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In The Great Gatsby F. Scott Fitzgerald and "The Swimmer" John Cheever demonstrates different character development by using Tom and Neddy. Fitzgerald created Tom to be a static character, unaffected by the same factors that bring down Neddy, a rounded character. One of the differences in development that is shown is how alcohol, money and time have opposite effects on Tom and Neddy.
In both stories, Neddy and Tom starts out in very similar places and in very similar times. Time is very important in the development of both characters, Tom and Neddy. The word "time" appears numerous times throughout The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald obviously wants to emphasize the importance of time to in the book. "Can not repeat the past? Why of course I can!" (Fitzgerald, 201). As time goes by, Tom still thinks he is greater than everyone. Neddy loses all sense of time, and in spite of time's effects on other actions Tom is not affected by the past. In The Great Gatsby the consequences of others past seems to be a chain reaction. "It is no coincidence that Tom is the one who makes sure Wilson has the wrong culprit, effectively ensuring that Gatsby will no longer be a threat to his status or his marriage" (Stocks, para.8). Everything begins with how Tom and Myrtle had an affair, which led to Daisy and Gatsby rekindling their past relationship, and then led up to the fight in Manhattan. The fight in Manhattan caused Gatsby and Daisy to leave, which resulted in the death of Myrtle, Gatsby and then George Wilson. In "The Swimmer," Cheever demonstrates time by showing the different changes in season. "The day was lovely, and that he lived in a world so generously supplied with water seemed like a clemency, a beneficial" (Cheever, 2044). At the beginning of the story, Neddy's life was great and it is represented by the sun shining. As the story goes on, the sun starts to go down and the weather starts to change, and Neddy's life changes along with it. Another symbol represented in "The Swimmer" is the water changes. "Prosperous men and women gathered by the sapphire-colored watersâ€¦fed by an artesian well with a high iron content, was a pale shade of green" (Cheever, 2014). "Neddy remembered the sapphire water at the Bunkers' with longing and thought that he might contaminate himself- damage his own prosperousness and charm- by swimming in the murk, [â€¦]" (Cheever, 2047). The beginning of Neddy's life is very similar to Tom's life; it seems as if both men are served with a silver spoon and everything is handed to them. "Civilization is going to pieces. I've gotten to be a terrible pessimist about thingsâ€¦the idea is if we don't look out the white race will be- will be utterly submergedâ€¦it's up to us, who are the dominate race, to watch out or these other races will have control of things" (Fitzgerald, 23). Neddy and Tom both think that they are greater than everyone and everything but Neddy seems to have a premonition that things are going to change. Tom obviously thinks highly of himself and that he is greater than everyone else. However, Neddy on the other hand did think that he was greater than other people but as reality hit him, he realized he was not as great as he thought he was. Even though both men start off the same in the beginning of their lives, but as time changes they both ended up completely different.
Another factor in Neddy and Tom's development is the use of alcohol; due to alcohol, Neddy loses all his money and in spite of alcohol, Tom keeps all his money. Alcohol completely corrupted Neddy. "You might have wondered if he was merely a fool. Standing barefoot in this deposits of the highway- beer cans, gags and blowout patches- exposed to all kinds of ridicule he seemed pitiful" (Cheever 2046). Towards the middle of the story, the reader sees that Neddy truly has a problem with alcohol. Every time he finished a long swim he would want a drink. Alcohol turned Neddy's life downhill by causing him to lose his family and all his friends. It seems, though, his loss of happiness did not have any effect on him until he comes to understand that he hit rock bottom. Alcohol is also a factor in The Great Gatsby. It is mentioned that Tom and his mistress, Myrtle, were drinking the whole day. Alcohol has no effect on Tom. The difference in character development through the influence under alcohol represents the two men's characteristics in many ways. In "The Swimmer" alcohol has a worse effect on Neddy, which changes him. "Neddy Merrill's impulsive decision to swim eight miles home via a series of pools. But by the time he has finished, years have passed and his house is deserted" (Slabey, para.5). Being under the influence of alcohol, Neddy seems to be living in a state of denial. Many of his neighbors expressed their sorrows for the loss of his family and fortune, but it seems as though Neddy could not grasp the concept that he has nothing. Neddy's continuous trouble with alcohol is illustrated in the scene when Neddy crashes a party. Everyone at the party was calling him names and making fun of him but to him nothing mattered except getting a drink. In the past, the couple hosting the party invited Neddy and his wife to dinner. While the couple's invitation was sincere, Neddy had no intention of going. Neddy looked down on the couple since they were not the same social class as Neddy and his wife. As time goes by the tables turn, and now the couple looks down on Neddy because he is worthless and an alcoholic. Neddy tried to persuade even the bartender to give him a drink but no one would. This was when Neddy truly realized that no one respected him anymore. Everything finally began to make sense to Neddy when he realized that no one wanted him, including his mistress. After this scene happens, Neddy finally realizes that he has no one there for him and that is truly when reality hit to him. This represents Neddy's realization of time and how everything in the past has corrupted who he is today and affects everything he is doing. This shows how Neddy lost all sense of time and reality, but towards the end of the story, everything finally becomes clear to him. Unlike Neddy, Tom never got a true sense of reality. Tom's thinking of reality is that the world revolves around him and everyone is just there to "glorify" him and his use of alcohol does nothing to change his opinion.
