Monday, September 1, 2014

The Life of Neddy Merrill: Dissociative Amnesia

To what degree can the mind assimilate lies into the invert reality ultimately desired?

As described by WebMD, “dissociative amnesia is one of a group of conditions called dissociative disorders. Dissociative disorders are mental illnesses that involve disruptions or breakdowns of memory, consciousness, awareness, identity, and/or perception. When one or more of these functions is disrupted, symptoms can result. These symptoms can interfere with a person's general functioning, including social and work activities, and relationships”(webMD). Dissociate Amnesia is, simply, enslavement in a false perception of existence. To become ensnared by fallacies within, one must first experience such a trauma that the being begins to accede into a delusional state. Neddy Merrill, unbeknownst to the reader, had begun to assimilate into delusion before the short story had even commenced. After finding the Welcher’s home to be uninhabited, Neddy began searching deep within the confines of his own mind. “Was his memory failing or had he so disciplined it in the repression of unpleasant facts that he had damaged his sense of the truth?”(“The Swimmer”) He became callous to the world around him. Neddy began to mitigate his surroundings subconsciously to protect his own vitality. His mind evolved into a state of aberration. Mr. Merrill was not a well man. It appeared as though his expedition on the “Lucinda River” was nothing more than a pursuit of truth within himself. Was Neddy Merrill rectified in his quest for answers? Is dissociate amnesia the cause for his awakening? Can someone overcome delusion and effectively transition back into society? 

Shutter Island depicts many of the ongoings Neddy Merrill was, too, encountering. It is a great basis for discussion and reflection. It is interesting that the lead character, a man with dissociative amnesia, was named Teddy as, similarly, the lead character in "The Swimmer" was named Neddy. Is this a coincidence or did the director intend to disinter the life of Neddy Merrill? 


  1. Well I'm a fan of this writing and Shutter Island and noticed the similar names also. But like in Shutter Island you must ask yourself is it better to remain in your delusion or to be raced with the harshness of your reality? Delusional Amnesia can be a psychological wall built up to protect yourself from the truth of what has happened to you. I think Ned might be better off believing in his lie honestly. Just like at the end of Shutter Island I was proud of Teddy for making the decision to live his life in his delusion rather than face the reality of having mercy killed his wife after she had drowned their children. Obviously something quite terrible must have happened in Ned's life and mind decided that blocking or distorting his memories would be the best possible way for him to continue with life whether or not he agreed. But if his life were in any way as tragic as Teddy's I couldn't possible blame him for wanting to remain this way, for wanting to believe his family life were still strong and his home were still in tact. Sometimes it's easier to live in the lie than face the truth.

  2. Katie,
    You are asking some really interesting questions here! I wonder if Cheever intended us to read Neddy's problems as pathological or existential? I think today we are perhaps predisposed to view through a lens of "health" and "pathology," which might in some ways cause us to sidestep some larger existential questions by seeing any aberration simply as a "disorder" or a "disease." I think Cheever might ask us to consider not only whether Neddy has been "enslav[ed] in a false perception of existence" but whether America itself (and specifically middle class Americans living in the suburbs) has dissociative amnesia.

  3. I believe Cheever intended to present Neddy's problems as both pathological and existential. I think many individuals have a predisposition for mental disorders, but only in the right circumstances do we see the effects they have on the human psyche. I think you bring up an amazing point! Many Americans subconsciously alter small details within their own lives to not only create a sense of inclusion within society, but also a sense of success. Conservative, suburban neighborhoods have expectations, many of which are unattainable. It is interesting that the literature is not of this era, but so relavent.