Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The swimmer--A Journey through Life

The Swimmer, by John Cheever, is I believe, a metaphor for Neddy Merrill's journey through midlife to old age. As the story opens it is mid summer and Neddy is compared to a summer's day-particularly the last hours of one.  The weather is clear and warm and the neighbor are welcoming and friendly up until he reaches Route 424. Route 424 stands for his fall.  It is never clearly stated what has happened to him.  It could be alcoholism or the affair he had or both, but he feels committed to his journey and unable to turn back even though he is being laughed at and jeered at.  After he crosses the street he gets to the public pool, where he is swimming with the public--people below his social standing and he is chased out by the lifeguard for not having an identification disk.  He has lost his social standing and his identity.  As he leaves the public pool, he heads to the Hallorans'.  He notices that their beech hedge was yellow, the weather is changing to fall.  This is signifying he is grower old, he is in the "autumn" of his life. Mrs. Halloran mentions how sorry she is to hear about his misfortunes. Neddy does not know what she is referring to. His memory is clouded and confused. Neddy also notices how loose his swimming trunks are when he puts them back on.  He wonders if he could have lost weight from earlier in the afternoon.  Another reference to his aging.  He is having more and more difficulty remembering things about his friends' lives. Also, he is talking about being cold and unable to warm up.  The water is getting colder.  The next two houses are not welcoming. At the Biswangers' house he expects to receive a warm greeting but Mrs Biswanger calls him a "gate crasher".  He has always considered them to be beneath his social standing and now she is snubbing him.  Neddy overhears her says," They went for broke overnight-nothing but income-and he showed up drunk one Sunday and asked us to loan him five thousand dollars...." Another reference to Neddy demise but he does not seem to realize she is talking about him.  The next pool is one of his former mistress.  She greets him with distain.  She tells him she will not lend any more money.  Referencing once again his financial problems. As he swims through her pool his strength is gone and he smells the fragrance of autumn and the constellations of fall not summer are in the night sky.  At the next pool, he is struggling to swim having to stop several times before he reaches the end.  He then heads for home only to find it dark and empty.  He is a man who has gone the last half of his life in an alcoholic haze and has lost everything that he imagined was part of the American dream. His family, his money, his social standing are gone and he is the "autumn" of his life with nothing. Why did Neddy feel as though he had to continue his journey through the pools? Why not turn around and head back to the Westerhzys' where Lucinda was?


  1. I really appreciate your insight, especially the beginning part about swimming with the public and being chased out, showing he lost his social standing. I didn't think of that while reading this but it makes a lot of sense. I did think a lot of his problems were from alcohol.

  2. Sarah,
    Good questions! What do you think about these questions? I am glad you mentioned the American Dream in your post as this is an enduring theme in American Lit. we are going to keep coming back to. What do you think Cheever is saying about the American Dream in this story?
    Also, you don't have to worry about summarizing so much in your posts since everyone has read the story. You can focus instead on just your analysis/interpretation of what you are reading.