow students were also mothers (I attended an all-female college.) I opened my essay with sentences that went something like this: “We navigated our way through the stops and starts of carpools. We selected red, foulard ties to go with our husbands’ s grey suits. We rushed to the market before the 3 o’clock bell tolled at our children’s schools.” As mothers, the world shrinks, resulting in hurried wanting but still wanting. Without realizing it, I had learned from Updike.