O Youth and Beauty

An analysis of the character, Cash Bentley, in John Cheever’s O Youth and Beauty who fears getting old.

John Cheever’s work is peppered with themes of alienation from the self and from society. Cash Bentley, the protagonist in Cheever’s short story O Youth and Beauty, is a middle-aged executive who is bent on recapturing his collegiate youth and vigor and accompanying prowess, by hurdling the furniture in his living room. In the act of leaping, Bentley is transported back in time, in his head only. In fact, as he is leaping, Bentley falls and breaks his leg. But, that symbolic injury does not stop him. Instead, he continues to engage in his fantasy, desperately trying to be young and beautiful again and finds his end, tragically and ironically, as his wife accidentally shoots and kills him with a starter pistol. This story, like many of Cheever’s other works such as “The Swimmer”, runs on the theme of a fear of getting old. The characters in these stories grew up and developed their sense of professionalism in the atomic age when men could not be anything but masters of the world. Cash Bentley is a man detached from his age and from himself.