Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Like many of John Updike’s works, “A Sandstone Farmhouse” grew out of his own life and especially out of his relationship to a six-room sandstone farmhouse on an eighty-acre farm near Plowville, Pennsylvania. He lived there from 1945, when he was thirteen, until 1950, when he left to attend Harvard University. Before living in the farmhouse, the family lived in Shillington, Pennsylvania, eleven miles from the farmhouse. Updike’s mother was born in the house and died there. Several of his novels, including The Centaur (1963) and Of the Farm (1965), and many of his short stories, including those collected in Olinger Stories: A Selection (1964), are in part based on his experiences in and around the sandstone farmhouse. The Joey Robinson in Of the Farm seems to be the same person as the Joey in “A Sandstone Farmhouse.” The story won first prize in the O. Henry Prize Stories competition, appearing in Prize Stories, 1991: The O. Henry Awards, and was also included in The Best American Short Stories, 1991.

For most of his life, Joey resented his parents’ buying the house in which his mother was born and making him move there from the town of Olinger, one of the fictitious names Updike uses for Shillington. In Olinger, Joey had friends and felt comfortable. He disliked the isolation of the house and the hard work involved in rebuilding parts of the house and adding on to it. Before his mother died, he resented her attachment to the house. He did not feel comfortable visiting the house and wanted his mother to move away. She, however, insisted that the house...

(The entire section is 665 words.)