John Cheever: Drowning in the Suburbs—“The Swimmer”
“The Swimmer”, written by John Cheever, is a story about the life of a middle-aged man living in a bourgeois American suburbia. I chose to write on “The Swimmer” based on its universal themes of the American Dream and life and hardship in suburbia. The story is very true to the lives of many Americans living the American Dream today. Keeping up with the Jones’ is part of this dream and can turn into the nightmare of Neddy’s life if denial, escapism, and alcoholism become too much a part of the American Dream as it did for the protagonist.
Neddy first appears as a popular and athletic middle-aged man who spends his fair share of social time drinking with friends and neighbors. As time progresses as he is swimming in the public and private pools of his community to get home, his image, strength, and popularity start to decline. Neddy starts to become a pariah and is scorned by neighbors who he had scorned in past by ignoring dinner invitations. He appears tired and confused and is questioning his choice of the quest his has started to take across the pools of his town. This symbolizes the all-to-common mid-life crisis that many middle aged suburbanites experience. Though with Neddy, he is in denial and living in a fantasy world. He loses all track of time and days turn into weeks or years. This story illuminates just how the ignorance, indifference, and failure to recognize and accept reality, if left unchecked, can quickly destroy lives and families. Neddy’s journey across the swimming pools are representative of a significant period of time passing in his life which are ignored. He escapes into drink after drink and pool after pool and during his journey the summer days quickly deteriorate into autumn-like weather.
The passage of time is significant in this story. Neddy starts his journey, which appears to be on one summer afternoon and the further he gets into his journey the weather gets cooler and the leaves begin to change. Seasons appear to be changing and this confuses Neddy and the more he appears to deny what is happening the quicker things seem to change. Neddy, while still in denial, starts to notice neighbor’s properties and homes empty. He obviously wasn’t the only one...