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Allusion And Symbolism In The Swimmer, By John Cheever

744 words - 3 pages

John Cheever does not merely state the theme of his story, he expresses his theme, as a good writer should, in a variety of metaphors and analogies coupled with powerful imagery. In The Swimmer, Cheever writes and underscores his primary theme of alcoholism in many ways, such as his use of autumnal imagery and the color green. However, there is also some very prominent symbolism and allusions that serve to highlight the theme while also augmenting the artistic and poetic nature of the story. One very important use of symbolism is in the “perverted sacraments” as originally pointed out by Hal Blythe in 1984. Along side these symbols, Hal Blythe, along with Charlie Sweet, later discovered a clear allusion to Ponce de Leòn in 1989.
To begin with the symbolism, there are three holy sacraments that have been twisted by Merrill in the story, one of them is directly related to the primary theme of alcoholism, and the other two are connected to Merrill's addiction, but not as directly as the first. This first sacrament is the Eucharist, commonly known as communion, which involves the partaking of wine in a ceremonial fashion. This sacrament is defamed from the very beginning, when Cheever shows the characters sitting around on Sunday, the day of the Lord, when communion would normally take place, with hangovers. It is ridiculed even more strongly when Cheever includes even the priests themselves in the group of people who say, “I drank too much.” The second two sacraments that Merrill perverts are marriage and baptism. Both of these serve to highlight the theme of alcoholism and its negative effects because alcohol served as the instrument causing the perversion. It was Merrill's alcoholism that ruined his relationship with his wife, thereby defaming marriage. Less clearly, Merrill perverts baptism, the immersing of one into water in order to save them, by constantly immersing himself in water on a drunken quest to return to his old life, that he has, due, one again, to alcohol, forgotten he lost (“Perverted Sacraments”).
This quest on which Merrill has embarked is what the allusion to Ponce de Leòn centers around. This allusion was first brought to attention by Charlie Sweet, in collaboration with Blythe Hal in 1989. Throughout the...

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