Summary of “The Hartleys” by John Cheever

The Hartleys John Cheever Summary
“The Hartleys” Summary

“The Hartleys” is a short story by John Cheever, first published in 1949 and appearing in his 1953 collection The Enormous Radio and Other Stories. It’s about a married couple who return to an inn where they had a wonderful time eight years prior. This time, they’re accompanied by their seven-year-old daughter, and they have an air of misfortune about them. Here’s a summary of “The Hartleys”.

“The Hartleys” Summary

Mr. and Mrs. Hartley, along with their seven-year-old daughter, Anne, arrive at the Permaquoddy Inn after dinner. They drove through the snow all the way from New York. Mr. Hartley signs them in. He and his wife stayed there together eight years ago and had a great time. They’re all very tired. They have a little food and go upstairs.

The guests come mainly for the skiing, on the mountains and a hill behind the inn, equipped with a primitive ski tow built by the owner’s son.

The next morning, the Hartleys head to the mountains. Mrs. Hartley forgets her skis and the bus waits while her husband retrieves them. Mr. Hartley is a good skier and gets a lot of runs in, and Mrs. Hartley is competent. Anne can’t ski and stands watching her parents. She won’t try unless her dad shows her.

Anne is confident as she follows her dad up and down the hill. After lunch, he and Mrs. Hartley ski some trails and he gets Anne to join a beginner’s class for a few hours. Anne pays attention to the instructor until her parents are out of sight, and then she coasts down to the hut and sits by the fire all afternoon. When her parents return, she’s relieved to see her dad, thinking he wasn’t coming back.

They have some drinks in the bar that evening. Anne is interested in everything her dad says and does. The Hartleys talk more to Anne than to each other. Mrs. Hartley hurries up to the room after her husband speaks sharply to her.

Mr. Hartley and Anne have dinner. After, he reads in the parlor while Anne leads some younger children in a card game and story. After taking Anne up to bed at nine, Mr. Hartley comes back down to drink and talk to the bartender.

Their days pass similarly to the first. Anne skis with her father but quits as soon as he leaves. He urges her to be self-reliant, one day losing his temper over it, but she doesn’t change. Some days Mr. Hartley comes back early and gives Anne a skating lesson at the rink.

The other gusts like the Hartleys but get the sense they’ve recently suffered some kind of loss. Mrs. Hartley is absent-minded and joins in every conversation she can. She talks of her father, who was a doctor, and her childhood home. Mr. Hartley speaks of his father as well.

Anne is close to her mother as well, resting against her on the sofa in the evenings. She comforts Anne one night when she wakes up screaming from a nightmare.

The next day it’s warm and it rains. Most of the guests stay in at the bar. Anne plays in the parlor with the other children, while the Hartleys arrange to have their dinner in their room. On her rounds picking up the trays, the maid hears Mrs. Hartley’s emotional voice from the room. She’s asking why they keep looking to the past to be happy. They reach out to old friends and go places they used to go, but it does no good. They should separate again, with her taking Anne. That what better for everyone.

Everything freezes again overnight. The mountain trail are closed in the morning, so they start up the primitive tow line on the hill. It’s the only ski spot around, and guests from other hotels arrive to use it as well. The rope is frayed and the pull is uneven. Mr. Hartley shows Anne how to use it, and she follows him up and down it all morning.

It’s a lovely afternoon. The skiers talk as they wait to ride the tow, and a rhythm is created by the tow motor and creak of the iron wheel. From a distance, things are very quiet. Anne starts shrieking. Her arm is caught in the frayed rope and she’s being dragged toward the iron wheel. Her father yells to stop the tow and everyone else joins in. There’s no staff member there to stop it. Anne’s shrieks are heard until the iron wheel breaks her neck.

The Hartleys leave that night for New York, driving behind the hearse. The night is beautiful and cold, and the drive is long.

I hope this summary of “The Hartleys” by John Cheever was helpful.