The last factor determining character development is money. Money affected Tom and Neddy in two completely different ways. "They were careless people, Tom and Daisy- they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money of their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together and let other people clean up the mess they made" (Fitzgerald 67). This quote shows that Tom and Daisy did not care about anyone but themselves. Tom was not affected at all by anyone's death, including his own mistress. Myrtle loved Tom; she was waiting for Tom to arrive and sweep her off her feet. Tom, on the other hand had no feeling for Myrtle whatsoever. Tom was not affected by Gatsby's death, even though this is the man who changed himself in order to impress Daisy. Once he was dead, Tom fled and paid no respect to Gatsby and wouldn't even show up at his funeral. Tom told George Wilson that it was Gatsby who killed Myrtle, he saw nothing wrong with lying about this story, which ultimately resulted in a lot of people's deaths. Tom has no sense of morals and thinks he can just get away with anything. In the story Nick felt that he could tell the established upper-upper class neighbors who protects themselves from reality as a trick. Fitzgerald chose a great way to tell the story by using an observant third party who could tell the differences. Tom's huge and unblinking eyes add the presence of something higher that constantly watches and looks down on society and everyone who does not have as much money as him. Tom thinks he can get away with anything since he is so wealthy. "The rich gets ricer and the poor getsâ€¦children" (Fitzgerald 54). This is coming from Tom, someone who thinks that he can get whatever he wants whenever he wants. Many readers find this unusual coming form Tom because he too does have a child. This quote shows the previous observation about Tom's low opinion on society. Unlike Tom, Neddy eventually got a sense of reality that made him realize that he is doing to himself is corrupting him and causing no one to care about him. Neddy got the perspective of life once he saw the way people started to treat him and the consequence of being rude to everyone. "It was probably the first time in his adult life that he had ever cried, certainly the first time in his life that he had ever felt so miserable, cold, tired, and bewildered" (Cheever, 2050). While Neddy seemed like he was in denial for a while, he did not get away with everything like Tom did. Neddy did not get the drinks he wanted, he did not get to keep his family and friends, and ultimately Neddy lost everything. Unlike Neddy, Tom does not lose anything or gain any common sense; for example, Tom still was able to keep his wife after her knowing that he had a mistress, and Tom was still able to go on with is life after taking part in a murder. Nick narrates "I think we all believed for a moment that it had smashed in pieces on that floor." The clock was symbolizing time and the fact that Tom was to delusion to see what had really happen. Money could not support the demands that Neddy was making, Neddy choose alcohol over money and everything that matter in life. Due to his choice, Neddy lost everything and gain nothing. Tom fully believes what he says and thinks is the only thing that matters. "I know. I've been everywhere and seen everythingâ€¦sophisticated-God I'm sophisticated" (Fitzgerald 24). Tom says this because he thinks he is greater than everyone. "Tom is clearly angered and threatened by Gatsby's attempts to persuade Daisy to leave him, but Tom is also in a very different position from Nick, and is unlikely to embrace the idea that 'all men are equal'" (Stocks, para.7). Everyone in The Great Gatsby has no sense of correctness, especially Tom who has no sense of morals, and no consequences were brought to him.
Towards the end of each story, we truly see the similarities and differences in Tom and Neddy. Even though they start out in very similar places, their fates towards the end of the stories are completely different. "The Buchanan's house floated suddenly towards the darkness" (Fitzgerald 536). This shows that Tom and Daisy no longer wants anything with the past, but unlike them, Neddy's past haunts him no matter what he does.