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John Cheever’s stories are rooted in the realism of early twentieth-century American fiction but veer into the terrain of fantasy. That departure from realism can lead to confusion on the reader’s part when the plot shows illogical developments. In both stories, fantastic elements occur although these are more prominent much earlier in “The Enormous Radio” while “The Swimmer” has more of a surprise ending. Both stories are similar in treating the deceptions and disillusionment of upwardly mobile middle-class Americans.
The symbolism in the radio is concentrated in the radio itself. Acquiring new material possessions is an important aspect of the increased status that Jim and Irene Westwood value. When the old radio breaks down, Jim buys a fancy new one rather than have the old one repaired. Although they justify the acquisition by their serious interest in music, the story’s focus on a material object while it ignores the Westwood children is significant. The radio also symbolizes the breakdown in communication that the Westwoods suffer in the aftermath of spying on their neighbors.
In “The Swimmer,” the swimming pool is the primary symbol. Rather than an urban setting, the story is set in suburbia. Jim’s goal of swimming through the pools is linked to his upward social climb. Conversely, he becomes disappointed in finding some of the private pools closed and unappealing, and even having to use a public pool. This process symbolizes his disillusion with the hypocrisy of the suburban lifestyle. In the end, his house is closed-up just as his inner life is inaccessible to him.