John Cheever’s Reunion

Sophomore (College 2nd year) ・Literature ・MLA ・8 Sources

Reunion' is a short story written by the famed American writer John Cheever. It was first published in 1962 and was later included in The Stories of John Cheever (1978). It tells the story of a young boy who encounters his father, hears about his father's characteristics and personalities, and is saddened. This paper would show that even though Charlie (one of the novel's main characters) is deeply disappointed by his father, he does not condemn him. The novel is characteristic of one statement that seems to contradict the thesis of this paper, and that is ‘The last time I saw my father was in the grand central station…’ (Cheever 201) That may sound as though Charlie rejected his father, but after closer scrutiny, it is clear that there may be aspects of him (his father) that he dislikes, though they don’t meet the threshold that would cause him to dislike him. The context of that statement is based on two things one, that indeed it is the last time that Charlie physically meets his father, at the station, with mixed emotions and having seen enough of what his father had turned out to be after three years, he was disappointed by him and had to leave. Though the novel doesn’t tell us whether Charlie leaves out of rejection to his father it is important to note that the conclusion cannot be decisive as to affirm such either (Cheever 203). Secondly, Charlie last sees his father at the station was a metaphor, it represented that he indeed had lost the sober father he once knew to alcohol. His father’s insistence on drinking more and more liquor at the expense of catching up with Charlie, his son was indicative that he(his father) was no longer the person he knew and meeting him any later would be attending a different personality that wasn’t his father. So it clarifies the fact that they last met at that station both physically and at a conscious level.

Though he doesn’t reject him, Charlie appeared apprehensive and concerned not to be like his father in several ways. To begin with, he dislikes the fact that his father had turned out to be an alcoholic; he despises the fact that even without a moment of sobriety the father would insistently long for more and more liquor. Charlie was worried that that excessive consumption of it had rendered his father the parent he never knew or wished to be. He further disliked the fact that his father could be very abusive and arrogant to the employees at the bars and restaurants they entered. The fact that the father couldn’t handle himself while drunk was on more than one occasion embarrassing to Charlie and that would turn him off severally if on all occasions it. He also dislikes the fact that other than the father taking time to know more about how Charlie is doing he is concerned more about impressing him with arrogant stunts (Updike 30). He also disliked the fact the father was less interested in rebuilding himself, he wonders what got into the father this much that he cared less about his (father) own reputation, he would always be late for work, show up drunk and in many cases fail to report. It would disappoint Charlie on the many times he had to be the father figure to his father (Cheever 203) and wondered how he could have survived that long by being such careless of himself.

Cheever in this novel also appears to be exploring the overwhelming theme of identity. He presents two characters; one in search of his identity (Charlie) and another on the verge of losing his (Charlie’s father). Despite Charlie narrating that his father was ‘a stranger to me’ he affirms some sense of drawing a unique identity to himself from him. He affirms that by asserting that when he met his father ‘he felt that he was my father, my flesh and blood, my future and my doom...’. This singularly indicates that even though Charlie doesn’t approve of the father, he believes that there is some percentage of him (his father) that he inherits. The mere courage to pull stunts in public whether drunk or not seem to be something that Charlie looks like a positive strength that his father bears (Cheever 203). Although there is a sense that Charlie never really gets to know more about his father other than his drunken version, he sees a stronger but badly beaten person in him. It would appear that getting served alcohol is more significant to Charlie’s father than actually personally meeting Charlie. At no point in the narrative does Charlie reprimand his father or try to communicate some sense in him. Rather all he is depicted as doing is experiencing and acting like a passive observer to each occurrence or event and relaying it to the reader as it happens. He truly never gets to know his father from a verbal point of view (i.e., sharing memories with him or a candid father-son talk) nor does his father get the time out of his drinking episodes to listen to his son. From a distance, it’s readily inferable that Charlie is no more than a passive spectator. However by the very fact that he continually gets disappointed by him he never leaves or walks out of him when the situation in a bar or restaurant goes south courtesy of his father insults and arrogance. He appears to always take care of him regardless the circumstances since he sees himself in him as his son.

The main reason as to why Charlie seeks his father is to get to know how he was doing and get to at least have a father-son moment which appeared to be ruined every single time his father sipped on to that bottle of gin. He fears that since his father is his own;’ flesh, and blood’ he was his doom too (Cheever 201). He was apprehensive that he might have that aspect of his father’s personality and characteristic in his genetics and that he probably would turn out to be just like him. He looks with pity and helplessness as his father abuses and assaults everyone he meets on the way home from a drinking spree. He feels the shame that the father cannot think due to his drunken stupor. He wishes him to stop but could not bring himself to accuse him or tell him off. He accompanies the father into his drinking dens for three reasons; to since his father had asked him to accompany him, to pay off the bills since his father would often drink more than he could pay. Hence the honor was on Charlie to contemplate on how to foot the bills and thirdly because he was always anxious on the situations that his father would get himself into once he becomes drunk and begins his usual abuses and disregards on other people. By the fact that Charlie would obey his father reluctantly and follow him all the way also worrying about what he (his father) would get himself into is an indicator that he never rejected him even if he didn’t approve of his character (Refnaldi 35).

