Learning To Swim Is A Short Story By Graham Swift

‘Learning to swim’ is a short story by Graham Swift from 1982. Swift is an English author. He is a successful writer, some of his books are prize-winning. A couple of them are also filmed, for example, ‘Waterland’ from 1992. He also has three short stories, including ‘Learning to swim’.

The story itself is about a couple, Mr. and Mrs. Singleton. They aren’t a perfect fit. However, they have a child together, named Paul. Mr. Singleton works in a company that builds bridges, but back in the days, he was a very sportive person.

He likes to swim and you can notice that through the story. Mrs. Singleton is a totally different person, she is way more artistic.. As mentioned before, their relationship isn’t that good. She thinks three times of leaving him, he thinks two times of leaving her. After reading the story, we chose the research question is “How do Mr. and Mrs. Singleton see the ideal partner? And is their relationship in ‘Learning to swim’ in line with what they hoped?”.

In the beginning, describes Mrs. Singleton the three times she thinks about leaving. The first time, before they are married. They sit on a plane, right after their trip to Greece. She thinks he fails to appreciate all the beauty of the country. She won’t marry him, that’s her idea. The second time, about one year later. He has a new job, a much better one but he seems untouched by the fact that their life is better now.

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She thinks: “He likes bridges and tunnels better than me.” He is a professional at his work but is becoming a stranger to her. The third time takes very long for her. It starts by calculating how often he makes love to her. It becomes less frequent. But it was a problem since the beginning of their relationship. She also describes her ideal partner, someone artistic: “All her lovers would be artists. Poets would write poems to her, composers would dedicate their works to her. She would even pose, naked and immaculate, for painters, who having committed her true, her eternal form to canvas, would make love to her in an impalpable, ethereal way, under power of which her bodily and temporal self would melt away, perhaps for ever.”

A bit later in the story, Mr. Singleton tells about his past. We learn when he thinks of leaving her. The first time was after a concert. They don’t know each other very long. He had to do like he enjoys everything and he doesn’t like that. He feels obligated to go to all those ‘boring’ things with her. He also doesn’t want to marry her. The second time is after a few years of marriage. He is at his work, hasn’t seen his wife in a week. He thinks: “If he were to step out now into the grey air he would be quite by himself, no harm would come to him.” He reflects on his past when he is a teenage boy who loves swimming. He is an outstanding swimmer. The happiest period in his life is when he is thirteen and seventeen years old. He had absolutely no worries in his life, his sport is always the excuse.

The headmaster would always stand up for him. He didn’t need to stop swimming, even though his school results are not that good. His sport is the only thing that matters to him, even his friends couldn’t understand why he never goes to dances or to the Expresso. There is a huge shift in his life when he is seventeen. The headmaster is no longer on his side. He says: “You can’t swim into your future.” Because of this, he abandons his swimming. He focusses himself on his studies. His school results get better, but he isn’t the best student. Only sometimes, he goes to the university pool to relax. He feels confident when he is able to beat a member of the university team. You can notice his passion for swimming even when he makes love to his wife. “He wants to swim through her body.” We don’t learn a lot about his idea of the ideal partner, he only mentions a small thing: “He meant ‘flabby of altitude’. And what he meant by this, or wanted to mean, was that he was not flabby; that he worked, facing the real world, erecting great solid things on the face of the land, and that, whilst he worked, he disdained work’s rewards. (…) that he hadn’t gone soft, as she had done (…)”

They tell about the arguments they have. There are so many. Between the two characters are also a lot misunderstandings, she thinks he doesn’t want to be happy, that he can’t appreciate a thing. She is partly wrong, he doesn’t show much emotions, but sometimes the things he says are often meant in another way than they seem. This is visible when he calls her ‘flabby’, she thinks that this is about her body but it is actually ‘flabby of altitude’. During her pregnancy, they don’t become closer. He acts like a child with his exercises, for her it is only herself and the womb.

In the last part of the story, it’s all about Paul. Right after birth, it seems like he is an unwanted child. When they are at the beach, Mr. Singleton is giving swimming lessons to Paul. He is harsh for Paul, like he is punishing him. Mrs. Singleton wants them to come out of the water. She is very protective for Paul, when Mr. Singleton is swimming, she says he doesn’t need to look. Paul fails a lot during his lessons, but his father doesn’t give up. When Paul success smiles Mr. Singleton in a weird way, she thinks that’s enough. They see Paul as a weapon to fight each other, to win from each other. She tries to attract Paul with an ice-cream. She is ignored and feels like the waterline is a border between their territory. Paul stays in the water, but he is afraid of it. He will never be the boy his father wants, a swimmer, just like him.

The conclusion is that they have a dysfunctional relationship, already since the beginning. Characters in Swift’ stories are seldom happy. This becomes clear in the other stories. “These stories represent a fiction of unrest. All of the characters are unhappy, and in those rare occasions when they are happy they seem to be very uncomfortable.” Those feelings are the feelings that the couple experiences the most. To answer the research question, they aren’t each other’s ideal partner and they know this. Their relationship is totally different, it is a constant war between them with no winner or loser. 

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Learning To Swim Is A Short Story By Graham Swift. (2022, Jul 16). Retrieved from https://paperap.com/learning-to-swim-is-a-short-story-by-graham-swift/

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