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“The Swimmer” is a short story written by John Cheever, an American author. The story has a blend of surrealism and realism and explores suburban America. The relationship between happiness and wealth is also explored in the story. In the story, the author has widely used symbolism and myth. A symbol is anything that represents a process, a physical entity or an idea but is distinct from it. A symbol is used to communicate meaning. For example, a red rose is used to symbolize compassion and love (Perkins 1).
“The Swimmer” is a story about a man who swims each public and private pool he comes across on his 8th-mile journey home. The story is probably set in Westchester County, a suburban in New York City, since the author once lived there. Westchester is located north of New York City and is one of the wealthiest counties in America (Perkins 1566).
This literary analysis essay will focus on discussing how symbolism in the story “The Swimmer” by John Cheever contributes to the overall theme.
The author of “The Swimmer” has not directly narrated the story of Neddy, instead; he has used symbols. Swimming pools in the short story are used as symbols. The swimming pools that Neddy has to swim through on his way home represent the phrases/journeys of time that he has to pass through in his life. Neddy begins his journey and he is ready on taking the challenge of “swimming the county.” “Swimming the county” symbolize the phrases that he has to go through his life. (Perkins 1567).
As he begins the journey he feels like a “legendary figure,” this is a symbol of courage and optimism. “Neddy has a high opinion of himself and a modest and a vague idea of himself as a legendary figure.” He feels as though he can accomplish everything (Perkins 1568).
The changes in season and weather symbolize the mood, attitude and emotions of Neddy. “Storm clouds” symbolize the challenges and problems that Neddy encounters on his way home. As Neddy progresses with his journey home, storm clouds approaches and he hears thunder. As he is sheltering himself from the storm, he realizes that the winds have blown the “yellow and red leaves.” Neddy is “weak and tired” by the time he reaches home (Perkins 1570).
Being tired and weak symbolize aging. This is a display that he has aged and that one is easily tired and fatigued as life goes on. His home symbolizes the soul and the heart. When Neddy arrives home, he does not find anyone around. His wife and four daughters have left him because he is into alcoholism, has a mistress and the rest of his time he is in pursuit of wealth. He has no time for his family. When Neddy arrives home and finds no one is a symbol that his life nearing the end. Since his home symbolize the soul and the heart, and since his wife and four daughters are not at home, his soul and heart is dead (Perkins 1572).
From the short story “The Swimmer” it is clear that life is short. The story can teach us that our time on earth is limited and hence we should try to use our time in productive and worthy endeavors. We should not use our time like Neddy who spent his time pursuing a mistress, alcohol and social and material success.