On Complex Anachronies and Defied Anticipations in The Swimmer

This is the second mid-term essay I wrote for Introduction to Literary and Cultural Studies at Amsterdam University College. I have pasted the introduction and conclusion here. 

The short story The Swimmer can be found: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/1964/07/18/the-swimmer 


The most intriguingaspect of John Cheever’s 1964 short story The Swimmeris its sudden change in mood after a line break in the middle of the narrative. From a hedonistic, simple-minded protagonist who fantasised a joyful summer swim in the neighbourhood, Neddy Merrill, the main focaliser of the narrative, suddenly became an unhappy father suffering from financial difficulties and unresolved nostalgia. Meanwhile, the story changes from a light-hearted adventure to a gloomy recollection of a pathetic man’s dream and regret, past and present. The change in mood is a distinctive feature of the narration that creates a striking depth for the character and adds another layer to the narrative. In this narratological analysis, I explore how the narrator in particular is responsible for the two aforementioned effects. I argue that the narrator’s most valuable contribution is his selectivity of events and descriptive vocabularies in the two contrasting halves of the story. Such selectivity captures the nostalgic psychology of the drunk focaliser and keeps defying my expectations in the second half of the narrative. It also forces me to construct a different chronological order of events and modify my understanding of the narrative.


The above narratological analysis reflects on how far readers should trust an omniscient narrator on the issue of time. It is undeniable that a narrator, especially an omniscient one, has certain authority over his readers: he can force his readers to examine certain events and perspectives in a subjective order. Readers therefore should not blindly trust the narrator for the given chronological order, and they need to perform some deduction too. The meaning of the text becomes a collaborative task. I can recall instances when the omniscient narrator also misleads his readers on the issue of time: besides The Swimmer, Gillian Flynn’s novel Gone Girland 2016 Korean film The Handmaiden come to mind. These narrators are not necessarily lying, but they often immerse themselves into different focalisers and carefully construct a temporal duality. Those stories are by all means successful, charming ones, with reader anticipations being constantly defied. A narratological analysis, with a close attention to focaliser psychology and potential complex anachronies, can be especially helpful for the reconstruction of narrative time and the interpretation of the narrative theme.

Works Cited

Cheever, John. The Stories of John Cheever. Ballantine Books, 1985. Print.

Genette, Gerard. Order in Narrative. Narrative Discourses: An Essay in Method, trans. J.E. Lewin. Cambridge University Press. 1997. Print.

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