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John Cheever’s short story “The Reunion” is considered an initiation story because the protagonist of the story shifts from the viewpoint of a child to that of an adult during the action of the story. The story is very brief, detailing the hour and a half-long reunion meeting between a young man named Charlie and his father, whom he hasn’t seen for three years. Through a series of progressive events, Charlie, who started the story illustrating how proud he was of being with his father, is disillusioned about the man he discovers during his visit.
The protagonist learns the truth about his father as the two of them make their way from one restaurant to another in an attempt to share lunch. Although Charlie is happy to be with his father, it doesn’t take long before he begins finding fault with the older man. In the first restaurant they enter, the father begins to make a great deal of noise in an attempt to attract the attention of the only waiter in sight, despite the fact that the restaurant is empty.
Charlie comments, “His boisterousness in the empty restaurant seemed out of place” while his behavior is successful in provoking a negative response from the waiter, who refuses to serve them.
While the father isn’t so immediately irritating at the second restaurant, his tendency to kick up a fuss apparently at random also drives the father and son out of this restaurant. In the third restaurant, Charlie tells the reader, “We sat down, and my father began to shout again,” this time not even managing to slur his way through the order before losing patience with the waiter and dragging Charlie into the street again. The father’s obnoxious behavior is carried out in Italian in the fourth restaurant. Based on the type of food they serve, the father refuses to believe that no one there actually speaks Italian. Upon leaving this restaurant, Charlie has had his fill and has noticed that it is now time for him to get back to the train.
In spending this brief time with his father, it is clear that Charlie becomes disillusioned regarding the greatness of the man. At the beginning of the story, he is thrilled to be associated in any way with the man he would someday resemble. “I hoped that someone would see us together. I wished that we could be photographed. I wanted some record of us have been together.” However, the rude behavior of his father as they pass through all these restaurants begins to give Charlie a sense of the actual smallness of the man. By the end of the story, it seems Charlie just can’t wait to get back on the train.
While his dad stops to buy a paper for him to read on the train, Charlie continues to rush forward. This is partly because of the way his father initiates his conversation with the newspaperman by asking him for “one of your God-damned, no-good, ten-cent afternoon papers” and, finally and perhaps unnecessarily, making his intentions perfectly clear to his son: “Just wait a second. I want to get a rise out this chap.”
The progression of father and son through the restaurants of New York forces the transformation of Charlie from the young idealist he is when he arrives at the disillusioned self-enlightened individual who leaves without ever returning.
Having his hopes and dreams of the ‘real man’ his father had been in his mind, Charlie gets a glimpse of his father as he really is – a petty man attempting to provoke reactions out of others as a means of demonstrating his power and importance. Charlie’s simple statement at the end of the story, “that was the last time I saw my father” emphasizes the importance of this meeting in terms of opening Charlie’s eyes.
Cheever, John. “Reunion.”