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The Swimmer by John Cheever - Essay Example

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Summary
John Cheever’s celebrated story “The Swimmer” (Cheever, 1976) tells the story of an extraordinary journey undertaken by its main character Neddy Merrill through all the swimming pools in his local area. …
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The Swimmer by John Cheever
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Download file to see previous pages As the story develops, this bit of fun turns in to an increasingly harrowing mission, and it clearly comes to signify a journey that has many social, moral and even spiritual dimensions, reaching inexorably towards a darkly mystical ending. It is the setting of the story that gives it such a deep emotional resonance, and provides the reader with the key to deciphering the story’s hidden meanings. This paper reviews a few of the main critical interpretations of the story and then outlines the significance of the setting in terms of time, place and circumstance before finally revealing the underlying message that Cheever brings about American society in the middle of the twentieth century. Three Critical interpretations of “The Swimmer” The story has been read as a kind of spiritual allegory: “an uneasy pilgrimage in hell, owing much in subject and structure to Dante’s Inferno, which Cheever early in his career began reading quite routinely” (Kozikowski, 1993, p. 367). Evidence for this is drawn from the starting point, which is given in the opening line of the story as “one of those midsummer Sundays” (p. 603), suggesting that the mid-point of the year can be read as a symbol of the mid-point in the protagonist’s life. ...
xamination of the characters, events, and settings of “The Swimmer” reveals that Cheever has patterned Neddy Merrill’s journey on the familiar archetype of the Grail quest” (Blythe and Sweet, 1992, p. 347). This analysis twists the original legend somewhat, making Neddy himself the wounded Fisher King, leading to a rather elliptical interpretation that Neddy must be in some way undergoing this long quest in order to find himself. Blythe and Sweet represent the physical obstacles that Neddy encounters, such as the hedges, streets and thorny ledge (Cheever, 1978, pp. 603-604) as the trials that the Arthurian knight has to overcome in order to reach an ultimately unattainable goal. These parallels can undoubtedly be read into Cheever’s suburban setting but there is no need to tie the story so firmly to one set of equivalents. The story has all the hallmarks of an epic tale: a lone hero on a journey through dangerous territory to a mystical end. This is a world-wide motif for the human journey through life, and parallels could be found in any number of classic tales throughout history, from Homer through to Star Wars. A third critic suggests that Neddy’s strange and rather vague perception of reality as he swims is explained by the fact that he is dead, “an earthbound ghost” (Cervo, 1999, p. 49). In this reading, names like Neddy’s house “Bullet Park” and the mention of “air, strong as gas” are cited as evidence of a “suicide paradigm” (Cervo, 1999, p. 50) which sees Neddy as a returning after death to the place where he killed himself out of despair at the life he was leading. This is the most elaborate of all the interpretations, and while there is no doubt that these hints are indeed present in the story, this is only one possible ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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