John Updike

Plot Line Overview

Introduction: Richard is introduced to us, he is frantically fixing his house in prep for him and his wife separation later in the summer and they argue about how to tell their children.

Rising Action: Richard and his wife tell their children at the dinner table about the split and they have trouble with it.

Rising Action 2: Richard picks up his oldest son from a concert and tells him about the split in the car on the way back.

Climax: Richard tucks his son in to bed, and his son asks him why Richard and his wife are separating. This makes Richard realize that he has forgotten.

There is no falling action or resolution.


Love may fade, but you should never forget the life you used to have, or why.

Richard is extremely upset about the split, but he realizes at the very end that he has forgotten why he and his wife are separating. This is horrible to him, and comes as a tremendous shock.

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Main Characters

Richard: He is described as a very emotional man who channels his emotion into physical labor and chores. He is also very direct; he is in favor of making a group announcement of the split to his family.

Joan: She is Richard's wife. She is emotional as well, but she says that she cried all her tears a long time ago. She is not as direct as Richard, she is in favor of telling the children individually. She is very good at conveying information, and it very good at giving people pep talks and encouragement.


The central conflict of this story happens within Richard's own head. He is in emotional turmoil about his split with his wife, and this conflict finally peaks at the end when he realizes, in shock, that he can't remember why he is going through with this. He is finding it very difficult to tell his children, probably because he is having a hard time believing it himself. He tells himself it's for the best, and that it's the right thing to do, but I don't think he really believes it.

Figurative Language

This plays a huge role in the telling of this story. Richard is fixing the house compulsively, and this is a metaphor for how his marriage is crashing around his ears no matter what he does to fix it. The tennis court is an obvious metaphor in the beginning, when his wife says that divorce usually follows a major improvement. Imagery and metaphors are also used to describe emotions, such as at the end when Richard realizes he has forgotten why:

"Why. It was the whistle of wind in a crack, a knife thrust, a window thrown open on emptiness. The white face was gone, the darkness was featureless. Richard had forgotten why."

Why YOU should read this story!

This story is told almost entirely through beautiful imagery and indirect characterization. Nothing is ever said outright, and it creates the kind of confusing world that the characters are living in. It is beautifully told, and the setting helps set the dark mood of the story. If you like confusing, twisty stories, this is for you.