Last Updated 13 May 2021

The Swimmer by John Cheever

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Neddy’s journey home through the pools of his neighborhood turns into a journey through many years of his life, showing that passage of time is inevitable, no matter how much one might ignore it. Neddy has mastered the art of denial. At the beginning of the story, the narrator tells us that Neddy is far from young, but he does his best to act young by sliding down a banister and dividing headlong into a pool. The long afternoon at the Westerhazy’s pool seems timeless, no different, we can assume, from many thers afternoons spent exactly the same way. As Neddy’s journey progresses, we see that time is actually passing much more quickly than Neddy realizes. Leaves and hedges turn yellow and red, the constellations in the sky change, and the air gets colder. Friends not at home when he expects them to be, he faces scorn from the people he would once scorned, his mistress wants nothing to do with him, and he learns that a friend has been very ill. All these changes have happened without Neddy’s knowledge. Neddy question his memory, but he also onders whether he has simply denied reality to a dangerous degree. His peers have acted their age and faced adult problems, whereas he has raised.

The pervasive consumption of alcohol throughout the story sharpens the distortion of time and Neddy’s sense of unhappiness. The drinking, serving, and desire for alcohol become significant motivators for Neddy as well as a way to measure his social standing. At the beginning of the story, everyone is complaining of having drunk too much the night before, but they have gathered companionably at the Westerhazys’ pool o drink again. Neddy drinks gin before he decides to swim from pool to pool, and his swim home is marked as much by fresh drinks as by new swimming pool. At the Bunkers’ party, Neddy feels comforted and happy when he is given a drink, whereas at the Biswangers’ party, he feels slighted by the way his drink is served. As his journey grows more difficult, Neddy wishes deeply for a drink but is often turned down, once at the Sachses’ and once at Shirley Adam’s. His desire for a drink grows strongly as he grows weaker, and the amount of alcohol he has consumed during is journey could explain clearly the harsh bewildering emotional place in which Neddy finds himself at the end of the story.

The pools that Neddy swims through as he makes his way home represent periods of time that Neddy passes through. At the beginning of the story, Neddy is strong and active, feels deep contentment with his life, and is admired by his friends. Warm is the sun, he feels like a legendary figure, as though there is nothing he can’t accomplish. As he progresses from pool to pool, however, Neddy changes. Physically, he grows eaker, unable to pull himself out of pool without a ladder and unwilling to drive in as he once did. Instead of being warm, he eventually feels chilled to the bone. Around him, the sunny summer day grows increasingly cooler, and a storm passes. The trees, meanwhile, lose their leaves, and the constellations change to those of autumn. His standing in his social circle has changed as well. Once respected and given to snubbing those who are not part of his group, he is now snubbed by Grace Biswanger and the bartender at the party, Which Neddy is not aware that he has suffered.

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A lot has happened as he has been moving from pool to pool. Neddy has named the chain of pools the “Lucinda River”, invoking the security and longevity of his marriage and family, but his choice of name becomes sad and ironic when he winds up at his dark, deserted home. Neddy has taken Lucinda, just as he took his comfortable life, for granted. We don’t know much about their marriage, but we know of Neddy’s affair with Shirley, an affair he treated lightly and to which he attached no meaning.

The changes in weather and season that occur throughout the story mirror Neddy’s hanging life circumstances, particularly the deterioration of his comfort and security. At the beginning of the story, Neddy is warm in the sunshine, conscious of nothing but his own happiness and the pleasures of the day. As he begins his swim, the water and air are of comfortable temperature, and he can walk easily from pool to pool in his swim trunks. Shortly into his journey, a storm passes, making a turning point in Neddy’s plans. He is alone for the first time, waiting out the storm in a deserted gazebo; and when the storm ends, the warmth is gone. He is chilly, and the red and yellow leaves n the ground suggest falls. Neddy feels a peculiar sadness, the first time he feels anything other than happiness. Weather and season are not kind to Neddy from this moment on. He gets colder, sees more signs of fall, and changes from a robust traveler into a pathetic figure by the highway. Autumn arrives in full as Neddy finishes his journey, and the final pool he swims in has freezing cold water. Just as Neddy’s happy life has come to a close, the cycle of seasons has been completed as well, and it is clear by the end of the story that Neddy’s is entering the winter of his life.

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Explore how the human body functions as one unit in harmony in order to life

The Swimmer by John Cheever. (2018, Jan 15). Retrieved from

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