by John Updike

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The major conflict in the story "Separating" is that the main character Richard and his wife Joan are separating for the summer. The married couple get along very well but simply do not love each other as a married couple should. Richard is faced with the responsibility of telling his four children about his decision to leave. Him and his wife decide it would be best to tell them during the summer when they all have returned home from school, but they struggle to agree on whether to tell their children individually or to announce the news while they are all together as a family.

Plot Line

Exposition: The story begins with an introduction about the Maple family and tension between Richard and Joan. The parents would like to tell their four children about the separation but cannot decide on whether to tell them all together or individually.

Rising Action: The Maple's have a family dinner with their children (with the exception of Dickie who is at a concert and will be picked up later that night). Richard's tears raise curiosity and Joan decides to announce the separation to their children then and there.

Climax: Richard picks up Dickie at the train station late at night. He must break the news about the separation to his oldest son on the ride home. Lots of tension has built up towards Dickie's reaction this moment and as he is the last child to hear of the separation.

Falling Action: Once Dickie is home and in bed, his parents say goodnight to him. As Richard bends to kiss his face, his child moans one word in his ear: "Why?"

"Why. It was a 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" (807).

Resolution: In my opinion, there was no resolution in "Separating". A resolution is a point where the story's conflicts are resolved and loose ends are tied together. None of this occurred at the end the of this short story as the protagonist was left with a very important question that was never answered.



A major literary device that I came across while reading this short story is symbolism. Symbolism is when an object or word is used to represent an abstract idea that is different from its literal meaning. This helps make writing more compelling and effective by giving certain ideas or qualities a more purposeful meaning. During "Separating", John Updike uses the Maple's tennis court to symbolize Richard's marriage with his wife Joan. When the tennis court was first built, it was perfect and in great shape. Now, it is in ruins, crumbled and cracked. Only with care and attention can it be fixed and restored to its previous state.
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One of the the themes that John Updike is trying to communicate during "Separating" is the importance of family. Relating to the story, I think this means that marriage should be taken care of and shouldn't simply be abandoned; with devotion and faithfulness it can last a lifetime. Richard had lost interest in his marriage and resided to having an affair with another women. He was willing to leave his family and his wife with whom he created a lifetime of memories with. If he had put more time and care into his marriage and hadn't given up when times were hard, Richard wouldn't have found himself in this situation.

Compelling Aspect

Reader's who particularly enjoy a story that conveys a thoughtful message and causes you to think deeply when the story is over would appreciate "Separating". The aspect I found the most compelling was that the author left the theme and message of the story up for interpretation of the reader. This had me thinking not only about the Maple family, but also my family. I put myself in Richard's shoes and wondered what I would do in his situation. Would I be able leave my family when they needed me the most? Could I abandon a lifetime of memories and simply move on?