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The Swimmer | Discussion Questions 11 - 20


At the Welchers' pool in "The Swimmer," how does Cheever begin to use Neddy's mental map to show Neddy's delusion?

The Welchers' pool is dry, which stuns and disappoints Neddy. According to his mental map, Neddy would swim through a series of pools and many friends would greet him along his way. Neddy's map, however, appears to be faulty. The dry pool and abandoned house do not fit his plans. As a result, Neddy begins to question himself. He wonders if somehow he has always "repressed unpleasant facts." In other words Neddy wonders if he has been deluding himself throughout his life. He lets the sound of a tennis game cheer him up, thereby once again ignoring an unpleasant fact: the change in the weather. The air is now cold, and the sky is overcast.

In "The Swimmer," how does Cheever show Neddy's delusion by changing the point of view when the character tries to cross the highway?

Before the scene in which Neddy tries to cross the highway, Cheever describes mainly how Neddy views himself. He sees himself as a confident, prosperous, heroic man. As a result, the author describes Neddy as having the "slenderness of youth." He is a man who can easily swim the length of pools and hoist himself out of them without using a ladder. The only doubt about his self-image comes at the Welchers' pool, where Neddy questions his memory. But this doubt seems to be fleeting. As Neddy tries to cross a busy highway while wearing only swimming trunks, readers see Neddy as other people view him. He seems like a fool or the victim of a practical joke. From this perspective Neddy's grand adventure of swimming home seems like an immature, ridiculous idea. He is no longer seen as a popular celebrity but rather as the brunt of ridicule; people driving past laugh and jeer at him. This change of perspective suggests that Neddy has been deluding himself all along.

In "The Swimmer," how does Cheever use distance to suggest the story is not a completely realistic depiction of Neddy's swim home?

Cheever suggests that the story is not completely realistic through Neddy's realization that "he had covered a distance that made his return impossible." By any realistic measure this statement makes no sense. Neddy has been on his trek for about an hour. Taken literally, this distance is not too long to travel. He might arrive late at the Westerhazys' pool, but he could make it. If, however, his journey is examined as a symbol for Neddy's lifetime, the statement becomes clearer. Neddy could have traveled a certain distance in his life, which would make turning back seem impossible. Up to the scene at the busy highway, Neddy has been seen as a success—a man who will achieve great things. At the highway Neddy meets strong adversity. Since Neddy views himself as a legendary person, he could not turn back at the first rough patch in his life. Such action would seem cowardly and not worthy of him. Also, the fact that Neddy can't even recall the Westerhazys' place indicates his voyage is more than a trip across a suburb. If Neddy has traveled a long distance in his life, with the passing of many years, then he might not be able to remember "the green water at the Westerhazys'."

In "The Swimmer," how does Neddy use his delusion that he is an explorer to persevere when he encounters the public pool?

Neddy sees himself as an explorer or pilgrim in his own life. The adversity he meets at the public pool shocks Neddy and disrupts his journey home. The pool is crowded and has a high chlorine content. In contrast with the Westerhazys' pool, which is filled with refreshing water from an artesian well, the public pool seems distasteful. Neddy decides, however, that as an adventurer he cannot cower at the first sign of adversity. The narrator says, "he was an explorer ... this was merely a stagnant bend in the Lucinda River." Neddy, therefore, decides to tough it out, swim in the public pool, and make a quick getaway.

In "The Swimmer" what stage of Neddy's life does the public pool represent?

The public pool represents a stage of Neddy's life in which he meets adversity and becomes concerned about damaging "his own prosperousness and charm." The specific type of adversity Neddy confronts is not mentioned. Later in the story, however, Cheever states that Neddy has financial and personal problems, so this adversity probably involves both business dealings and a troubled family life. As a result of these difficulties, Neddy loses his elite status and is thrown in with common people. He finds this experience unsettling. The narrator states that Neddy swam with "his head above water to avoid collision, ... even so he was bumped ... splashed, and jostled." Neddy's problems as represented by the public pool probably deal with violating legal or technical issues. He does not wear the required identification disk and, as a result, is kicked out of the pool. After the contamination of "swimming in this murk," Neddy's social status has declined. People often view him with disdain.

In "The Swimmer" how does Cheever use the Hallorans for comic relief?

When Neddy arrives at the Hallorans' pool, things have started to get difficult for him. His journey has been disrupted by the Welchers' dry pool and the chaotic public pool. Cheever interjects some comic relief with the Hallorans, providing a relief in the tension. They are a very wealthy, older couple who see themselves as radical reformers. To emphasize their nonconformist approach, the Hallorans like to swim naked in their pool. To oblige the Hallorans' idiosyncrasies, Neddy takes off his trunks and swims naked. This action is an example of situational irony, because normally individuals removing their swimsuits would be seen at the least as being rude. Neddy, however, removes his trunks to be polite. The Hallorans' social status is so elite that they can ignore common social rules.

At the Hallorans' pool in "The Swimmer," how does Cheever convey an aging process?

Cheever conveys an aging process first by describing a yellow beech hedge. Beech hedges normally turn yellow during the autumn, not during mid-summer. So Cheever is indicating that an aging process is happening, even though Neddy tries to deny this. He thinks the hedge is just blighted. Later, near the yellow hedge, Cheever puts his swimming trunks back on. The trunks, however, are suddenly loose, showing that Neddy's athletic figure has started to wither. Also, he feels tired. The swim in the Hallorans' pool seems to have been too much for his strength. Neddy's legs feel "rubbery and ached at the joints." These are indications of old age. Cheever also has Neddy notice leaves falling and the smell of wood smoke: more signs of autumn and aging.

In "The Swimmer" how does Cheever use the symbol of alcohol at the Hallorans' pool?

Cheever uses alcohol to represent Neddy's desire for a fun-loving lifestyle. At the Hallorans, however, Neddy learns that he sold his house and that his children are in trouble. Also, he has started to feel older. To escape these problems, Neddy resorts to alcohol in an attempt to restore the carefree feelings about his life and the journey to his home. The narrator states that a whiskey would "warm him, pick him up, carry him through the last of his journey." He uses his delusion about being a heroic explorer to rationalize his need for alcohol. Neddy compares himself to swimmers of the English Channel, who take brandy for courage.

In "The Swimmer" how does Neddy show he is gaining more self-awareness during the time he spends at the Welchers', Hallorans', and Sachses' pools?

Neddy begins to question himself. At the Welchers' pool he wonders why he doesn't remember anything about the Welchers selling their house. Neddy thinks he might have been ignoring unpleasant facts throughout his life, including the Welchers leaving his neighborhood. At the Hallorans Neddy seems stunned when he learns that he has sold his house and his children are in trouble. At the Sachses Neddy doesn't remember that his friend, Eric Sachs, had major surgery. Again he questions himself, wondering if his habit of ignoring unpleasant facts has caused him to forget not only about the surgery but also about selling his house and the problems with his daughters. Neddy, therefore, is gradually becoming aware of his own weaknesses and delusions.

At the Sachses' pool, how does Eric's having no navel relate to Neddy and his family?

Neddy sees Eric's lack of a navel as representing no link to birth and, as a result, a "breach in the succession." Neddy's voyage via swimming pools to his home can be seen as reaffirming his tie or link to his family, or his succession as represented by his daughters. Indeed, he names the route after his wife, Lucinda, the mother of his children. But Neddy learns that his tie to his family has been severed. His wife and children have left him. As a result, Neddy becomes a man isolated from the flow of life. At first Neddy sees himself as a legendary figure with a loving wife and children. But in reality he has become a lonely man with no tie to loved ones.

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