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The Swimmer, By John Cheever Essay

1934 words - 8 pages

Thomas Hardy, an English novelist and poet, once observed, "Time changes everything except something within us which is always surprised by change." In "The Swimmer", the world around Ned Merrill, the main character, transforms constantly as time goes by, causing Ned's physical, mental, and social state to decline. However, although Ned Merrill experiences the inevitable - growing older - he does not fully grasp reality and the idea that time moves on, even if one is not ready. "The Swimmer" is a short story written by John Cheever, a writer who used his own experiences as inspiration for his stories - "Cheever's problems with his parents, brother, wife, alcoholism, and bisexuality have already been outlined in HOME BEFORE DARK, the 1984 memoir by his daughter, Susan Cheever, but Scott Donaldson… goes into more detail about these personal matters while showing how the writer turned the often painful raw materials of his life into the beauty and order of fiction” (Donaldson). If Cheever had rough relationships with both his family and peers, maybe he choose to live in his own reality, just how Ned Merrill seems to be stuck in his own bubble, viewing events obliviously through his eyes. In “The Swimmer”, many of Ned’s friends and neighbors live in large houses with nice pools and many have a high social status, leading researchers and readers to believe that “The Swimmer” takes place around the 1960s. “[“The Swimmer”] was published in 1964, at a time of great prosperity for middle- and upper-class Americans. Having survived World War II... and the Korean War... many Americans—at least white Americans—were enjoying the wealth and affluence of the postwar era" ("Historical Context: 'The Swimmer'." EXPLORING Short Stories). Upon glancing the paragraphs of “The Swimmer” or reading just a few pages, the reader will wonder why Ned Merrill has suddenly decided to swim through pools to reach his house. Reading further in depth, the reader begins to realize that the swimming pools are just figurative and rather, Ned Merrill is “swimming” or traveling through stages off his life. John Cheever develops the theme of the passage of time in his short story, “The Swimmer”, through the use of symbolism, characterization, and motifs.
Symbolism is a major literary element in “The Swimmer”, with the highway being a notable symbol in the latter half of the story. The highway represents an obstacle in Ned Merrill’s life, a challenge that he has no choice but to overcome. In the story, Cheever writes, “… he [Ned Merrill] found himself unprepared…. At what point had this prank, this joke, this piece of horseplay become serious…In the space of an hour, more or less, be had covered a distance that made his return impossible” (Cheever). Literally, after swimming through pools for a while, Ned Merrill comes upon a highway – one that takes him a while to cross. Figuratively, at a certain period in his life, Ned Merrill is faced with a challenge. Merrill is finally able to...

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