Portrayal of the character’s emotional state in The Swimmer by John Cheever
The Swimmer is a short story written by an American novelist and short story writer, John Cheever. The story under analysis shows an emotional state of the main character, Neddy Merrill, his inner changes and peculiarities of interaction with other people. John Cheever appeals to realistic description of a psychological state of the character, uses symbolism, and emotional tension that makes readers realize what inner changes Neddy Merrill undergoes.
The beginning of the story is absolutely positive and does not portend anything evil. Neddy Merrill is shown as a handsome man in the prime of life, who “has the special slenderness of youth […] and might have been compared to a summer’s day” (Cheever 726). The main character has a cheerful and easy-going wife, “four beautiful daughters,” and a comfortable house (Cheever 726). His life seems to be absolutely happy, and his decision to “reach his home by water” starts as harmless fun. Though, a number of hints over the story ruin the readers’ conviction about such a quiet life. With the development of the action, it becomes clear that something bad has happened in the character’s life, but he does not remember it. The motif of memory appears several times, as if Neddy tries to recollect something, but it is in vain. The writer points several times that there is something wrong with the character’s memory. “Was his memory failing or had he so disciplined it in the repression of unpleasant facts that he had damaged his sense of truth?” (Cheever 730). This phrase serves as the main point that attracts attention to Neddy’s inner state.
Gradually, the emotional state of the character and the tone of the short story change from a positive to a disturbing, and even empathetic, one. The writer aggravates feelings and emotions of both the character and the readers. Neddy’s path is presented as a journey down the river. However, such a trip seems like an imaginary one, as with each pool his emotional state changes. First, when he is at the Westerhazy’s pool, he is surrounded by people he is in good terms with. Then, he visits the Grahams, where a smiley bartender gives him a drink and all the people are very happy to see him. Still, Neddy Merrill decides to continue his journey, and the next place he visits is the house by the Levis, where a crucial point takes place. Starting from this house, the situation gets worse; even the nature shows that something wrong is going to happen – at this moment the storm starts. Each and every house Ned visits does not bring anything positive to him. The character meets hostile people who laugh and jeer at him, making him feel depressed. The climax takes place when he finally reaches his house and realizes it is empty, and there are no daughters or wife waiting for him. It is the moment he faces reality and finally gets rid of self-delusion.
The Swimmer is a highly symbolic short story, where the nature, weather, and parts of the day serve as the main symbols. It seems that the character follows a long path from self-deception to reality. When the story starts, it is a sunny Sunday morning; everybody is happy and enjoys life. However, in the course of time, the character’s state and the weather change – it is raining at noon, it is getting colder in the evening, and it is absolutely freezing at night. The morning starts with a summer day, but ends up with autumn when the river is cold, the leaves fall down, and the sky has the constellations of autumn. Neddy bursts into tears when he realizes his life is not perfect and joyful; it is full of troubles that he cannot turn a blind eye to.
John Cheever skillfully describes the emotional state of the character. The writer uses a set of descriptions, symbols and dialogues that reflect Neddy Merrill’s inner state. The nature reflects the character’s emotions and feelings and wakes him up to reality. What makes this piece of writing a masterpiece is that it is a plausible story that shows how life difficulties can lead to self-deception; however, there will definitely be a trigger that will open one’s eyes to reality and a mirage will vanish.
Cheever, John. “The Swimmer.” The Library of America, 2009, pp. 726 – 737, https://loa-shared.s3.amazonaws.com/static/pdf/Cheever_Swimmer.pdf. Accessed 19 Oct. 2017.