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“The Swimmer” (1964) John Cheever. John Cheever (1912-1982) Troubled childhood: expelled from academy in Braintree, Mass.; father left home, lost his.

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Presentation on theme: "“The Swimmer” (1964) John Cheever. John Cheever (1912-1982) Troubled childhood: expelled from academy in Braintree, Mass.; father left home, lost his."— Presentation transcript:

1 “The Swimmer” (1964) John Cheever

2 John Cheever ( ) Troubled childhood: expelled from academy in Braintree, Mass.; father left home, lost his money in 1929 stock market crash Published short stories in New Yorker magazine Novels: The Wapshot Chronicle (1957), The Wapshot Scandal (1964), Bullet Park (1964), Falconer (1978), Oh What a Paradise It Seems (1980)

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4 John Cheever ( ) Married from 1941 until death; struggled with alcoholism; his journals, published in 1991, reveal his bisexuality—double life Known mostly for his portrayals of comfortable middle class suburban New York; created a fictional suburb called Bullet Park Mixes realism and fantasy: realistic stories often become morality tales or fables; he was influenced by Hawthorne

5 Vision vs. Reality (1) “The Swimmer” is on one level a version of “Rip Van Winkle” updated 150 years to the 1960s suburbs of New York Neddy Merrill, like Rip, embarks on a journey away from his family, and cannot return to his former life. Differences:  Rip escapes from domestic tyranny, Neddy from seeming domestic happiness  “RVW” ends happily, “The Swimmer” tragically

6 Vision vs. Reality (2) Vision and reality are completely confused in this narrative. What is real?  The leisurely, drunken midsummer Sunday with his wife and friends, and his children safe at home? OR  A cold mid-autumn with his wife and children gone, his home empty and abandoned, his social status fallen? What is real?

7 Vision vs. Reality (3) Neddy has three levels of vision  Dream  Reality  Nightmare

8 Neddy’s Dream (1) “Neddy Merrill sat by the green water, one hand in it, one around a glass of gin” “slenderness of youth”: “Aphrodite” (love & beauty) “He might have been compared to a summer’s day, particularly the last hours of one” (2043) “His life was not confining” (2044)

9 Neddy’s Dream (2) “He seemed to see, with a cartographer’s eye, that string of swimming pools, that quasi-subterranean stream that curved across the county” (2044). “ he would name the stream Lucinda after his wife ” (2044) “a vague and modest idea of himself as a legendary figure” (2044) “he was a pilgrim, an explorer, a man with a destiny”; “friends would line the banks of the Lucinda River” (2044)

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11 Neddy’s Dream (3) Westerhazys Grahams Hammers Lears Howlands Crosscups Bunkers Levys Welchers Lancaster Public Pool Hallorans Sachses Biswangers Shirley Adams Gilmartins Clydes

12 Neddy’s Dream (4) Pilgrim/Explorer:  “the hospitable customs and traditions of the natives would have to be handled with diplomacy” (2046)  “Prosperous men and women gathered by the sapphire colored waters” (2045)  “this was merely a stagnant bend in the Lucinda River” (2047)

13 Neddy’s Reality (1) What his society is really like: Affluence: money, leisure, swimming pools Marriage/Infidelity: Shirley Adams, ex-mistress Alcohol: “I drank too much last night” (2043); his journey is a series of drinks Social Status: “the rigid and undemocratic realities of their society” (2049) Phoniness: “When Lucinda said that you couldn’t come I thought I’d die” (2045); “Lucinda and I want terribly to see you” (2049).

14 Neddy’s Reality (2) External View of Neddy as “pitiful”:  “Had you gone for a Sunday afternoon ride that day you might have seen him, close to naked, standing on the shoulders of route 424, waiting for a chance to cross” ( )  His society is an automobile culture; to be on foot is to be a fool

15 Neddy’s Nightmare (1) Welchers: pool dry, house for sale  “This breach in his chain of water disappointed him absurdly”  “had he so disciplined himself in the repression of unpleasant facts that he had damaged his sense of truth” (2046) Hallorans: “Misfortunes”; “sold house”; “poor children” (2048)

16 Neddy’s Nightmare (2) Sachses: Eric Sachs’s operation scars: “no navel, no link to birth, this breach in the succession” (2049) Biswangers: “he had suffered some loss of social esteem”; “they went for broke” (2049) Shirley Adams: “I won’t give you another cent” (2050); Neddy climbs ladder out of pool; cries

17 Neddy’s Nightmare (3) Gilmartins: “Here, for the first time in his life, he did not dive but went down the steps” (2050); Contrast (2044): “He had an inexplicable contempt for men who did not hurl themselves into pools.” Home: “The place was dark.... [T]he place was empty” ( ).

18 Weather/Climate “a massive stand of cumulus cloud so like a city seen from a distance” (2043) Maple stripped of read and yellow leaves: “sign of autumn” (2046); at Hallorans, “beech hedge was yellow” (2047) “he smelled woodsmoke on the wind” (2048) Constellations of autumn: “Andromeda, Cepheus, Cassiopeia”

19 Conclusion: What happened to Neddy Merrill? Psychological journey:  Pilgrim to where? Explorer of what?  “In the space of an hour, more or less, he had covered a distance that made his return impossible” (2043)  Lancaster Public Pool: no identification disk; no identity

20 Conclusion: What happened to Neddy Merrill? What is real? The slender, happy, youthful family man, or the “miserable, cold, tired, and bewildered” one who loses everything? Possible answer: Both and neither. Possible symbol: Eric Sachs’s abdomen: “no navel, no link to birth, this breach in the succession” (2049); compare to Welcher’s empty pool: “breach in his chain of water”

21 Conclusion: What happened to Neddy Merrill? Through his journey, Neddy has lost his “link to birth,” and thus has lost:  his identity  the source of the Lucinda River—the way back to his marriage  his place in his family and society, which has depended, to some extent, on dreams and self- deceptions: “repression of unpleasant facts” (2046)  his sense of what is real and what is imaginary


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