John William Cheever (May 27, 1912 – June 18, 1982) was an American novelist and short story writer. His stories comprise magical realism and psychological analysis of American society, focusing on the middle class. His main themes include the duality of human nature: sometimes dramatized as the disparity between a character's seeming social personality and inner corruption, and sometimes as a conflict between two characters (often brothers) who embody the salient aspects of both – light and dark, flesh and spirit. Many of his works also express a nostalgia for a vanishing way of life, characterized by abiding cultural traditions and a profound sense of community. On April 27, 1982, Cheever was awarded the National Medal for Literature by the American Academy of Arts and Letters. His work has been included in the Library of America.
The story under analysis is The Pleasures of Solitude, representing the mixture of psychological and social story. It belongs to a psychological type of story because the author depicts the inner world of the main character Ellen Goodrich. It also deals with various problems such as the problem of loneliness, a problem socialization and intrapersonal difficulties. As for the social aspect, the story deals with the problem of poverty and the gap between the world of the rich and the poor.
In the exposition we get to know that a young woman lives and works in Chelsea and doesn’t have any friends. She is staying on her own in a room when she hears an unexpected knock in the door. She sees 2 boys, invites them to come in and then the events start to develop. The woman feels pity for these poor children and can’t hide her joy when the boys come for the second time, but it disappears at once when she finds out her purse is missing. This is the climax of the story, showing her inner hysteria about the loss of money as she was too concerned with her financial state. The climax is followed by denouement, when the boys come again and ask her for money, but meeting the negative answer one of them takes the money by force. Desperate, Ellen moves to another flat, but they find her, and the woman’s anger is released. She strikes one of the boys and another one cries out to police. The story has an open plot structure.
The narration is retrospective as the events are rendered as they occur. It is done in the 3rd person singular, interrupted by dialogues, which serve as means of direct speech characterization.
The boys’ speech seems to be very simple and as unsophisticated as in can be, the sentences they use are elliptical and not extended, which is easily explained by their level of education or even its absence and the place where they live, the squalor of the lower East Side.
In dialogues between Ellen and the boys we trace the principle of analogy and contrast. The analogy is seen on syntactical level, as they both use laconic elliptical phrases, % I'm very sorry; Maybe she's moved; You got a nice place here, Miss and many others. Moreover, their utterances consist of parallel constructions enhanced by anaphoric repetition and parallel constructions: We ain't got any overcoats, Miss." "We ain't got any overcoats."; Get out,". "Get out of here before I call a policeman!". However. Ellen’s speech gets more concerned and excited when she talks to her mother about her brother’s financial problems, explaining her refusal to help him by giving a loan. When her histerical outburst is depicted, she cries out the following phrase a lot of times:"They don't have to steal!" "They don't have to steal! They don't have to!", this repetition shows her inner conflict between the way she imagines the situation, having read a lot of books, and the real state of affairs, the cruel world of modern society she has to face. This contrast reveals Ellen’s inability to handle her loneliness and deal with the problems on her own, as her talking to the police would sound unconvincing and even suspicious, these epithets portray her uncertainty and insecurity. The chaos in the woman’s inner world is emphasized with zeugma: ‘it was better to lose the fifteen or twenty dollars that had been in her purse than to lose her peace of mind’.
Ellen’s loneliness is highlighted in the repetition: I'm very glad you stopped. I'm very glad you stopped, proving the idea of her being alone for too long, though, she wouldn’t admit it even to herself. The mere fact that she submits to the impulse of letting the boys in and chat with them shows that solitude is not her true desire, she is just used to this thought and convinced herself that it’s the best and the only way for her existence. The irony is traced in the sentence telling about Ellen’s past: ‘During the ten years she had lived in New York she had suffered a great deal from loneliness, but this suffering was forgotten now because of the care with which she arranged her solitude.’
The contrast between Ellen and the boys is clearly seen even in their names. Goodrich is a telling name, inferring that Ellen is a rather decent human being possessing a stable financial income. As for the boys, we don’t even know their names, which strengthens the idea of social inequality, since there are a lot of poor people whose individuality is neglected at all levels. Still, Ellen’s well-being didn’t make her happy, although formally she did what she wanted as ‘She knew no one in the city intimately; there was no one she could expect’, the lexical repetition here enhances her loneliness, but in reality she was too reserved to get acquainted and make friends with other people, so she plunged into her invented solitude, hiding from the world and from her desires, having created her universe of books, work and earning money.
A poetic detail – overcoats – expresses Ellen’s worry about the boys and symbolizes her privileged social status compared to the poor people. On the other hand, she is too greedy and probably it’s her lack of generosity that leads to the troubles she faces. Her final cries ‘Leave me alone, leave me alone’ again reveal her lack of confidence, she feels unsafe and beats a child in a fit of temper.
The theme of the story is the social problem of interrelation between the rich and the poor, and another one is the problem of loneliness and the consequences it might lead to, its negative influence upon a person and sometimes even moral degradation.
The idea deals with the fact that one not only has to be sympathetic to other people’s hardships, but take action in order to help others in need and lend a helping hand, no matter what social class he or she belongs to. Another idea is that people shouldn’t deceive themselves by persuading that solitude is the only possible way of living for them. It’s much better to be friendly and helpful towards others without any selfishness, then you won’t feel lonely and miserable, rejected by the ones surrounding you.