Neddy, a seemingly energetic and cheerful husband and father, decides one summer afternoon that he will swim his way home from a cocktail party through the array of public and private swimming pools scattered throughout his neighborhood. Through increasingly strange encounters with his neighbors and resurfacing ideas of some serious life problems, the once-vibrant Neddy begins to transform into a tired and confused older man. Neddy is slowly forced to acknowledge the fact that his married adult life may actually be one enormous lie. As the story comes to a close, Neddy arrives at his house only to find that it has been abandoned, his wife and children nowhere to be found.
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Search this website "The Swimmer" by John Cheever: Summary and Analysis Growing older is one of the hardest challenges we face in life, and if that obstacle is dealt with in a rash manner, and without much thought it can lead to feelings of helplessness, denial, confusion, and resentment.
John Cheever addresses this issue in one of his most noted works, "The Summer". This article gives you its summary and analysis.
When we possess all the luxuries in the world, we often lose sight of things that are important, like responsibility and relationships. Such ignorance often leads a person to feel helpless, angry, confused, and resentful. And when this happens, we assume that the easiest way to deal with it is through denial or repression. But such measures only go so far to protect us from reality. Eventually, the facts catch up with us and we are thrown into a world of chaos. It is the portrait of the lives of people in post World War II suburban America, and the lifestyles and experiences of people during that time.
It begins by showing us how life revolved around affluence, drinking, and sports, and how they spent the weekends relaxing and drinking. It is a beautiful summer day with apple trees blooming in the background. Neddy is by a beautiful shimmering pool, and being a man who loved swimming, he goes in to perform the act. He seems to be young, energetic, and lives a life filled with ease and comfort. While in the pool, he comes up with the seemingly bright idea of covering the distance between the Westerhazy residence and back to his home by swimming in the pools of the people who live within that route.
These are friends and he takes it for granted that no one will mind, and he imagines that he will have the journey of an explorer, much like those swimming the English Channel.
He decides to name this swimming route the Lucinda River after his wife. The Journey At first he goes through each of the homes with ease, met with greetings from his friends and invitations for a drink, which he gladly accepts. He takes a swim in their pools, and moves on to the next. This happens with the Grahams, the Hammers, and the Lears.
The Howlands and the Crossups are away and he finishes his swim and is on his way, following the route of pools he has worked out in his head. The Bunkers are next and they too greet him and let him have a go at the pool. After his swim, the storm takes full force and he stops for shelter at the gazebo.
Looking at the Japanese lanterns that were hung there, he cannot recall when the Levys had visited Japan. The storm seems to have stripped away the leaves from the trees and they oddly bear the colors of autumn. He then goes to the Lindley home and finds the pool covered, and the family away. This makes him question his memory. The storm passes, and his moods lift as he moves on to route in the direction of the public pool in Lancaster.
Here he is faced with another harsh reality. He is aware that crossing the highway in his minimal clothing will prove to be a problem, but something pushes him to finish his journey. After being mocked at and ridiculed by the passers-by, he eventually crosses over and heads into the public pool. The murky, chlorinated waters, and chaos in the pool seems distasteful to him, but he follows through with his original plan. He is aware that the Hallorans enjoyed naked swims, and to conform with that he follows suit and takes his routine swim.
This is a turning point because discrepancies in the facts seem to emerge. The Hallorans tell him that they were sorry to hear about his misfortunes, the selling of his property, and the problems in his family. He seems puzzled, because he has no recollection of these events.
His mood shifts to a depressed and confused state, and the smell of burning wood adds to this in his mind, it is mid-summer. But he keeps going. He meets the Sachses next, and requests for a drink, and is surprised to hear that his friend Eric had an operation three years ago, after which he had avoided alcohol. He swims in the pool and goes to the Biswangers and his confused state reaches a high, when instead of a warm welcome he faces a cold and unwelcoming host.
He is even treated badly by the bartender and realizes that his social standing must have fallen because that treatment by a barkeep is a serious offense. We realize here that this is said in relation to Neddy, but he seems all the more perplexed.
We see a change in him, as the once energetic and warm Ned, slowly starts feeling tired and cold, and climbs out of the pool, instead of hoisting himself up. Looking up at the sky, he sees the autumn constellations and his misery and confusion reaches a painful point and he breaks into tears. He swims through the last two pools in pain, and finally reaches home. He is surprised to find the house locked and in darkness.
He tries the garage door which is rusty. When he looks into the house it is empty, and the story ends on a climactic high. But as we all know, time eventually catches up with us, and throws reality into our faces when we least expect it. This is seen through the quick changing of the seasons and the seemingly sudden aging you see in Neddy. Changing Face of Suburbia The suburbs are marked by an unmentioned hierarchy in the social class and people seem to have a one-track mind.
Every home seems to have the same show of affluence, the same participation in socialization and alcohol consumption, and the same masked pretense of closeness. At first he is treated as royalty because he is rich and successful, but slowly we see that the treatment meted out to him is cold and harsh.
People who were once friends and lovers have now left his side. Even he has judged people based on wealth, and the very same people now look down upon him. The fact that everyone is boundlessly consuming alcohol seems in a sense an attempt by them all to conceal the facade that they live each day.
