by John Updike


The central conflict that this story focuses on the emotional journey that Richard Maples goes through when trying to tell his children that he, and his wife Joan, are separating for the summer. Though there is a slight external conflict that arises when actually trying to tell the children one by one about there separation, the story mostly hones on how Richard is feeling when trying to tell his children and the real reason why Richard's and Joan's marriage fell apart. The one external conflict that comes up is John fit that delays Richard from completing telling all of his kids sooner. Although Richard faces this external conflict and gets through the issue, it is still one of the more major external issues that should be mentioned. So while there was underlying note of external conflict, the real conflict in the story is Richard Maples going and getting through serval emotional hurdles about telling all his children of the up coming separation before he leave.
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Plot Line

  • Exposition: The story begins with immediately begins with the plan of telling their children that they are separating. With some time before all the children are assembled Richard remembers the main event that led up to them going to separate, them having the tennis court built, and relates it's disarray like his mood is currently because of having to tell the children. Richard then proceeds to go over the plan of telling the children, while in the process getting to learn all the names of the children. Finally the exposition ends with Richard fixing a lock, thinking about how before he leaves he must repair everything that needs repairing, like a magician making sure everything is right before they escape.
  • Rising Action: The start of dinner is when the tension really starts to build up in the story, because this is also the part when Richard begins to cry, all the emotions that he felt before hand built up just seem to burst out right near the beginning of dinner. Also, soon after the crying ensues the separation is revealed before the parents even say anything, because Margaret made the accident of letting Richard and Joan find out that they knew. Now that the separation has been revealed to most of the children, a discussion happened because they wanted were curious why. Then John starts to throw a fit because he is a bit tippy from the champagne and he needs to vent, he made a scene at the dinner table and then stormed out of the house. Once Richard finally calmed John down the party went on without Richard. Finally, a car ride to go pick up his other son, Richard Jr., he is filled with reluctant thoughts to tell this child all through out the car ride and the build all the way up to Richard Jr. stepping into the car.
  • Climax: Finally, the time comes when Richard is finally telling his son about his separation, and you find out one of many reason that Richard and Joan decided to separate; there was another women that he loved. A moment of extreme build up has finally passed and the major conflict resolved.
  • Falling Action: After the ride home with idle chit-chat about how the revealing went with the rest of the family reacted to the the separation, they finally go home and into their own bedrooms. Then Richard goes to bid goodnight to Richard Jr. and is met with the surprise with his oldest son in tears asking one word about the separation, "Why" (8). Finally the revelation dawns upon Robert, he didn't remember why they were separating.
  • Resolution: There really is no closure, it leaves the reader in though wondering my Richard can't remember.
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Figurative Language

One major literary device that Updike uses in "Separation" is Figurative Language. Through third person point of view the author expresses many form of figurative language; such as simile, symbolism and imagery to make the story more deep and interesting. One metaphor used when Richard first starts crying at the table, "Richard's crying, like a wave that has crested and crashed, had become tumultuous" (4). The simile is used here by Updike because it helps the reader to see what they already know, because most readers aren't used to seeing grown men cry and relating it to something that you do know like wave crashing on the shore line continuously. The symbolism of the tennis court to their marriage is also quite the effective use of figurative language, because just like a tennis court wore down overtime so did Robert's and Joan's marriage. Finally with imagery it just make the story overall better with the details put in there like the one when he is fixing up the house, "The bushes already needed pruning, the windward side of the house was shedding flakes of paint, rain would get in when he was gone, insects, rot, death" (2). That is just the type of information that imagery provides that makes the story more interesting for the reader to read. This, along with all other type of figurative language, makes it a good way for the author to make the reader see the story more vividly and gets the reader just to think just a bit more about the theme and the meaning behind the story with symbolism.

Why does a marriage break up?

One of the major themes that Updike tries to communicate is the idea of love. What does it take to stop loving someone? Is there any way to save a marriage? And finally, a question that many divorced people might ask themselves; why does a marriage break up? These are a few questions that Richard himself asks himself throughout the story and grapples with. While one of these questions are directly implied through the story, the other two are meant to be implied through the ideas and plots throughout the story. Such as Joan and Richard mutually just stopped loving each other at some point, it makes the reader question why, and at what point, they just stopped loving each other. Then there is also the idea of the tennis court reflecting Richard's and Joan's marriage, in ruins, but what if they put a lot of care, effort, attention and time into the tennis court (their marriage) could they have fixed it up and maybe saved it. Of course that is for the author to know and the reader to reflect about.

This theme really makes the story appealing and worth the read - though just a eight page story the author put in these ideas that most people may or have experienced in their own lives, like falling in and out of love with another person and dealing with the downfall. In this case the downfall for this is Robert having to inform his and Joan's children of their separation. Besides the reflection that makes it interesting and really make you think, the way the story is written has its own unique style that I enjoyed to read. It had a very nice mixture of imagery, which is a necessity in really any story, and the plot was something simple, yet something you don't think that much about so it really brings it to your attention. Also writing about telling children that your separating could be boring to read, but Updike really make this a intresting read and I highly recommend it.

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