What elements of "The Swimmer" represent postmodernism?

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One aspect of postmodern fiction is the way that it does not yield up its meaning directly. Postmodern fiction is defined by its rejection of linear narrative and sequential plotting, combined with oblique meanings that are difficult to attach directly to the story as it presents itself. Although "The Swimmer" has a sequential narrative, what is clear is that the distortion in this narrative produces a feeling in the reader of uncertainty as the reader tries to piece together what precisely is happening as Neddy Levy embarks on his increasingly surreal journey. The ending, which somehow moves the story from midsummer to the end of autumn, leaves the reader trying to work out what precisely is going on as Neddy Levy pounds on the door of his home and is shocked, just as the reader is shocked by what he discovers:

He shouted, pounded on the door, tried to force it with his shoulder, and then, looking in at the windows, saw the place was empty.

The emptiness of the house indicates the allegorical nature of the journey and the way that normal time has been suspended during the course of this swimming adventure. There is no didactic narrator to comfort the reader with an obvious meaning, and the reader is left wondering what meaning can be attached to such a story, which offers itself up to a plethora of different meanings. The lack of clear theme or message and the way that so many different messages could be taken from this tale is one way in which this story could be viewed as being postmodern. This, combined with the elements of magical realism apparent in the surreal nature and the temporal distortion created by the journey of Neddy Levy makes this an excellent example of a postmodern short story.

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To what extent does "The Swimmer" express some form of postmodern fiction?

According to R. Stevenson, et al, the elements of post-modern fiction in literature include the following characteristics:

  • playfulness with language
  • experimentation in the form of the novel
  • less reliance on traditional narrative form
  • less reliance on traditional character development
  • experimentation with point of view
  • experimentation with the way time is conveyed in the novel
  • mixture of "high art" and popular culture
  • interest in metafiction, that is, fiction about the nature of fiction

In Cheever’s "The Swimmer," there is no doubt that the way Cheever treated the passing of time between the swimmings is essential because it also brings out the theme of the inevitability of change. It is also non-traditional in terms of narrative, which is a characteristic of post-modern fiction. Also, the use of pop culture in the form of the snobby, rich, white, preppy character almost gives us a discomforting sensation that we are surrounded by very hip, but very dislikeable people.  The language is also used without restraint, as we see the use of expletives galore, and there is no traditional character development: Neddy is arrogant, continues to be arrogant, and will remain in an arrogant denial about what happens to him all until the end. There is no roundness of character development, and there is no lesson to be learned. Things just are what they are. That is the most important aspect of post-modern literature, and all of its elements are very much present in the story.

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