Ambiguity refers to the ability of a behavior, word or expression that can be understood or interpreted in different ways. There are two types of ambiguity. The first type refers to unintentional, ambiguity being used unintentionally. This means that the range of ambiguity is not under control and therefore can spiral into a negative outcome. The second type of ambiguity refers to it being used strategically. This means that ambiguity can be used to create critical thinking among the readership. The reader is then encouraged to create and participate in figuring out the story’s meaning in depth.
The short story by John Cheever “The Swimmer” creates ambiguity throughout the story. The main character, Neddy, is depicted as a male individual who enjoys swimming. Ned decided to return home by swimming across the various pools of their neighbors’ homes. Ned then embarks on a journey through pools in the county. Throughout the journey, the neighbors show ambiguous perceptions in the presence of Ned. Some pools are empty, while others are excessively muddy and full, with chemicals. Thereafter, the neighbors become more hostile.
As the story goes on, the reader realizes that Ned hides a tormented past and is slowly showing increasing instability and vulnerability. In the story by Sherwood Anderson “Hands” the author portrays signs of ambiguity. The main character, Wing Biddlebaum, has an ambiguous past. The story begins by informing the reader on Wing Biddlebaum and his wait for the arrival of George Willard. There is little information on George except that whenever Wing is around George he feels free and safe. The story then flashes back to the time where Wing was known as Adolf Myers.
Adolf Myers was a school teacher who was accused of an incident concerning a youth in the school. The ambiguity of the story suggests that it can be open for interpretation. The story “Hands” by Sherwood Anderson can be seen as unintentional ambiguity. As mentioned before when a text contains unintentional ambiguity it tends to result in almost always negative. The ambiguity is also often uncontrolled causing negative interpretation. Wing Biddlebaum can be seen as a pedophile and also as a homosexual. The reader can suggest this just by reading the passage of the story.
The following is from the story “Hands,” “Although he still hungered for the presence of the boy, who was the medium through which he expressed his love of man… ” this suggests that Wing Biddle did have hidden feeling for George Willard. “The Swimmer” a story by John Cheever can demonstrate a strategic ambiguity. This type of vagueness can create a deepness in a story that can cause the reader to be fully engaged with the meaning behind the story. The ambiguity is controlled in a way that it paces the story in order for it to capture the readers’ attention.
The main character Ned, is apparently swimming through pools in order to arrive at his house all in one single afternoon. Yet, there are parts of the story in which it gives off the contrary. “The force of the wind had stripped a maple of its red and yellow leaves and scattered them over the grass and the water” is stated in the story “The Swimmer” and this can suggest that time is indeed passing. Both stories arise a sense of ambiguity in them. “The Swimmer” and “Hands” both portray situations that can be interpreted in different ways. The Swimmer” by John Cheever mentioned many different characters that contributed to the ambiguity of the story. The neighbors were a part of the ambiguity since they were constantly changing their perception of Ned. In the story “Hands” by Sherwood Anderson the true nature of Wing is unknown. Questions concerning the incident at the school, where Adolf Myers was a part of can spark the reader’s thinking. Therefore, Wing can be seen as either a negative character or a confused and innocent character.
Some similarities between the feelings of “ungroundedness” the stories create in the reader are the sense of curiosity and desperation. The reader gets pulled into the story from the beginning. In the story by John Cheever “The Swimmer” the reader can feel the desperation as to finding out what the story is trying to convey. The reader is also curious as to why the neighbor’s perception of Ned changes throughout the story. Similar to “The Swimmer,” the story of “Hands” by Sherwood Anderson also demonstrates a feeling of curiosity and ration toward the story.
The reader is curious to figure out the true nature of Wing Biddlebaum and his feelings to George. The feeling of desperation comes in when the reader is trying to figure out if the incident that occurred in the school concerning a student is to seen as a negative situation. The difference between the feelings of “ungroundedness” the stories create in the reader is the open interpretations. Each story is its own and therefore can illustrate different interpretations depending on the information gathered from the stories.
In the story “Hands” by Sherwood Anderson the reader can argue that Adolf Myers was a pedophile or the contrary. There are different possibilities as long as it can be backed up with reference. While in the story of “The Swimmer” by John Cheever the reader can argue on the time frame of the whole story. Did the whole story really take place in one afternoon or a series of years? This is something a reader can ask themselves while reading the short story. To conclude, the two stories “Hands” and “The Swimmer” portray ambiguity throughout the text.
Both stories lack information on certain things that let the reader come up with interpretations of the story. There are two types of ambiguity and both can be seen in the stories. The use of unintentional ambiguity can be seen in the story “Hands” while the use of strategic ambiguity can be seen in the story “The Swimmer. ” The stories let the readers express their interpretations based on the gathered information. This is essential in order for the reader to build up participation on the stories to figure out the meaning behind the ambiguity.