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“The Swimmer” by John Cheever is a contemporary masterpiece that theatrically addresses the plights of man as he losses friends, respect, family and possessions while he is obsessed with his pleasurable hobbies. The author in this short story stage manages a seasonal time shift and shows how the protagonist incurs losses in life while he is obsessed with swimming through a coherent use of myth and symbolism. The central message captured in this literary piece, is that total immersion in a single goal may result lead one into ignoring all the little treasures which primarily enrich our daily lives.
This short story is inspired by oral narrative hence it portend the mythical realm. It is a creative story that is informed by a myth with several meaning of the human society; a factor that makes it to extensively touch on the psychic world. Many literary critics have lauded Cheever for his articulate use of both realism and surrealism to capture the thematic explorations of the suburban America (Fogelman 465-469). Essentially, the relationship between happiness and wealth is concisely elevated through Cheever’s use of symbolism and myth.
In “The Swimmer”, Cheever provides readers with a detailed description of the futility of realizing a goal without clear focus because, when Neddy begins to swim across the pool, there is a storm that succinctly indicates that something is wrong. Despite being middle aged, Neddy still wants to retain his youth which is evidenced in his attitude. He believes that he is a vibrant individual and that following the availability of several pools in his neighborhood, he can swim home. Sooner or later, Cheever describes how Neddy become obsessed with swimming in the affluent pools until he reaches in a suburb and finds a dry pool (Cheever 202). Apparently, after waiting for a storm to pass in a porch, Neddy begins feeling disillusioned and tired with the whole idea of swimming. Evidently, Neddy is determined to go on but he does not remember the excitement he had art first in Westerhazy. He then becomes upset to find that another pool is dry. By the end of the story; Neddy reaches his home and surprisingly wonders why his house is locked and home deserted. He marvels why his family is not there and where they are gone (Cheever 205).
The experiences of John Cheever have been the basis on which his story “”The Swimmer”” is built. With regard to this, Cheever attended a private academy but could no graduate due to expulsion. He later embarked on a writing career where he contributed to a number of publications that have seemingly influenced his approach to writing “”The Swimmer””. Accordingly, during this period, he worked as a writer with various publications and supported himself with other odd jobs by basically writing synopses for the Metro Goldwyn film studio, an experience that guides the illusion, reality and surrealism that is characterized with his story “The Swimmer”. Later on in life, Cheever served in the army during the World War 1 and it is at this time that he realized a strong passion for writing. His diversified work experience as a script writer fundamentally left him to write in this riveting style of using myths and symbolism in a clear point of view (Fogelman 465-469).
Categorically, Donaldson (395-399) postulates that “The Swimmer” was written within a historical context. This was at a time when middle and upper class Americans were experiencing great prosperity. It is plausible to argue that having survived the World War 1 as well as the Korean War around 1945 and 1950 respectively, many Americans especially of the white descent, enjoyed the affluence of the postwar era. During this time, historical literatures underscore that the American suburbs grew rapidly; a factor that Cheever used as the setting for his story “The Swimmer” (Fogelman 468-470). Accordingly, the world of Neddy as he appears at the beginning of the story is characterized to affluence as exactly as it was during the post war era. The world of Neddy was in no way the one in which many American in the suburbs could access. The civil rights movement was extremely active but basic liberties were still issues of great concern. “The Swimmer” is based on the events of the World War 1 and Cheever constructs his plot around this historical context.
“The Swimmer” is a representative of Cheever’s suburban stories which explore vividly the splendor and sorrow of Americans and other nationalities living within the problems of a somewhat American suburbia. He brings about this captivating contrast by including swimming pools and cocktail parties in his story to significantly elaborate the hallmark of the relaxing and leisurely world that his characters inhabit. This element portrays “The Swimmer” as one of the finest works of Cheever which he uses to blend myth and reality as evidenced in Neddy’s long journey as tries to swim across the pools of Westchester County. Arguably, Neddy tries to regain his apparent lost youthful life through the physical endeavors (Donaldson 236-241).
The mythic parallel in “The Swimmer” dignifies and enhances the story that may have otherwise been another social parable centering on the darker side of the American dream. Ultimately, this literary piece contains in a great length the social realism of the author as pertains to the American experience. Plausibly, one could argue that “The Swimmer” is a weird tale that transforms a comedy of manner into a fantastical racket as well as nightmare. Throughout the story, the reader is left doubtful of the ambiguity of time in the storyline because; an afternoon can seemingly become months or years and the conclusion of the tale presents either the confrontation of Neddy with a glimpse into the future or still the actual present (Cheever 206).
