Essay on The Reunion by John Cheever
As children, we look up to our parents as role models, and it’s important to have them in our lives to know they care. A parent’s responsibility is not only to provide food and shelter, but also to set a good example for their child. Sadly, this isn’t always the case. Oftentimes, parents are inattentive to their child’s needs, parents who don’t set the right example for their children. In John Cheever’s story “Reunion”, we see a classic example of how a father does not play the ‘role model dad’ his son was hoping for.
In this story’s narrative, Charlie is seeing his father three years after his mother divorced him. We instantly see what Charlie thinks of his father: “to me he was a stranger, my flesh and blood, my future and my destiny”. We see that this relationship is a distant and an estranged one. A son normally wants to look up to his father, however, in this case Charlie sees this role model as a “doom.”
As I read the first part of the story, I couldn’t help but try to put myself in Charlie’s shoes. Growing up, I was fortunate enough to have a family where I shared a good relationship with my parents. However, as I lived in a joint family, I watched how my grandfather’s job as a policeman affected his behaviour. I, then, understood Charlie’s position. My father told me how he used to long for more time with my grandfather, who was rarely at home as he was a cop. My father also told me how, on most evenings, he found my grandfather in a negative mood and how little time he had available to spend with his family. I could see how this most have affected my father.
Charlie gives us his father’s initial characterization by observing the following: “He was a great looking man,I smelled my father as my mother sniffs a rose. It was a rich compound of whisky, aftershave lotion, shoe polish, woolens, and the rank of a mature male.” When they go into a couple of restaurants, it is visible that the father has a condescending attitude towards the waiters. He raises his voice while trying to order his whisky and talks in various languages to show his dominance. As humorous as it is, he orders “two Bibson Geefeaters” while trying to belittle the waiter at one of the restaurants. As the hour and a half went by, the actions of Charlie’s father became increasingly obnoxious. We could infer with the information given in the exhibition that Charlie knew he could never see his father again.
This part of the story reminds me of those nights my father told me about, when he was a child, where he would try to stay awake till late, just so he could see my grandfather after he came back from work. My father said, “I remember, quite often, seeing empty cans of beer on the table, and my father being loud and acting ‘strange’. With time, I realized that alcohol affects behaviour, and I was disappointed in my father”. I sympathized with Charlie, and I could feel his disappointment.
Circling back to where the story started from, Grand Central Station, the end of the story brings us back there. However, unlike the beginning, this time Charlie is disappointed as he hoped his father would be someone he could look up to and love. Instead, he has discovered that his father is anything but that and in the span of an hour, lost his admiration for him. As Charlie is desperately trying to hold onto his hopeless relationship with his father, he begins to understand, though, that he must let it go. This story is powerful in its simplicity.
The term ‘ reunion’ is pleasant to hear. Family reunions usually symbolize a fun gathering, something we look forward to. In this case, the bond between a father and son was almost tragic, as we see how much Charlie looked forward to seeing his father and then being disappointed. Although this was a short story, John Cheever did an exceptional job of conveying incredible imagery and emotional evocation. By using the first-person narrative in the perception of Charlie, we as readers tend to feel more for Charlie. For those who are parents our feelings are some kind of rage, maybe anger at alcoholism, or just anger at Charlie’s father for being an unfit parent. It’s always a shame to see how negative the effects are on children due to the ill choices a parent makes in life. A father should be a source of pride, an inspiration, especially to a son.
The end of the story hit me with a force. Looking at how disappointed Charlie was, I realized how lucky I am to have parents that are so caring and attentive to my needs. Watching my dad work as hard as he did, and become what he is today, inspires me till today to work hard and achieve my goals in life. The beautiful relationship I share with my parents has brought me here today and will take me where I want to go.