Symbolic Meaning in John Cheever’s, The Swimmer

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In John Cheever’s, “The Swimmer”, on a hot summer Sunday ,while sitting by the pool with his wife and neighbors, as they all complained about their hangovers, a man of higher status named Needy Merrill decides to get home by swimming through the pools in his county. When Needy first starts off his journey he feels young and enthusiastic; he is then greeted in a joyous manner by his neighborhood friends. Apparently, Needy is a well-known and respected man. As his journey progresses he starts seeing red and orange leaves; he then realizes that it was fall. In the middle of his journey he starts to endure some turmoil, but he does not let that stop his journey. As his journey ends, Needy starts to come encounter with some people who constantly mention his misfortune and struggle with his family. Needy does not remember any of the turmoil that had been going on in his life, and starts to wonder if his memory is failing him. Towards the end, many of the people that came encounter with treated him rudely. Needy realizes that something must have went wrong in his life. When Needy arrives home, he sees that his house is empty and that his family is gone. In “The Swimmer “, John Cheever uses setting to symbolize the meaning of the story.
One way Cheever uses setting symbolically, is by creating a season and weather change in the story. Cheever writes that when Needy realizes that the leaves are changing colors, he becomes sad. “The force of the wind had stripped a maple of its red and yellow leaves and scattered them over the grass and the water. Since it was midsummer the tree must be blighted, and yet he felt a peculiar sadness at this sign of autumn.”(Cheever 252) At the beginning of the journey it was a hot summer, gradually it turne...

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...r supper...He shouted, pounded on the door, tried to force it with his shoulder, and then, looking in the windows, saw the place was empty.”(257) Needy’s journey ended at a dark, lonely place; it was then he realized that he had no one left. Needy’s empty house was symbolic of the emptiness he now had in his heart.
The entire story was a symbol of Needy’s life. The setting in the story was symbolic to the way Needy was feeling. Needy’s life was diminishing right before his eyes, and he did not realize it. The different changes in the story represented how much Needy’s life had gradually changed over time. By reading the story the reader can tell that Needy was in a state of denial.

Works Cited

Cheever, John, ”The Swimmer”, Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama. Ed. X. J. Kennedy and Dana Gioia. 12th ed. San Francisco: Longman, 2013.250-257

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