“The Swimmer” by John Cheever is a very interesting short story with many wrinkles, leaving the reader wondering what is actually real or surreal. I plan to clear up any confusion left by Cheever and try to critically analyze the message he is trying to convey. The narrator begins by following the main character, the young, adventurous, and suburbanized Ned Merrill on a Sunday quest to rise above complacency. The energetic Ned Merrill wakes up hung over on a beautiful Sunday morning and plans to swim home, pool by pool, 8 miles across town. Many different themes arise during the voyage home for Ned displaying the transitions from real to surreal. The struggle to constantly stay on top, the use of foreshadowing and the change of weather, the affect addiction had on the suburbanites, and the attempt to reclaim Ned’s youth all work together to illustrate the transition from the real to the surreal in many different ways. I believe Cheever did a fabulous job using his own personal experiences and the rough economic condition to demonstrate the struggles of a suburbanite during the great depression.
Cheever’s sister once said “The Swimmer is a story in which traditional realism is thoroughly transcended”. From my perspective, the story is broken into two sections. During the first part there is the notion of the good life portrayed by the spoiled suburbanites that lounge eloquently poolside on a hot summer afternoon. The second part describes the invasion of a thunderstorm that quickly derails the optimism and excitement turning it into sorrow and abandonment. I believe “The Swimmer” is essentially a montage of Ned’s personal decline slowly capturing his fallout to loneliness.
“Cheever employs an elaborated parallel between the quests of his protagonist, Ned Merrill, and the Spanish explorer Juan Ponce De Leon in order to emphasize the story’s major theme, the futility of attempts to reclaim one’s youth (Hal Blythe 557).” I believe this is a very accurate analysis of a possible theme of “The Swimmer” because there are multiple examples in the text connecting the two voyages and their ultimate goal. “Making his way home by an uncommon route gave him the feeling that he was a pilgrim, an explorer, a man with a destiny, and he knew that he would find friends all along the way (Cheever 2250).” In reality, Ned is pool hopping from neighbor to neighbor reliving drunken experiences, not searching for The Fountain of Youth, but Cheever does a great job of combining the two quests to make them seem parallel.
Alcohol and the suburbanite’s dependency shows its ugly side multiple times throughout the novel. “Merrill renews his sagging spirits at his personal altar, the bar, where his priest, the bartender, continually provides the needed unction, a drink (Blythe).”Cheever exploits how alcohol was a way for the suburbanites to drain out their problems, big or small, and have the ability to cast aside reality by drinking all day. It was their escape from reality. Ned then exposed himself as an alcoholic, pressing for a drink at every pit stop.
The class system that is exposed and well documented throughout the novel is considered Northeastern upper class Suburbia. “I drank too much (Cheever 2250)” is the overriding theme in the beginning of the novel. From the enjoyment of too much alcohol consumption, to having magnificent houses with eloquent pools, the Suburbia people are all extremely similar. Later in the story Cheever exploits how selfish every suburbanite is. When Ned was in dire need, no one was there to help. The stereotype of egotistic gets pinned on the northern suburbanites.
Ned is on top of the world in the beginning of the story. He has everything a prototypical Suburbia family man needs; a nice house, four beautiful daughters, and a loving wife. But I sense he craves more, looking around he sees himself as better than everyone else. He completely disregards his family for his selfish actions. His...
Cited: Allen, Brooke. "The 'Loneliness And Bewilderment ' Of John Cheever." New Leader 92.2 (2009): 19. MAS Ultra - School Edition. Web. 5 Dec. 2011.
Blythe, Hal. "Perverted Sacraments In John Cheever 's 'The Swimmer '." Studies In Short Fiction 21.4 (1984): 393. MasterFILE Premier. Web. 4 Dec. 2011.
Blythe, HalSweet, Charlie. "An Historical Allusion In Cheever 's "The Swimmer." Studies In Short Fiction 26.4 (1989): 557. MAS Ultra - School Edition. Web. 5 Dec. 2011.
Cheever, John. “The Norton Anthology American Literature, Volume E.” “The Swimmer.” (2250-2257) 5 Dec. 2011.
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