John Cheever's The Swimmer

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Set in 1960's suburbia, “The Swimmer” follows a man's nightmarish journey home as the very aspects of life blend, fusing realism and surrealism to create an “imaginative and vital myth of time and modern man” (Auser 292). The story opens with Ned Merrill deciding to swim across the county only using the pools of his neighbors in an attempt to celebrate the day's beauty. As the story progresses, it begins to take on a more dark and surrealistic tone as Ned loses his will to continue. Finally, he stumbles home, only to find his house desolate, grim, and vacant. John Cheever, author of “The Swimmer,” could intend to create Ned in the image of a modern tragic hero following the archetypal themes of journey, discovery, and initiation or use the story to satirize the lives of the privileged in the middle of the American century; however, the greatest purpose of Neddy's surreal journey home is to create an allegorical tale of Ned's dive through the effects of alcoholism.
Many of Ned's characteristics follow the archetypal hero pattern, including his fatal flaw and the journey he embarks on. Cheever makes Ned's conceited image of himself apparent almost from the beginning of the story as the narrator comments that “He was not a practical joker nor was he a fool but he was determinedly original and had a vague and modest idea of himself as a legendary figure” (Cheever 2). Cheever utilizes the oxymoron to reveal Ned's narcissistic nature of thought. A common theme in Greek tragedies is the prevalence of hubris within the protagonist. Ned exhibits this flaw repeatedly throughout the story, in some instances he rejects invitations because he believes the hosts “did not belong to Neddy's set” (Cheever 10). This display of hubris su...

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...r whether his demented perspective simply imagines them. By not revealing the actuality of his situation, Cheever puts the reader into the shoes of a delusional alcoholic.

Works Cited

Auser, Cortland P. “John Cheever’s Myth of Man and Time: ‘The Swimmer’.” CEA Critic.
Vol. XXIX. No. 6. Mar. 1967. 18-9. Rpt. in Short Stories for Students. Ed. Kathleen Wilson.
Vol. 2. Detroit: Gale, 1997. 292-4. Print.
Barnhisel, Greg. “An Overview of ‘The Swimmer’.” in Short Stories for Students. Ed. Kathleen
Wilson. Vol. 2. Detroit: Gale, 1997. 286-8. Print.
Cheever, John. "The Swimmer." The Norton Anthology of American Literature: Shorter Fifth
Edition. Ed. Nina Baym. New York: Norton, 2003. 2348-2357. Web.
Ross, Diane M. "The Swimmer." Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition (2004): 1-2.
Literary Reference Center. Web. 14 Apr. 2014.
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