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The Swimmer | Discussion Questions 31 - 40


In "The Swimmer" how does Cheever use the symbol of alcohol differently in the early part and the later part of the story?

Alcohol represents Neddy's desire for a fun-loving life and social status. In the early part of the story, Neddy drinks often as he enjoys his journey home. He does this with friends who share his high social status. So Neddy grabs a drink with the Grahams. Then he has several drinks at the Bunkers' party as he talks with admiring friends. By the time he reaches the Levys' pool, Neddy has had four or five drinks. In the later part of the story, however, Neddy has more difficulty satisfying his thirst for liquor. He wants a drink at the Sachses but is unable to get one. At the Biswangers Neddy is able to get a drink only by enduring rude behavior. At Shirley Adams's place Neddy desperately desires a drink but again cannot get one. Consequently, when Neddy begins to realize his financial and family problems, his desire for a drink becomes an unquenchable thirst as his social status declines.

In "The Swimmer" how is the scene at the Bunkers' pool similar to and different from the scene at the Biswangers' pool?

At the Bunker and Biswanger homes, large pool parties are in full swing when Neddy arrives. At each location Neddy has a drink at the bar and is greeted by a female host. The tone in the Biswanger scene, however, is entirely different from that at the Bunkers' party. Enid Bunker greets Neddy enthusiastically, and guests fawn over him as if he is a conquering hero. In fact he has difficulty making his way to the bar because of the friends greeting him. The happy bartender serves him graciously. In contrast to Enid Bunker, the hostess Grace Biswanger greets Neddy with hostility. The Biswanger guests seem to ignore Neddy as they listen to Grace's disparaging remarks about him. Even the bartender treats Neddy rudely. The swimming pools themselves are different. The Bunkers' pool seems lush and has "sapphire-colored water." On the other hand, the Biswangers' pool has a "wintry gleam."

In "The Swimmer" how does Cheever use the symbol of maps to create situational irony?

Cheever uses the symbol of maps to show situational irony by having Neddy's journey home have an unexpected outcome. Early in the story, Neddy imagines a mental map which he expects will lead him on a glorious journey as a legendary hero from the swimming pool of one enthusiastic friend to another. As a result, Neddy foresees his arrival home as a triumphant event. Although his map leads him in the expected geographic direction, the people and situations he encounters take a decidedly different turn from those he expected. As he swims the series of pools, he ages and becomes aware of the failures of his life. Friends abandon him, and he transforms into a financially ruined alcoholic. His arrival home is not a triumphant event, but rather a realization of defeat.

In "The Swimmer" in what ways does Neddy Merrill change, and how do these changes happen?

Neddy Merrill changes in the following ways: age, temperament, self-awareness, and social standing. Neddy starts out as a vibrant, middle-aged man who enjoys being a member of an elite social group. As the story progresses, Neddy ages until he becomes a tired, older man. At first Neddy has an optimistic, can-do attitude. He relishes the challenge of swimming the Lucinda River he himself has named. During the story, however, he becomes discouraged, depressed, and lonely. Early on, Neddy see himself as a legendary figure who is admired by many friends. Eventually, he becomes aware of problems in his life, including alcoholism, trouble with his children, and financial difficulties. With his financial problems Neddy's social status plummets. By the end of the story, he has a more realistic view of who he is as a person.

In "The Swimmer" how does Cheever use Eric Sachs as a foil for Neddy?

When Neddy arrives at the Sachses' pool, he still sees himself as a vibrant, successful person, but he is beginning to doubt himself. He has met with some opposition at the public pool and received some startling news from Mrs. Halloran about his house being sold. When he encounters his old friend Eric Sachs, Neddy realizes that Eric has some traits that contrast sharply with his own. Neddy enjoys drinking alcohol and is the life of the party. In contrast Eric Sachs has not had alcohol in three years. Also, he seems to live a sedate life as he recovers from major surgery. Neddy is proud of his physical fitness and enjoys athletic activities. Eric, however, since his surgery seems physically diminished. Therefore, Eric acts as a foil to Neddy's view of himself.

In "The Swimmer" why does the narrator state, "he [Neddy] was not a practical joker nor was he a fool"?

Cheever wants to eliminate certain possible motivations for Neddy's swimming home. If Neddy were a foolish person, he could undertake his journey because he wouldn't have the common sense not to. A person who is a fool often does foolish things, and swimming home could be one of them. Also, if Neddy were a practical joker, his swimming home could be seen as a big joke on his wife and friends. As the reader learns, however, Neddy takes his excursion quite seriously. By eliminating these reasons, Cheever focuses more on Neddy's true motivation. He sees himself as a type of hero or explorer and views the swim home as an adventure in which he will prove himself valid.

In "The Swimmer," after Neddy swims in the Levys' pool, how else does Cheever use water in that scene?

Cheever engulfs Neddy in a sudden rainstorm, causing him to take shelter. By using water in this harsh way, Cheever contrasts how water has been used previously in the story. Before the scene at the Levys' pool, Neddy has been swimming in placid pools. As the rainstorm begins, Neddy hears rushing water showering from the trees around him. The narrator states, "The noise of fountains came from the crowns of all the tall trees." Thus nature seems to be gushing water, giving an almost surreal atmosphere. By doing this Cheever is hinting that the story is about to take a more fantastic turn.

In "The Swimmer" how does Cheever imply that what happens to Neddy in the story has happened to other people in the suburbs?

Cheever expands Neddy's situation to that of other suburbanites through descriptions of houses and pools. The Lindleys' house seems abandoned with unkempt grounds. The narrator states that the riding ring on the Lindley property is "overgrown with grass and all the jumps dismantled." When Neddy reaches the Welcher property, he finds the pool has been drained and "all the windows of the house were shut." In front of the residence a FOR SALE sign is posted on a tree. Although Neddy can't remember when he last spoke with the Welchers, it seems like "only a week or so." Memory lapse or not, these events connect with what happens to Neddy. He soon realizes that he sold his house. Also, when he reaches his home, Neddy finds that it is unkempt and empty, similar to the Lindleys' home. So apparently, some other suburbanites have experienced a financial and social decline similar to Neddy's.

In "The Swimmer" how does Cheever illustrate that the Hallorans have "enormous wealth"?

Cheever shows the Hallorans' wealth through descriptions of their estate and the Hallorans' attitude. The Hallorans' estate has a wooded section, implying that it is so large that it includes woods. Their pool may be the "oldest in the country, a fieldstone rectangle, fed by a brook." So, the Hallorans probably have old money from an established family. The color of the pool's water is gold, which relates to wealth. Also, the Hallorans have a refined, aloof attitude. The Hallorans know that Neddy has fallen on rough times, but show no deep concern or antagonism. Instead, they remain cool and calm. The Hallorans are so wealthy that they are above such concerns.

In "The Swimmer" how does Cheever convey ambition?

Cheever shows ambition through Neddy's concern for social status and social climbing, which seem to be shared by many of his neighbors. Early in the story, Neddy associates only with people who have a high social standing, including the Westerhazys with their pool fed by an artesian well, the Bunkers with their heavenly pool party, and the Hallorans with the oldest pool in the country. In contrast he has ignored the Biswangers, whom he views as being crass. He treated his mistress Shirley Adams cruelly because he sees her as an insignificant person. Neddy, therefore, shows his ambition by wanting to maintain and, if possible, increase his social standing. His friends seem to share this ambition. The Bunkers welcome Neddy because he is admired in their social circle. Grace Biswanger, however, rejects Neddy because his social standing has fallen.

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