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A Quest In A Degenerating Cycle: John Cheever's "The Swimmer"

780 words - 3 pages

"The Swimmer" begins in the prosperous suburbs of Westchester County, New York, and centers on the main character Neddy Merrill. Though no longer youthful, Neddy attempts to preserve it, believing he is a vibrant individual and possibly even a hero. In his endeavor to forgo old age, he chooses to embark on a quest of swimming his way home. Water imagery is an important aspect of the quest in "The Swimmer", as it symbolizes the outward quest of swimming the county, and the inward degenerating cycle of relationships in the denial of old age.Water imagery becomes apparent at the very beginning of the story; Neddy Merrill, a slender and young-looking man, sits near the pool with a glass of gin. Although pools are frequently considered a luxury, in this community they are commonplace. In fact, pools are so prevalent in this neighborhood that Neddy can make the eight-mile quest home by swimming. He names the chain of pools the "Lucinda River" after his wife Lucinda, and thus water imagery here emphasizes this fantasy of being a romantic hero on a quest who is a great chivalier lover.The swim through the neighbours' pools is symbolic of his quest through life. At first, Neddy is welcome in his neighbours' backyards and pools, but after finding a dried pool and waiting for a storm to pass in a gazebo, he begins to feel tired and disillusioned with his quest. The day turns darker and colder, and Neddy is portrayed as unprepared and exposed. Although he is determined to continue on, he can hardly remember the excitement he first had about his quest. Neddy is disturbed to find out that the Welchers' pool is dry and their house for sale. He recognizes that his memory must be failing him or is repressing unpleasant memories of the Welchers. At the Halloran residence, Mrs. Halloran tells Neddy she sympathizes to hear of his misfortunes; Neddy also cannot remember. Mrs. Halloran mentions that Neddy is selling his house and something about his children. At the Biswangers' he is unsolicited, even the attendant treats him with disrespect, and he doesn't understand as to the meaning of such ill treatment. Further in his quest, Neddy visits his former mistress Shirley Adams, whom he cannot even remember having an affair with, only to find he has been replaced. His encounters through this quest highlight the decay of...

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