I thought that there were many elements of post-modernism in John Cheever’s “The Swimmer.” One of the elements of post-modernism is the temporal distortion within the story. Neddy Merrill, the main character, decides to swim home one summer afternoon after enjoying a cocktail party. However, as he swims, time begins to accelerate rapidly. By the end of the story, time seems to have warped into another season (fall), which reflects the vast changes that have taken place in Neddy’s life (he began as a wealthy, healthy man with a family, and he ends up as a poor man in deteriorating health with nothing). This time acceleration is an example of post-modernism.
Another post-modern aspect of this story is the non-traditional plot structure. Although the plot does move forward, it is unclear at times exactly what is going to happen. At times you are left guessing if there even is a plot, and it will often change and go into a different direction. For example, Neddy goes from pool to pool, and you discover more about his life and his relationship with others. However, at the end of the story, Neddy finally arrives at his house—only to find it empty. This abrupt ending and the way the plot moved along was different than most traditional plot structures, and it seemed to reflect post-modernism.
Another post-modern feature was sentence fragmentation. Throughout the story, Cheever will often write short, choppy sentences that are very fragmented and jump from idea to idea. Here is an example of what I’m talking about:
“It was a fine day. In the west there was a massive stand of cumulus cloud so like a city seen from a distance—from the bow of an approaching ship—that it might have had a name. Lisbon. Hackensack. The son was hot. Neddy Merril sat by the green water, one hand in it, one around a glass of gin” (158).
The way he jumped from thought to thought was very fragmented, and it lacked smooth transition at times.
Aside from those aspects, I thought there was another features of post-modernism in this story. There is a sense of irony and darkness, as Cheever seems to mock the wealthy suburban life by contrasting the outward presentation (wealth and comfort, frequent socializing, pool parties, etc.) with that of the dark, snobbish, inner aspects of this lifestyle (spouses cheating, superficial relationships based on status, alcoholism, etc.).
Overall, this was a bizarre story to read.