Literary Analysis: The Swimmer
The story, The Swimmer chronicles the adventures of NeddyMerrill who at first appears contended with life. The reader mightassume that he is light-hearted and comes from an affluent family.Neddy seems a happy father and husband full of energy. One afternoonin the summer, he decides to swim all the way to his home after aparty where drinks are served unreservedly. It is notable that theneighborhood is equally affluent because nearly every home has aswimming pool. However, readers begin to realize that there is moreto the swimming than one can immediately recognize. As the story goeson, one realizes that Neddy has some critical problems as evidencedby encounters with his neighbors. In essence, swimming through poolson his way home illustrates life in suburbia and a reflection ofliving blighted by personal weaknesses (Wintle 293). Ultimately,Neddy, who once appeared vibrant and contended with life, begins toshow signs of a troubled man with a derelict past. In essence, theauthor reveals that Neddy`s marriage might be one big lie. Mainly,the story shows that Neddy`s life is paradoxical in a manner that hetends to ignore the important aspects that might lead to his lifewhile suppressing the overall reality of his existence.
John Cheever uses formal elements of literature to write acompelling story that chronicles the experiences of a deranged man.The author gives detailed descriptions of the pools in which Neddyswims. However, it is evident that the story has a major element offantasy. For instance, the account happens within several hours, butthe main character seems to age significantly. For example, the vigorthat he exhibits in the early stages of the story dissipatesexpressively as the narrative progresses. The following is a formalliterary analysis of the story.
Neddy has a good family and takes pride in his respectable socialstanding. He loves the good side of life and drinks regularly. Hechooses the parties to attend based on his privileged problem. Heassumes that he is invincible but later realizes he has ignored theimportant things in his life (Cheever 233). He begins to rejectinvitations to parties after a misfortune makes him lose his wealth.Ultimately, he discovers that he has lost all that he considered hisright, for example, social standing, youth, affection, and family. Hemight not come out as inherently evil, but the ignorance of theproblems in his life precipitates his eventual downfall. Essentially,Neddy is a man who has failed to accept the reality of life by hidingbehind self-inflicted ignorance and overlooking the glaringshortcomings in his life. Shirley Adams appears to be a dishonestwoman who understands that Neddy has a wife but proceeds to have anaffair with him. However, she is equally reasonable because sherealizes that Neddy has not grown up to be a man yet. Mrs. Graham isa kind person because she gives Neddy a drink as he swims across herpool.
The Emptiness of Fantasy
From the story, it is evident that Neddy Merrill lives a life offantasy that eventually leads to his fall. While he makes the journeyin his neighborhood, readers begin to notice the despair that hestruggles with despite his portrayal of a happy and contented life.He appears to have a good life but is perpetually isolated fromothers and reality. For example, he begins to reject invitations toparties and stays away from people that might have helped him toovercome his loneliness and despair. Incidentally, the characterstarts to forget the details about some people. He understands thatthe world in which he lives has some strict social rules. However, itappears the world is built on fantasy and appearances as opposed toreality (Cheever 224). The trappings of a high social life do notgive him the happiness he desires because he does not seem to haveany genuine friends. Most of his friends drink heavily, whichindicates that they are trying to escape from the realities of life.
On the same note, the emptiness of fantasy manifests in his marriagelife. The pool in which he swims is called Lucinda, whichincidentally is his wife`s name. Nevertheless, he is not close toLucinda, as readers would expect because he has an affair withShirley Adams. Nevertheless, it is clear that the relationship withAdams is not built on genuine love. For instance, his idea of lovewith Adams is explained as “sexual roughhouse,” which proves thatall he is looking for in the affair is sexual satisfaction.Unfortunately, a life of fantasy has to end at some point. Towardsthe end of the story, Neddy sits alone in the empty house, whichindicates he finally discovers the uncanny signs that circumstanceshave changed (Duvall 73). The implication is that emptiness andutopia are the actual states of Neddy`s life because he built hisfoundation of life on flimsy grounds and his relationships wereperpetually weak.
