To write a good paper on the masculinity of the male protagonists in the two John Cheever short stories “The Swimmer” and “The Country Husband,” try to discuss normative tropes about masculinity and talk about how they apply to Neddy Merrill and Francis Weed.
One conventional aspect of masculinity that one could note links to adventure. Throughout history, men have been depicted as the gender entitled to exciting, thrilling experiences. In Cheever’s suburbs, the men appear less like strong conquerors and more like diminished subjects. Neddy’s goal of swimming in the pools of his neighbors doesn’t have quite the same dramatic flair as, say, traversing oceans. The airplane incident that begins “The Country Husband” portrays masculinity in a similarly underwhelming light. No man gets to play the role of hero in the possible airplane crash. Ultimately, there is no lethal crash. Indeed, in these Cheever stories, suburban life appears to have sapped masculinity of its supposed lionhearted element.
An insightful paper might continue to detail the weaknesses of Cheever’s protagonists. Think about what happens when Neddy arrives on Route 424. The highway motorists and passengers laugh at him and throw things at him like beer cans. Here, Neddy does not represent a dignified, honorable form of masculinity. The kind of masculinity that he manifests is ridiculous if not pathetic. Francis, too, represents a feeble form of masculinity. He can neither control his desire for Anne nor can he completely impose himself on her. His assault on Anne is interrupted by Gertrude Flannery. That Francis’s predation is halted by a child probably says something about how far masculinity has fallen in Cheever’s suburbs.
Of course, a good paper about the masculinity in these stories might also address differences and complications. For instance, one could argue that Francis, for all his blunders, upholds normative masculinity by pivoting to woodwork. Conversely, one could claim that Neddy’s failure to live up to masculine norms is completed by his inability to force his way into the home, which is empty anyway.