A Sandstone Farmhouse

by John Updike

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 426

A large portion of “A Sandstone Farmhouse” involves a series of flashbacks about Joey’s very ambiguous relationship to the farmhouse as it was before his mother’s death as well as descriptions of his actions after her death. The story is written using a third-person limited narrative, with the consciousness being near to but not exactly the same as Joey’s own consciousness.

The story begins with an account of his first glimpse of the house, his eventual move there, and his first summer there. It abruptly jumps to the death of his mother, more than forty years after the summer of 1946, when Joey moved to the farmhouse. It ends with Joey as inheritor of the house and his own final recognition that, for him, the house was where things were—and always had been—happening during his life. He sees his mother’s buying the house where she was born and moving into it as an attempt on her part to return to what he thinks of as her own paradise, and he ends with the recognition that, unlike her, he cannot even attempt to return to that paradise, in part because it had never been a paradise for him; it could have been, but it never was. He also cannot return because he has robbed it of whatever life and memories could make it into a paradise for him.

In his works, Updike often begins with incidents based on his own life and then reworks them into fictive form. Joey is based on Updike. Many of the things Updike experienced Joey experiences; however, Updike reshapes those experiences into a work of art with a definite conclusion.

The flashbacks and descriptions of Joey’s attempts to empty the farmhouse of all things that remind him of his life there correspond to his growing realization of the emptiness of his life. They all point toward the epiphany he has at the end of the story when he realizes that his whole life has been wasted; he realizes that he, who always wanted to be where the action was, was always looking in the wrong place. For him, the action always was at the farmhouse. Thus, the tone of nostalgia that permeates the short story is tempered with the realistic ending in which Joey discovers that his life has been empty, a kind of mockery of life, just as the farmhouse after Joey prepares it for sale is a mockery of the warm, living place it was for his mother and could have been for him.


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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 105

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