In “The Swimmer”, Cheever achieves a spiritual transcendence by combining the mundane with the mythic. A comparative look at “The Swimmer” with other legends like The Holy Grail or Dante’s Inferno, Cheever demonstrates his ability to make the ordinary lives of suburbanites like Neddy to seem more spiritual, fantastical and universal (Fogelman 470-472). These attributes warrants the comparison of “The Swimmer” with other legends. In so doing, Cheever articulates the belief that literature is a coherent and continuous account to be a moment of aspiration, our struggle to be illustrious and an opportunity for a vast pilgrimage. The darker tone of Cheever’s “The Swimmer” and his more experimental technique has made this short story to captivatingly and successfully transform the realistic details, the myths as well as the personal experiences of the author as regards fears of financial and emotional ruin into a masterpiece of the twenty first century short stories.
To be successful in the contemporary society, it is imperative that one remain focused on their goals but unfortunately, time becomes relentless and unforgiving in its forward trudge. In other words, there does not seem to be enough time for human beings to meet their demands of succeeding with one single goal. The case is even true with maintaining friendships with families and friends let alone all that one cherishes. Thus, this is the fundamental question that Cheever addresses in the short story “The Swimmer”. Neddy has one mission in life which is to swim. However, the singles in purpose comes with a manifold of consequences. These are the consequences that Cheever skillful explores by using Neddy’s mission and the devastating progress of time (Cheever 205).
In addition, “The Swimmer” is regarded as an allegory that is about the aging process, the decline and the overall cycle of life. Fogelman (468-470) points out that within the precincts of an allegory, “The Swimmer” appear like a symbolic representation of success and goals through Neddy, events of truth and the generalization about human existence. To succinctly fit the classifications of an allegory, “The Swimmer” has people, places, an events containing more than one meaning. As such, the story focuses on the sociological aspect of the futility of the American dream in the aftermaths of World War 1 and economic shakeup. This allegorical meaning is further construed to do with the inevitability of time as evidenced in aging, physical decline, the hypocrisy of the upper class and the cycle of life. In light of the mythic nature of The Swimmer, the extensive use of social parables as well as fables, characterizes Cheever’s “The Swimmer” to be a concise allegory.
The patterned images in “The Swimmer” are one of the most intriguing aspects of the literary aspect that the author has used to enhance this short story. As a result, these patterned conflations of key images such as swimming, the storm and the journey across pools is symbolic to moving towards a vision through darkness. For instance, “The Swimmer” starts of reasonably with Neddy lounging about the swimming pool at a home of a friend. A thought strikes him. He realizes that there are several swimming pools between where he is and his own home. As he resolves to swim across home, the author uses this image to expose us to the whimsical exercise that later becomes troublesome and calls for enormous struggle to succeed (Cheever 206).
Moreover, the title of the story demonstrates the diversity of goals and the nostalgic efforts of the swimmer. This image largely shows the short-lived achievement of Neddy when he manages to swim to his home but the success of life in totality, as divided by the moral beauty of life is markedly absent in this character because, all his friends, family and other cherish able possession are all lost. Although there is some alliance between pleasure and social convention, “The Swimmer” out rightly warns us against overindulgence thus prescribing that the only sober approach to life is doing things in moderations well stipulated by Aristotle. The nature of human experience spells out the central conflict in this story.
Significantly, the realities of life are associated with Cheever’ use of images of light and storm. For example, when Neddy reaches at Levy’s pool, a sudden storm breaks through with its full furry. Neddy is thus forced to take cover in Levy’s gazebo as he watches the storm lash the trees. Somehow, when the rain subsides, Neddy notices that the storm had striped of a tree of its yellow and red leaves scattering them over the grass and water (Cheever 204). Definitely, Cheever uses the image of storm to bring about the element of breaks in life. Ideally, we need breaks from our daily activities. These breaks are in form of holidays or basically having certain leisure as we relax from our routine. The image of the storm is thus a system of checks and balances to avoid human beings from exhaustion or excessive fatigue.
To recap, the fullness of life dictates that we live a balanced life and avoid over indulgence on one single aspect of our mission. From the forgoing discussion, it is evident that Cheever has used “The Swimmer” too critically and aesthetically comments on the affluence, hypocrisy and the relationship between wealth and happiness. Through the use of symbolism and myth, the obsession that Cheever highlights is the acquisitive and selfish nature of humanity. Neddy concentrates about swimming and forgets about everything as regards life-his family, friends and other possessions. This acquisitive nature is selfish which is today manifested in the individualistic obsession for power, wealth and even fame. According to Cheever, if care is not taken, this obsession may lead to destruction as evidenced in Neddy’s loss of family, friends and treasure. The quality of this story as a short story is that it is set in the blend of realism and surrealism thus, it is dreamlike and pathos aspects compounded with is thematic exploration of the life cycle and the suburban America.
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