Repression of Reality and Hopelessness Ned seems to live in a world of denial and his need to avoid painful memories, details, and occurrences is reflected in his confused state when he hears certain facts.
In his mind he has repressed the truth in order to avoid dealing with the consequences, but they eventually catch up with him in a heart-breaking manner. Symbolisms The Pool The central symbolism in the short story is the water and the pools themselves. They are reflective of the changes faced by Ned.
At first the pool is shimmering and a pale green shade, which is a symbol of youth and experience. He seems to reflect that because he is active and energetic for his age, and always up for adventures. The following pool is just as inviting with its sapphire hue. But as his journey moves along, things take a dark turn. The pools turn murky, and so do his experiences.
He is then faced by the opaque gold pool where he faces the first truth, and the cold pool of Biswanger where he faces his second blow. Ned uses the water as a barrier between himself and the world, and the colors represent the changes in his life.
The dry pool he faces is a symbol of the mid-life crisis that he is facing, and being in water is his means of avoiding the truth. It goes through four seasons, giving us the image of a complete process, and symbolizing the cycle of life.
The storm in the story represents the problems that he has faced and forgotten, and the crashing of his mistakes down on his made-up reality. The cumulus clouds can be seen as a symbol for his clouded memory. Changing Seasons Nudity The nudity that he partakes in at the Halloran house can be a reflection of the vulnerability that he feels to face the truth. Motifs Alcohol The alcohol can be seen as an escape from reality and an attempt to mask the harsh facts.
It could have also be used to explain the changing mental state of Merrill. He seems disoriented, mentally impaired, has heightened energy, is confused, fatigued and shaky.
These are all signs of being under the influence and may have been the cause of his loss of memory and confused memory of events. The Map and Journey The map he has drawn out in his head to swim the route of pools on his way home can be seen as his journey to realization through a carefully charted path. At first it is all rainbows and roses, but it eventually turns into storms and misery.
Main Character Sketch Ned Merrill Ned is a disillusioned man who lives in a twisted reality that was born out of his repression of the truth. His youth slowly seems to face away and show that he is actually much older and facing mid-life crisis, and the life he thought he had, has all slipped away, including his wealth, friends, and family. Shirley Adams She is his former lover and the portrait of all the mistakes that Ned has made attributed to one single human.
Repetition John Cheever uses clever repetition in the beginning of the story to imprint the picture of the suburbs and its people into our minds. Imagery The detailed description of the changing color in the pools, of the seasons, with the leaves, the stars, the clouds, and the storm is a clever tactic used by the author to paint a picture of the changes.
Style Observational narrative, satire, social parable. Tone There is a tonal shift from a lazy, relaxed, beautiful Sunday afternoon to a frantic, confusing, painful, stormy, and nightmarish journey towards realization. Irony Ned names his route through the swimming pools Lucinda River, after his wife. Conflict There is conflict both internally due to his confused reality and memories, and external conflict with his friends, neighbors, and family, which is shown indirectly throughout the story.
Foreshadowing The constant change in weather and the comments made by the people all built-up to the ominous end. Allegory The story is an allegory for aging, mid-life crisis, and the cycle of life. Historical Context This story is based on Post World War II affluence experienced by suburban America, and the story is a reflection of the lives and ideals of the people back then.
Cheever himself was a part of this time period and it is probably written from experience. Aphrodite — Greek Goddess of Love. Cordite — An Explosive.
Dogleg — Bend in a golf fairway. Gazebo — Small structure with a roof, open sides, and seating accommodations from which people may view scenery. Kyoto — A city in Southwest Tokyo. Quasi-subterranean — Partially Underground. Stertorously — Breathing laboriously, like snoring. The paperback edition won the National Book Award in He died of cancer on June 18,
Search this website "The Swimmer" by John Cheever: Summary and Analysis Growing older is one of the hardest challenges we face in life, and if that obstacle is dealt with in a rash manner, and without much thought it can lead to feelings of helplessness, denial, confusion, and resentment. John Cheever addresses this issue in one of his most noted works, "The Summer". This article gives you its summary and analysis. When we possess all the luxuries in the world, we often lose sight of things that are important, like responsibility and relationships. Such ignorance often leads a person to feel helpless, angry, confused, and resentful.
The Swimmer by John Cheever – into a suburban darkness
On a whim, Neddy decides to return home by swimming through all the pools in the neighborhood, which he names "the Lucinda River" to honor his wife. He begins the journey enthusiastic and full of youthful energy and, in the early stops on his journey, his friends enthusiastically greet him with drinks; it is readily apparent that he is well-regarded, and has an upper or upper-middle-class social standing. Despite the ever-present afternoon light, it becomes unclear how much time has passed: at the beginning of the story it is clearly midsummer, but eventually all natural signs point to the season being autumn. Some old acquaintances Neddy encounters mention his financial problems, although he does not remember having such misfortunes. He is patently unwelcome at several houses belonging to owners of a lower social class. His earlier, youthful energy gradually declines, and it becomes increasingly painful and difficult for him to swim on.
"The Swimmer" by John Cheever: Summary and Analysis