The Journey of Life
It is instructive that as Neddy swims across the many pools, he agesconsiderably. The swimming through the pools symbolizes the passageof time and the journey of life. Throughout the story, Neddy haslearned the art of denying reality at all times. For instance, theauthor states that Neddy is far from being called young but tries hisbest to appear youthful (Cheever 234). As the story goes on, readersrealize that time is moving much faster than Neddy can fathom. Forinstance, the leaves begin to turn yellow as the stars in the skychange. Additionally, the air starts to get unusually cold thefriends he expects to be home are missing while his mistress does notwant anything to do with him. Incidentally, these necessary changesin his life happen without his knowledge. The character begins toquestion his memory but realizes that he might have ignored thingsthat matter to an unacceptable level (Baumlin, Baumlin, andJensen 112). For example, he starts to realize that his friends havebeen acting their age while he has consistently refused to heed theadvice. It is evident that he behaves as children as evidenced by hismistress’ question if he will ever grow up to be a man (Cheever233). He realizes that time has passed towards the end of the storyas he faces the reality of an empty house.
In literature, symbolism entails using symbols to denote qualitiesand ideas by assigning them symbolic meanings that differ from theirliteral sense (Adams 17). In the short story, Cheever uses symbolismto reinforce his themes. The first entails the many swimming poolsthat Neddy swims through the pools represent the phases of life andtimes the character has to face. For instance, he assumes that he isa legendary figure who cannot be conquered or vanquished (Cheever225). However, the many pools in which he swims change himfundamentally. He begins to grow physically weak such that he cannotpull himself out of the swimming pool. The social standing he onceenjoyed begins to change fundamentally, and most of his friendsappear cold and distant. The mistress no longer wants his company,and the people start to snub him regularly. While some of his friendsbegin to show mercy towards him and sympathize with his misfortunes,he appears not to realize that he has been going through thesechanges. In effect, the transformations seem to happen to him withouthis knowledge.
On the same note, the author uses seasonal and weather changes toillustrate the transformation phases of Neddy’s life. In essence,the leaves turning yellow and the constellation changingfundamentally indicate the deterioration of his life. For instance,the story begins in the summer when the sun is bright. Neddy contendswith the state of affairs he does not seem to care about anythingelse. However, he gets lonely to the extent that he cries. The authorobserves, “His life was not confining, and the delight he took inthis observation could not be explained by its suggestion of escape”(Cheever 235). Hence, life changes from bad to worse because Neddyrefused to face reality but instead, chose to hide in fantasy.
The story takes place one afternoon during summer. The actionmanifests in New York City in one affluent neighborhood. Nearly allthe neighbors have swimming pools and can afford to drink expensivealcohol (Cheever 230). They appear not to work at all but rather hostparties where drinks are served. However, the characters suffer fromcertain weaknesses that lead them to drink as a way of escapingreality. Therefore, they resort to drinking because they cannot facethe harsh realities of life despite being affluent.
In The Swimmer, John Cheever uses various stylistic devicesto illustrate the folly of living a life of fantasy. Furthermore, theprotagonist, Neddy Merrill fails to face the challenges of life whenhe resorts to drinking and partying as a temporary escape fromreality. Nevertheless, it is notable that towards the end of thestory, he finds himself alone, which implies that reality has to setin at some point in time. Hence, it is prudent for people to exercisecaution, heed advice, and build meaningful relations throughout thejourney of life.
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Baumlin, James S., Tita French Baumlin, George H. Jensen.Post-Jungian Criticism: Theory and Practice. NewYork, NY:SUNY Press, 2012. Print
Cheever, John. The Swimmer. California: University ofCalifornia Press, 1967. Print
Duvall, John N. The Cambridge Companion to American FictionAfter 1945. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012. Print.
Wintle, Justin. New Makers of Modern Culture. New York, NY:Routledge, 2016. Print