In the first few words of the story "A Sandstone Farmhouse," how does Updike characterize Joey?

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The first few words of "A Sandstone Farmhouse" are as follows:

Joey's first glimpse of the house was cloudy in his memory, like an old photo mottled by mildew.

We next learn that when his family visited the farmhouse from the city, the 12-year-old Joey was so embarrassed that his family rented a car to drive there that he did not see through the car windows clearly and also that struggled not to get carsick. Describing Joey's remembered drive to the farmhouse, Updike uses the words "depressing" and "monotonous" to characterize how Joey reacts to the fields they pass. Joey sees no "sign of civilization" except for telephone poles. He finds even the grass unpleasant, referring to it as: "waxy and bright." We are reminded that his memory is "cloudy." His adult observation that his memory is "mottled with mildew" creates the unsettling image of a damaged photograph. 

Words like "hazy" and "cloudy" reveal that Joey is not seeing clearly, either as the adult returning to the farm house or as the child visiting with his family. The negative images of being in the middle of nowhere, as well as Joey's embarrassment, characterize him as someone who dislikes the farmhouse and these trips into the country. However ambivalence creeps in as Joey mounts the steps to the home's porch as a 12-year-old and finds it "friendly and inviting to a boy of the age he was just beginning to outgrow."

Overall, the opening suggests the unreliability of Joey's memory and his fraught and ambivalent feelings toward the farmhouse, both as an adult and a child. We can imagine from what the opening tells us about Joey that he will be doing some grappling with his past. 


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In the first few words of John Updike's story "A Sandstone Farmhouse," details of Joey's physical health and his emotional nature are included as he is described as "asthmatic" and "sensitive." Joey is physically and emotionally frail.

The family moves from the town of Olinger to the farmhouse where his mother was born, but the old house is cold and drafty, a condition that causes thirteen-year-old Joey to be ill frequently, another negative condition added to his alienation from the former life he had enjoyed with friends.

Joey makes several trips with his mother on the bus to the farmhouse before they move in, as she wants to plant things. However, Joey feels humiliated as they drag shovels onto the bus and the driver stores them in the luggage area. Yet, after they trudge down the dirt road, Joey feels somehow "heroic in the periodic trudge," as he is determined to win back his mother's love from the place that she apparently loves as much as she does her son. Perhaps this rivalry of love is the reason that Joey gets rid of so many things in the farmhouse after his mother dies. For, he is never able to conquer his sensitivity over the resentment that he felt for this old house. 

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