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A Journey of Maturing in The Swimmer by John Cheever

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The following report consists of a baseline analysis regarding the well-known short story ‘The Swimmer’, written by John Cheever in 1964. The story is based on middle-aged Neddy Merrill who is filled with youth, and is a husband and father, and in this case plays the main character of the short story. This story entails Neddy’s slippery journey home through the prosperous suburbs. Neddy’s journey is a phenomenal portrayal of the classic ‘mid-life crisis’ that many privileged suburbanite adults can experience.

This journey transforms into a voyage through the many years of his lifetime, and through this journey John Cheever demonstrates how the progression of time is unavoidable, regardless how much or how hard one may attempt to disregard it.

Neddy has aced the craft of denial, and his journey begins at the Westerhazys’ pool one sunny afternoon where he impulsively decides to make his way home by swimming through the many private and public swimming pools in his suburb and names this course ‘The Lucinda River’, after his wife.

This story begins just like any other, but we become gradually aware of how this seemingly normal afternoon beside the pool progresses into a journey through many years of Neddy’s life. This is how Cheever introduces the contrast of real time in comparison to narrative time by applying the manipulation of reality and blinding the reader with a sense of delusion.

There is a great underlying sub text which is revealed in Neddy’s journey. These experiences Neddy undergoes represent an important period of passing time in which critical events that take place throughout Neddy’s life are disregarded and the true reality of his life is concealed to him, by him.

Along this adventure Neddy has drinks at each stop and holds brief conversations with the hosts moments before moving on to the neighbouring pools. As the story progresses, we see how there is in fact more than meets the eye in the underlying sub text. With each pool he arrives at and hosts he communicates with, things become more and more bizarre. This information illuminates the fact that Neddy is clearly an alcoholic and the short conversation he holds with each of the hosts are a symbol of his constantly decreasing social standing within his community. Much like a slippery slope, with each pool he arrives at it represents a different time in his life which all present negative changes. Slippery slope is one example of a fallacy. It is an argument that suggests taking a minor action will lead to major and sometimes ludicrous consequences.

The alcohol that Neddy constantly consumes may be understood as his own way of avoiding the real time events of his life as he finds himself questioning his memory. Each pool Neddy enters exemplifies a different stage in his life. As the story progresses, we see how the once energetic and vigorous Neddy Merrill progressively transforms into a drained and bewildered older man. Just like the mental changes Neddy undergoes, there are physical changes too as he grows increasingly weaker. These physical changes occur in his surroundings as well. We see how the surrounding leaves, hedges, as well as houses change in colour and form, which represents the change in seasons. We also see how changes in the sky take place as constellations and weather change. This change in weather symbolises the change within Neddy’s life as the story begins on a sunny afternoon where he is enjoying the comfort and luxury of his life and later finds himself powerless and rattled, hiding from the storm under a gazebo. As Neddy’s youth gradually appears to disappear, he demonstrates how he is in reality a lot older than he puts himself out to be. As he subconsciously avoids confronting the midlife crisis he faces, everything he once had is lost.

Along with the constantly decreasing social standing Neddy has within his community, we see how the drastic changes have occurred when the people Neddy has once looked down on now begin to look down on him, and how he faces rejection from his ex-mistress, Shirley Adams, who would at a time, do anything for him. Neddy seeks her out in need of comfort, but their relationship has clearly changed as she informs him that she has found a new love, when she replies to him saying “I could, but I won’t. I’m not alone.”

This reverse in roles is a great signifier of change in his life as he slowly becomes forced to understand and accept that the life which he believes he is living may in fact be a lie. This includes aspects such as his married life and role as a father as Neddy loses his wife due to his affair with his mistress and eventually finds himself being all alone in an empty house. This relationship shows us how deconceptualized his idea of love really is as he describes their love as ‘sexual roughhouse’. This reveals the irony within his journey as the once proud husband and father is now on his own after embarking on the adventure he named after the wife he thought he was still married to.

All these developments have occurred without him being even slightly aware of it, and he finds himself asking “At what point had this prank, this joke, this piece of horseplay become serious?”. This is where he realizes that the boisterous adventure he had decided to go on is no longer amusing. Eventually he finally comes to recognize how the past decisions in his life have forced him to the point where he now has nothing and that his choices have had immensely severe consequences. This includes the loss of his friends, family and wealth. This story teaches us that maturing is one of the hardest difficulties we face throughout everyday life, and if that hindrance is managed in an immature or illogical manner, it may result in you finding yourself in a very confused and helpless state.

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A Journey Of Maturing In The Swimmer By John Cheever. (2020, October 10). GradesFixer. Retrieved May 19, 2022, from
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A Journey Of Maturing In The Swimmer By John Cheever. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 19 May 2022].
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