Gesturing by John Updike

Gesturing, in the case of John Updike’s short story of the same name, relates to the downfall of a monogamous and moral society. As Richard and Joan are seemingly happily married, even to their children, they were both perfectly happy knowing they both had lovers outside of their marriage and were very adept at translating small gestures into complicated scenarios, as if it were a secret language between them.

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Written from primarily Richard’s point of view, the gestures he witnessed he also assigned rather significant meaning. Especially, this is noted with the difference he witnessed between how his wife, Joan, and his lover, Ruth, distinguished their cigarettes. Respectively, Joan smoked her cigarettes down to the nub of a filter, while Ruth only smoked partially the tobacco-filled product, extinguishing it far before it was finished, which irritated Richard, because he saw it as a waste. In Richard’s observation, he makes the conclusion that Joan is trying to end her life more quickly, and Ruth is simply enjoying her habit with an intention to not do too much harm to herself. However, even though the married couple had no issue with each other seeing a lover outside their marriage, Ruth still had an issue with Joan coming to visit her husband in Boston to have a “play date.” The lover, Ruth seemed intensely jealous of Joan, even though she knew them to still be legally married.

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Finally, through all of their extra-marital affairs, Joan and Richard still frequent the same places as before keeping their gestures as their own language, thereby keeping up the appearance a perfect marriage. Probably, the most appalling thing of all is how both Richard and Joan speak of their lovers, as if they are perfectly natural compliments to a monogamous institution. And this attitude is likely the largest contributor to the moral decline of society as of today.

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