The short story “The Swimmer” is about an unnamed woman, whose personal life we are not really told anything about. She Sits at her desk in a tiny office in her house from where she can see the river that runs close to the house. It is a hot summer day and after a while the woman cannot stand the heat anymore. She decides to drop the work that she is in the middle of and go swimming in the river instead. Standing in front of the river she shortly let her fear for the river take over but she then remembers how she once before has turned around instead of going swimming.
She decides to stop worrying anymore and walks out in the river. It is the first time the protagonist swims in the river and she fully enjoys it. After swimming a while she sees a swan in front of her. She gets afraid of the swan but is at the same time also overwhelmed by its beauty. She sneaks up from the water and goes back to her house. As the day goes on she cannot stop thinking about the swan and its beauty. She decides to go back into the river in the evening. She finds the swan at the same place as before.
She is not afraid of the swan anymore but she still acts very careful around it because she does not want to disturb or annoy it. She begins to swim regular in the river both so she can enjoy the water but also to see the beauty of the swan. One day she notices that the swan looks strained and when she swims closer to it it does not react. She discovers that it is because the swan is trapped. She helps it free and the swan swims away. The protagonist of “The Swimmer”s name is not mentioned. Further it is not told whether she has a family or lives by herself.
My guess is that she lives by herself, which judge from the fact that she seems to be during things like swimming in the river without having to tell anybody about it or plan it with anyone. She seems like a woman who works a lot because her office is the only setting in the text apart from the river-area and further because the only thing she is described doing in the text apart from swimming is working. It is a returning item of her life: “The she’ll turn back and return to her desk in time to start the afternoon’s work” (l. 1). Think that the protagonist’s biggest problem is that she does not really have the courage to live life fully because she is afraid. She obviously really wants to go swimming but she keeps on finding things to be afraid of. First of she is afraid if anyone would watch her swim even though she really is tempted to do it: “No one’s out there. If she goes now, she’ll have the river to herself. No on will see. Why see minds this, she doesn’t know. Every day she looks out at the river, and longs to swim in it” (I. 16-18).
The protagonist here shows how she often has let her fear control her but also how she this day fights it back by trying to convince herself into that nobody will see her. The quotation therefore shows how she slowly conquers her own fear. Standing in front of the river her fear begins to arise gain but this time she overcomes it by thinking of the last time she had come this far: “She came this far once before, with her costume and towel. She stood and looked at the water, watched it flow and her fears overwhelmed her. She turned back.
She doesn’t look at the water today. She doesn’t give it time” (l. 42-44). Already here she shows development in her personality. Her fear has controlled her before but not this time. This time she conquers it. The first time she goes out in the water the fear overwhelms her again: “Another step and all of a sudden there is no bottom the beach is gone, and he sinks, arms reaching out and finding just water’ (l. 51-52). After stepping out in the water she panics, but once again she overcomes it: “and the remembering to pull and stroke and swim” (I. 2-53). Think she panics because she suddenly finds herself in a new situation where she loses control for a few seconds. My guess is that the protagonist is almost addicted to feeling secure. That explains why she is working as much as she is; she feels safe when she does. It also explains why she does not want anybody watching her swim and further why she has not been swimming in the river at al. She soon realizes that when she is in the river she relaxes. She forgets about work and everything around her.
I believe that being a workhorse, which she is, creates a lot of pressure on you. I think she forgets this pressure when she is in the water: “Down here at water level, she realizes, not only is she invisible to the rest of the world, but it is invisible to her’ (l. 63-64). Meeting the swan brings the fear up in her once again. She is out of her safety-zone facing a new threat: “The swan looks down at her and she looks away, afraid to meet its eye. Her Nan used to tell her a swan could break a man’s arm with its wing -? what could it do to her, down here, in the water? ” (l. 0-82). She is obviously very afraid of the swan but slowly she overcomes her fear. First by thinking about it when being home but later also by facing her fear, the swan, face to face. This is where the protagonist’s character really develops. She suddenly is not afraid if anyone is watching her. She does not really work anymore and her life only focuses on swimming in the river and gazing at the swan. Her change is also seen in the new way she looks at the river. Where she before thought of the river as a unfamiliar and unknown place: ‘the strange sight of a swimmer in its (red. He swan) river” (l. 74-75) she now thinks of it as the complete opposite – a familiar and safe place: “she steps again into her pool, sinking into the water to escape the evening midges” (l. 128-129). She has not just conquered her own fear but also conquered the river. In the river nobody or nothing can touch her. In the above quotation S. J. Butler’s description of the settings is used to show her development. The settings is throughout the whole text described detailed, which is in contrast to how little the protagonist is described.
This creates a special effect because the detailed described settings make it possible for the reader to imagine how it looks. The reader is being dragged into the text, and when the protagonist is almost not described at all it could be anybody. The protagonist does not even have a name and neither do we know how her life is besides that she works a lot – something nearly everybody can relate to. It is therefore easy for the reader to relate and put him- or herself in the protagonist’s place. This is possible because the theme fear is something we all know from our everyday life.
It makes you reflect if and how fear is holding yourself back in your own life. Think the swan is a symbol on herself and with the fishing lines being her fear. She is captured by her fear like the swan is captured by the nylon fishing lines and when she finally frees herself from her fears she can truly be free. The message of the text is that we must overcome our fears to enjoy our life fully. Having fears is like being chained to a wall. You might be able to go far but you will never be able to reach your full potential.
In conclusion “The Swimmer is about a woman who overcomes her fears by swimming in a river. This develops her a lot and she almost becomes a new person afterwards because she is no more limited by her fears. The settings in the text is unlike the protagonist described in details, which has the effect that the reader can relate to the text and reflect on it. The swan being trapped in the fishing lines is a symbol on her being limited by her fears. With “The Swimmer” S. J. Butler wants to tell us to conquer our fear, so that we can live our lives to the fullest.