The Swimmer is a story written by John Cheever, who was born in 1912 and grew up with his mother and brother, Fred. His father abandoned his family after getting bankrupt and being unable to cope with this situation. To a great degree, The Swimmer reflects his own personal experience since it is a story of a man who is experiencing midlife crisis. The Swimmer is narrated as an adventure of Neddy Merrill, who is from an affluent community, decides to reach home by swimming across the neighbors’ pools after enjoying himself at a cocktail party. Although the story is masked as an innocent experience of a man enjoying his exploratory mission, as the story progresses it becomes clear that it portrays important themes in life.
The story first shows the passage of time is a fact of reality and individuals must always be aware of this change. Initially, Neddy starts his swimming expedition with high spirits and energy. For instance, he tirelessly spends long afternoons at the Westerhazys’ pool. However, as the journey progresses, he increasingly becomes more tired and bored. In addition, the theme of the passage of time is emphasized by the change in the color of leaves from yellow to red, change in weather seasons from summer to colder weathers, and changes in constellations in the sky. Interestingly, Neddy appears unaware of all these changes. In fact, he still thinks that his former mistress will be welcoming to him despite the fact that she has now being married.
“Good Christ. Will you ever grow up?”
“What’s the matter?”
“If you’ve come here for money,” she said, “I won’t give you another cent.”
You could give me a drink.”
I could but I won’t. I’m not alone.” (Cheever 452).
In fact, it is only when Neddy reaches his empty home that he realizes that indeed time has changed and he has not been aware of the realities of how these changes have affected his life.
Throughout the story, Neddy appears to be out of touch with the true meaning of life. Although he appears to be enjoying himself, in truth, he has broken most of his social life. Firstly, he constantly rejects most invitations from his friends. As a result, he is unaware of many issues that are happening in his society. In fact, most of his current friends are acquaintances. Actually, the culture of most of the people whom he meets drinking heavily shows that they are attempting to escape or hide from some of their personal issues. In his love life, Neddy relationship with his wife appears to be more inclined towards sex than any emotional attachment to her (Cooper, 113-116). His description of his extramarital affairs as lover-sexual roughhouse indeed shows his simplistic and confused view towards relationships.
“Love-sexual roughhouse in fact-was the supreme elixir, the pain killer, the brightly colored pill that would put the spring back into his step, the joy of life in his heart” (452)
Alcohol plays a significant role in this story. Firstly, it acts as a measure of a person’s social standing. In addition, it is also used to illustrate its disastrous effects on families. For example, in the Westerhazy’s pool, although all people are complaining of hangovers, they are comfortable to have more drinks, which appear to make them more welcoming. In the Biswanger’s party, Neddy feels slighted based on the manner that he is given a drink. Importantly, he is also poorer and has a lower social standing than at the beginning of the story. In fact, as the journey progresses, he is often turned down.
“Why, I’d love to,” Helen said, “but there hasn’t been anything in this house to drink since Eric’s operation. That was three years ago.” (Cheever 451).
Finally, his excessiveness in alcohol and social enjoyments plays a major role in breaking his family since it makes him unaware of the realities happening in his house (Stephens 145-151).
In conclusion, The Swimmers illustrates important social realities, of midlife crisis, alcoholism, and neglect of changes in life in a person and his family. In particular, it shows that a person must be aware of changes that occur within him/her life. In addition, a person should avoid excessive indulgence in alcoholism and promiscuity as it can destroy his/ her family.
Cheever John. The Stories of John Cheever: The Swimmer. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf. 1978. Pp. 446-453.
Cooper, Melinda. Family Values: Between Neoliberalism and the New Social Conservatism. 2017. Print.
Stephens, Michael G. Where the Sky Ends: A Memoir of Alcohol and Family. Center City, Minn: Hazelden Information & Educational Services, 1999. Print.