‘’Reunion’’ by John Cheever

This essay is going to be an analysis and interpretation of the short story ‘’Reunion’’ by John Cheever. It will begin with a summary of the short story. Afterward the plot, the conflict and the setting will be analyzed. Then I’ll move on to the characterization, the possible surprise ending and the theme and message. Finally I will draw parallels between the short story ‘’Reunion’’ and the essay ‘’Living With Strangers’’ by Siri Hustvedt. ‘’Reunion’’ is a short story about a boy called Charlie and his last interaction with his father.
Charlie was traveling by train from his grandmother to a cottage his mother had rented. He would be in New York for about an hour and thirty minutes while waiting for the new train and therefore he wanted to meet his father. He hadn’t seen his father for three years and Charlie was exited to see the man he looked up to again. Because of the lack of time, they couldn’t go and see the father’s club, so they had to find a restaurant in the area. They went to four restaurants and they get more or less thrown out of all four. The father in this short story was either really drunk or/and very arrogant.
In all occasions he talked down to waiters or behaved bad in one way or the other. In spite of his bad behavior they managed to get a ‘’Beefeater Gibson’’ at one place. It all ended with the father going up to a newsstand, again with a bad attitude, which was the final straw for Charlie who said ‘’Goodbye, daddy’’ and walked towards the station. That was the last time Charlie saw his father. This short story is one big flashback. The whole story is a flashback that concedes chronologically. It starts with a very short introduction in which Charlie just says ‘’The last time I saw my father was in Grand Central Station.’’, and from thereon he tells the story as a flashback.

The conflict in this story is the high expectations from Charlie. Charlie admires his father very much, but when he meets him, he’s an arrogant and probably drunk jerk. Three years have gone, since they last saw each other and that is a long time. People can change a lot during three years and this is probably what also happened to the father or else Charlie just remembered him differently. The end shows that the conflict was too much to bear for Charlie as he says ‘’…that was the last time I saw my father. ’’.
The reason why it was the last time they saw each other is probably because of the disappointment Charlie must have felt. Probably he doesn’t want to see his former ‘’hero’’ anymore, because he actually is a jerk. The setting takes places in New York City or more precisely around the Grand Central Station. Furthermore it takes place in four restaurants and by a newsstand. It is most likely to take place in the last half of the 20th century. It was first published in 1962, but the scene could still take place today. The fact that Charlie’s parents are divorced also makes the story more modern, since that problem is very common nowadays.
Back in that time where it was written it was unusual to be divorced, actually it was almost weird. Now let’s move on to the characterizations. Charlie is the main character and he’s probably a young boy. He lives with his mother, as his parents are divorced. His age is not mentioned, but in the text there is a line that makes him sound young: ‘’I knew that when I was grown I would be something like him’’. This makes the reader picture him as a child as he says ‘’when I was grown’’. But o the other hand later on he drinks alcohol with his father, which makes him seem to be almost a grownup.
To begin with, he looks very much up to his father, that changes and it all ends with him not wanting to be with his father and actually never wanting to see him again. During the story he doesn’t really say much. Of course he’s the narrator, but it is the father who leads the conversations. The father owns a club and has a secretary. He smells of ‘’…a rich compound of whiskey and after-shave lotion, shoe polish, woolens, and the rankness of a mature male. ’’. The fact that he smells partly of whiskey suggests that he had been drinking. His behavior could also verify that, as he behaved like an unstable person.
He could also just be very, very arrogant as he almost feels that he is more than for example the waiters. He talks down to people and is generally very unpleasant. Neither his name or age is mentioned, but he might be in the mid-forties. The characters are directly told about by the narrator for example in this part of the text ‘’I smelled my father the way my mother sniffs a rose. It was a rich compound of whiskey and after-shave lotion, shoe polish, woollens, and the rankness of a mature male’’. He describes his father directly with a comment on his smell.
It is called ‘’ direct characterization’’ The father is a flat character – he remains the same throughout the story. He remains being a jerk, while Charlie is a round character as he develops throughout the story. At first he is excited to see his father again, but he ends up not wanting to ever see him again. We are dealing with a first-person narrator, who in this story is the protagonist. The ending could be seen as a surprise ending since Charlie starts being excited to see his father but ends up saying ‘’Goodbye’’ and never wanting to see him again.
On the other hand it isn’t really surprising, as the father throughout the story seems very unpleasant and maybe even embarrassing to be around. It is a case of argument. The themes in this short story are love, father and son relationship, expectations, abuse of alcohol, disappointment (the grass isn’t always greener on the other side) and the hard word ‘’goodbye’’. The message here must be not to have too high expectations and that people change. Now it’s time to draw parallels between ‘’Reunion’’ and ‘’Living With Strangers’’. These two stories both take place in New York and they both touch the subject ‘’the meeting with strangers’’.
In ‘’Living With Strangers’’ the narrator tells us about strange strangers, but in ‘’Reunion’’ Charlie’s father actually is the strange stranger. He marks the people he talks down to, with his boisterousness. They will maybe think back some time of the ‘’drunk/arrogant jerk, who thought he owned the world’’. Generally these two stories show the two sides of a story. Another parallel could be the ‘’not making a big deal out of something’’. The waiters f. ex. don’t make a big deal out of the boisterousness, they just send Charlie’s father outside. That is the ‘’PRETEND IT ISN’T HAPPENING’’-rule.

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