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John Updike's Separating

            There were many different aspects of John Updike’s “Separating” that I enjoyed. The focus on what a modern day family is like, the character development of Richard, and the reversal of male and female stereotypes to name a few. However, I decided to focus my paper on the three different conflicts Richard, the protagonist of the story, encounters.
             The first conflict is between Richard and his wife Joan. Their marriage has been falling apart and they don’t seem to even enjoy each other’s company anymore. The whole basis of the story is around this couple’s separation. It is never made clear the exact reason for the dissolution of the marriage. IT is hinted that Richard might have been having an affair. But, whatever the reason, it is made known that it is Richard’s decision to leave. After the blowout at the dinner table, where three out of the four children learn about the separation, Joan says that “it really wasn’t fair. It’s your idea, and you make it look as though I was kicking you out” (p 833).
             The second conflict is between Richard and his children. He is faced with the responsibility of telling his kids about his decision to leave. Him and his wife decide that its best to wait until school has ended and they were all home in one place. They had also decided to tell them one-by-one instead of in a large group because, as Joan puts it, “they’re each individuals, you know, not just some corporate obstacle to your freedom” (p 830). However, the plan falls apart when Richard starts crying uncontrollably during dinner. His younger son, John, asks his mother in the kitchen why his dad had been crying and she admits to the separation. The girls take the news fairly well and do not have any problems accepting it. John, on the other hand, makes a scene by eating a cigarette and lighting matches in his mother’s face.