"The Swimmer," by John Cheever, illustrates one man's journey from a typical suburban life to loneliness and isolation. This short story is characteristic of John Cheever's typical characterizations of suburbia, with all it's finery and entrapments. Cheever has been noted for his "skill as a realist depicter of suburban manners and morals" (Norton, p. 1861). Yet this story presents a deeper look into Neddy Merril's downfall from the contentment of a summer's day to the realization of darker times.
The story begins with a scene of midsummer, with the laziness of those who can afford to lounge near the pool, those with money who are able to joke about having "drank too much" (Norton, p. 1862). Typical of suburban lifestyle are the nightly parties and social events surrounded by cocktails and lush poolside conversations. "It was a fine day" and "The sun was hot" give us a sense of this careless abandon for those whom work is not necessarily an 8 to 5 regularity (Norton, p. 1862).
Neddy, himself, is compared to a "summer's day" and carried "the impression of youth, sport, and clement weather" (Norton, p. 1962). Cheever gives us an impression that Neddy belongs to the "jet set," his daughters playing tennis, himself and his wife enjoying an afternoon poolside with friends. His idea of swimming from pool to pool to reach his home is unusual, and perhaps a bit eccentric, not something an ordinary person might do. His reasoning is that "a long swim might enlarge and celebrate its [the day's] beauty" (Norton, p. 1863).
Neddy likens himself to a pilgrim, an explorer, by taking such an unusual route home, and he imagines himself a sort of hero with "friends all along ...
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...tigue" (Norton, p. 1869) much as an old man would do.
Upon finally reaching his home, he is baffled that there are no lights on and the door is locked. When he peers through the windows, the house is empty. The finality of this fact reveals that he has progressed from the suburban life to the muddled old age and emptiness, his misfortunes are real and have caught up with him. No longer can he deny the painful memories of what has occurred in his life through his journey. The semi-surrealism of this journey can in theory be a progression of his life, his mind having gone from clarity of a midsummer's day to the darkness of approaching night and old age, with its frailties and troubles, his lapse of memories coming to clarity in the end.
The Norton Anthology of American Literature, Fifth Edition, Vol. 2. W.W. Norton & Company, New York. C. 1998
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