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Who is the protagonist in "Sons" by John Updike?

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Kale Emmerich eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The story "Sons" by John Updike follows several different stories about the childhood of several generations of men. Because it is divided up into different stories encompassing different lives, the protagonist changes frequently throughout.

The initial story follows the youngest generation, the son—so he is the initial protagonist. After him, the narrator, his father, shifts the focus to his own childhood. Following that, he begins into a story of his father's youth—the grandfather of the initial protagonist. Finally, it settles on the youth stories of the narrator's grandfather, the great-grandfather of the initial boy in the story. Because of this, there is not a consistent protagonist throughout the story, but instead several different protagonists who lead their own stories.

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twelvejammydodgers eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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This is an interesting question, as this story retreats backwards to follow the boyhoods of four men: the son, the father, the grandfather, and the great-grandfather.

Hence, you could conclude that the "protagonist" in this piece of writing changes to whichever man is being presently focused on. Because the story has no real plot and no set narrative, it would be difficult to choose any one of these men as the true "protagonist." It is more an essay on the nature of all fathers and sons, and the constantly conflicting feelings of love versus hate, or the yearning for approval versus contempt, than it is a story.

Looked at from another angle, though, it seems reasonable to conclude that if we were to choose a protagonist, it would be the father narrating at the start of the story. As the book starts and finishes with this man's narrative, and as it is based off of the author's experiences with his own son, David, this seems a logical conclusion.

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