Furthermore, Charlie ends up by telling the father that; ‘…he was sorry…’ (Cheever 203). This was because of the following reasons, that even though he did not reject him, he was apologetic of the fact that he did not get the opportune moment to experience the father he was hoping to. He felt that his hopes of meeting and growing a relationship with his long-separated father were thwarted by the very fact that his father had turned into an alcoholic (Uhlman 45). Alcoholism had rendered him (his father) selfish towards encountering anybody else without resulting in some quarrel or disagreement. His predicament appears to be eternal and that he still was in the same if not worse state than he was before meeting his father. The long-awaited moment of reunion with his father turned out to be the worst experience of his lifetime. That even though he was akin to helping him, he couldn’t do it because his father would never let him border in between such sentimental discussions owing to his inferiority complex as Uhlman puts it (Uhlman 23).

The other reason is that Charlie was terribly sorry for what his father had turned out to be. It was with the deep hopes of Charlie that he would find his father in one piece and that their reunion would be so ecstatic that he would fulfill his wishes but instead he meets a drunk. He apologizes to the father for what life and fate had dealt him and that he couldn’t be able to help him. He had become an arrogant, abusive and a careless father whom Charlie never knew he would, three years before they met. That very confining and undermining feeling had rendered him one of low self-esteem and caused him to dehumanize himself (Gwynn, 22).

He was also worried and terribly sorry of the fate that awaited his father in the future, Donaldson asserts that Charlie full aware at first sight and experience of his father’s character and predicament, knew that his future was bleak and that would also cost him his job (Donaldson 42). He contemplates the theme that intelligent people can turn to be the worst. He further emotionally considers that his father who was a secretary, due to alcohol often never showed up on time. Even though he was delighted by the fact that his father would at different points converse in French, Italian, and German that knowledge did him no good at all. Charles depicts the father as one who projected an educated air around him, albeit one projection which was being abusive to the service staff. That very weakness seemed to dilute the good that Charlie would convince himself to see in his father making him more (terribly) sorry (Gwynn, 20).

He worried sick that by his leaving how the father would disintegrate further down the spiral of alcoholism and end up either homeless or at the worst dead (Donaldson 43). He is spontaneously sorry for the fact that his father had let the situation take hold of him without efforts to change, that he had lost friends and destroyed his public reputation almost getting banned from visiting certain clubs in his neighborhood (Lynn 55).

Charlie is also terribly sorry for his father since of all the son swish in life; to be like their father’s he (Charlie) wouldn’t have wished to be like his father. He looked at him and even though he was cognizant of the fact that he was his son there were a great lot of reasons and characteristics he wouldn’t have wished to inherit or learn from him. That very thought that his father was no longer the role model that Charlie would have wanted to embrace compelled him to feel terribly sorry. It’s worth noting that this feeling of terribly being sorry spans from a more compassionate sentiment than on a somewhat dismissive note. This is because Charlie goes ahead to leave with a heavy heart at the Grand Central Station indicative of one that loved and wished he could have done anything to help his father or have had a more precious time encountering him than he had experienced (Littell 34).

Charlie is also terribly sorry because of what alcohol had done to his father; this is to be distinguished from the previous point mentioned on the same since this is based on what impacts alcoholism had to mete on his father. It had cost him to lose his friends, destroyed his personality so severely that he didn’t recognize the presence of his son and what that encounter would have meant to him (Lynn 53). Charlie is cognizant of the fact that in the episodes of alcohol drinking the father would turn to a different person than he was while remotely sober. He worried that liquor had denied if not robed his father of the chance to experience his son to whom he had met three years before. The very disdain of such a moment that was momentous to his son makes Charlie see a golden opportunity that his father had lost, that very contemplation makes him terribly sorry.


Finally having analyzed this book by John Cheever the following points are arrived at. The novel is based on a terrible reunion or encounter between a son and a drunkard father. It bases itself on shattered dreams and wishes of a son to meeting his long-lost father and hopefully rebuild their relationship only to encounter an abusive, selfish and arrogant personality in his father. The book begins with a sad note that Charlie would never meet his father again, although, at first sight, it’s possible to infer that he had rejected him, there are traces within that indicate that even though he was disappointed with him, he didn’t reject him. The book further bases itself on the major themes of separation between a son and the father in both character and locality as illustrated with the son leaving the father. Finally just as Charlie puts it in his own words ‘…‘he felt that he was my father, my flesh and blood, my future and my doom…’ (Cheever 201), he knew that rejecting his father would be the very last thing he would do regardless his predicament, and so he never rejects him.

Work Cited

Donaldson, Scott. "Writing the" Cheever"." The Sewanee Review 98.3 (1990): 527-545.

Gwynn, R. S., ed. Fiction: a pocket anthology. Longman Publishing Group, 2004.

Cheever, John. "Reunion." The New Yorker (1962): 45.

Lynn, Steven. Texts and contexts: Writing about literature with critical theory. Addison-Wesley Longman, 1998.

Littell, McDougall. "The language of literature: American literature." (2000).

Refnaldi, Refnaldi, et al. "Appreciation of Literary Works." (2014): 1-34.

Uhlman, Fred. "Reunion (1971)." Vintage, London (2006).

Updike, John. Picked-Up Pieces: Essays. Random House, 2013.

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