Cheever Essay, Research Paper
Themes of Old Age in Cheever s Short Stories
The stories of John Cheever have many similar themes. In Cheever s stories; O
Youth and Beauty and The Swimmer , one of the most prevalent themes is the quest
for youth. The main character in each of these stories experience similar characteristics.
They are both middle aged men going through life trying to demonstrate to the people
around them that they are still the young, strong and athletic people they once were.
In the story, O Youth and Beauty , Cash Bentley is described as a man of about
forty with thinning hair. He enjoyed boasting about being known in the town for running
hurdling races as a way to impress his friends. An old track star, he was never
aggressive of tiresome about his brilliant past . After graduating, he was offered a job at
the college he had attended, but decided to turn it down because he realized that part of
his life had ended . It is apparent that Cash still takes pride in his college days, that is the
full reason he is continuing to run these races at parties. He is trying to recreate the track
star profile he once had.
Later in the story Cash suffers from a broken leg as a result of running one of his
famous races. This is one of the first signs of his declining youth. He is becoming less
able to participate in the activities he could do before with such ease. After he returns
from the hospital the character begins his decline and enters a mid life crisis situation.
He had lost weight in the hospital. His spirits were low. He, or everything around him,
seemed subtly to have changed for the worse . Cash is then discovered in the attic
looking for his varsity sweater . This shows that Cash is trying to hold on with all his
might to his youth and his successful college years.
Cash then goes on to encounter scenes and images of death. He noticed the faded
roses Louise had brought in from the garden smelled more of earth then anything else. It
was a putrid, compelling smell. He dropped the roses into the waste basket. This image
relates to him in the way that, one day he too with be like those roses, and be dropped in
Another example of Cash s longing to hold on to his youth is at the Rogerses
party. He hears the sounds of young people dancing and partying and desires to be like
them. He does not understand what separates him from these children in the garden next
door . It is in this scene when he begins to realize again that he is not the young man he
once was. Now he stands in a dark kitchen, deprived of his athletic prowess, his
impetuousness, his good looks- of everything that means anything to him . He feels that
he has lost everything of his childhood, and he has. These feelings were mimicked when
he tried to dance with one of the young ladies at the gathering near the garden. She gave
a sign that she was not interested in Cash s company and a younger man rescued her
from him. The young woman s actions made Cash feel even worse about himself as a
man. These women what nothing to do with him.
The final example of Cash s desire to be young can be observed during one of his
last races. He goes through the routine of setting up the furniture and finding a pile of
books to use as the gun. He begins the race as usual, but something is different this time.
In the middle of the race it is apparent that Cash is becoming exhausted. his mouth hung
open. The tendons of his neck protruded hideously….Then he groaned and fell . By this
point in the story it is clear that even though Cash has tried to hold on to his youth, it is
slipping thought his fingers.
Another of Cheever s short stories titled The Swimmer contains a similar
character. Neddy Merrill also encounters the coming of middle age and is trying to battle
against it. He seamed to have the especial slenderness of youth-while he was far from
young he had slid down this banister that morning .
In this short story Neddy chooses he is going to swim to his house through the use
of neighbors swimming pools. Electing to swim home is not something many people do
and such is why it is a preferred way to prove his youth to those around him.
After making it through a few pools he was lead through a group of people in a
bar. A process that was slowed by the fact that he stopped to kiss eight or ten women
and shake the hands of many men . Neddy is trying to make himself feel better about his
aging by being the center of attention at the bar.
Upon approaching his friends the Hallorans, an elderly couple , he stops to talk
to Mrs. Halloran. Neddy informs her that he is swimming across the county . These
scene tells a few things to the reader. He is describing his friends as being elderly when
they are probably in the same age group as himself. In most situations people are friends
with ones in their own age group. Also, Neddy is trying to let everyone know that he is
attempting an unusual task. He is trying to gain that recognition of Mrs. Halloran in this
Furthermore, it is at the Hallorans that the reader learns of Neddy s initial loss of
energy. The swim was too much for his strength, His arms were lame. His legs felt
rubbery and ached at the joints. The worst of it all was the cold in his bones and the
feeling that he might never be warm again . Neddy is beginning to realize that he is not
the young man he originally thought he was. This journey may be too much for his body
It is when Neddy stops by Helen s house that we get a look at another example of
his longing for youth. He tells Helen that he would like a drink, to which Helen replies
that she has no alcohol to serve him. In the next sentence Cheever writes, Was he losing
his memory . This is another typical characteristic for a human who is becoming older.
After beginning his near last pool Neddy realizes that his body is not capable of such a
challenge. He had swum too long, he had been immersed too long, and his nose and
throat were sore from the water . He is also extremely tired and weak.
Cheever s short stories; O Youth and Beauty and The Swimmer have the
same main theme. The main characters in the story are faced with the problem of dealing
with aging. They both try to prove to the others around them that they are still young and
strong, they basically fail. In the end they learned that there isn t anything they can do
about entering old age. The challenges they put themselves through did not slow the
approaching of that age.