The Swimmer

by

John Cheever

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Neddy Merrill Character Analysis

Neddy, the story’s protagonist, is an athletic man, probably in his 30s or 40s, who lives in an unnamed suburb. At the beginning of the story, Neddy lives a comfortable, prosperous life with his wife Lucinda and his four daughters. One glorious summer Sunday, while out on a social call, he resolves to swim all the way to his house using only his neighbors’ swimming pools. As Neddy swims, Cheever reveals that his most significant quality is his inability to face difficult emotions. He has almost totally repressed any unpleasant memories, instead engaging with life only on a physical level, reveling in the summer weather and the feel of the water. However, as Neddy gets closer to home, time seems to accelerate (a single afternoon stretches into seasons and years), and his life disintegrates—he has lost his wife and daughters, his finances are a mess, and even his body begins to degrade as his strength flags and he begins to seem old. Cheever suggests that Neddy’s singleminded focus on swimming home through pools—a vain and ridiculous pursuit meant to preserve the exquisite pleasure of a summer moment—embodies his whole approach to life, which causes him to lose his family, his youth, his money, and his friends.

Neddy Merrill Quotes in The Swimmer

The The Swimmer quotes below are all either spoken by Neddy Merrill or refer to Neddy Merrill. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
The Natural vs. The Artificial Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Vintage edition of The Swimmer published in 2000.
The Swimmer Quotes

It was one of those midsummer Sundays when everyone sits around saying, “I drank too much last night.” You might have heard it whispered by the parishioners leaving church, heard it from the lips of the priest himself, struggling with his cassock in the vestiarium, heard it from the golf links and the tennis courts, heard it from the wildlife preserve where the leader of the Audubon group was suffering from a terrible hangover.

Related Characters: Neddy Merrill
Related Symbols: Alcohol
Page Number: 603
Explanation and Analysis:

He was a slender man—he seemed to have the especial slenderness of youth—and while he was far from young he had slid down his banister that morning and given the bronze backside of Aphrodite on the hall table a smack, as he jogged toward the smell of coffee in his dining room. He might have been compared to a summer’s day, particularly the last hours of one, and while he lacked a tennis racket or a sail bag the impression was definitely one of youth, sport, and clement weather.

Related Characters: Neddy Merrill (speaker)
Page Number: 603
Explanation and Analysis:

He seemed to see, with a cartographer’s eye, that string of swimming pools, that quasi-subterranean stream that curved across the county. He had made a discovery, a contribution to modern geography; he would name the stream Lucinda after his wife. He was not a practical joker nor was he a fool but he was determinedly original and had a vague and modest idea of himself as a legendary figure.

Related Characters: Neddy Merrill (speaker), Lucinda
Related Symbols: Swimming Pools
Page Number: 603-604
Explanation and Analysis:

As soon as Enid Bunker saw him she began to scream: “Oh, look who’s here! What a marvelous surprise! When Lucinda said that you couldn’t come I thought I’d die.” She made her way to him through the crowd, and when they had finished kissing she led him to the bar, a progress that was slowed by the fact that he stopped to kiss eight or ten other women and shake the hands of as many men.

Related Characters: Neddy Merrill (speaker), Mrs. Bunker
Page Number: 605
Explanation and Analysis:

Then there was a fine noise of rushing water from the crown of an oak at his back, as if a spigot there had been turned. Then the noise of fountains came from the crowns of all the tall trees. Why did he love storms, what was the meaning of his excitement when the door sprang open and the rain wind fled rudely up the stairs, why had the simple task of shutting the windows of an old house seemed fitting and urgent.

Related Characters: Neddy Merrill (speaker)
Page Number: 606
Explanation and Analysis:

The rain had cooled the air and he shivered. The force of the wind had stripped a maple of its red and yellow leaves and scattered them over the grass and the water. Since it was midsummer the tree must be blighted, and yet he felt a peculiar sadness at this sign of autumn. He braced his shoulders, emptied his glass, and started for the Welchers’ pool.

Related Characters: Neddy Merrill (speaker), The Welchers
Related Symbols: Alcohol
Page Number: 606
Explanation and Analysis:

Was his memory failing or had he so disciplined it in the repression of unpleasant facts that he had damaged his sense of the truth? Then in the distance he heard the sound of a tennis game. This cheered him, cleared away all his apprehensions and let him regard the overcast sky and the cold air with indifference.

Related Characters: Neddy Merrill (speaker), The Welchers
Page Number: 607
Explanation and Analysis:

He took a shower, washed his feet in a cloudy and bitter solution, and made his way to the edge of the water. It stank of chlorine and looked to him like a sink. A pair of lifeguards in a pair of towers blew police whistles at what seemed to be regular intervals and abused the swimmers through a public address system. Neddy remembered the sapphire water at the Bunkers’ with longing and thought that he might contaminate himself—damage his own prosperousness and charm —by swimming in this murk, but he reminded himself that he was an explorer, a pilgrim, and that this was merely a stagnant bend in the Lucinda River.

Related Characters: Neddy Merrill (speaker), Mrs. Bunker
Related Symbols: Swimming Pools
Page Number: 608
Explanation and Analysis:

The Hallorans were friends, an elderly couple of enormous wealth who seemed to bask in the suspicion that they might be Communists. They were zealous reformers but they were not Communists, and yet when they were accused, as they sometimes were, of subversion, it seemed to gratify and excite them.

Related Characters: Neddy Merrill (speaker), Mrs. Halloran
Page Number: 608
Explanation and Analysis:

The swim was too much for his strength but how could he have guessed this, sliding down the banister that morning and sitting in the Westerhazys’ sun? His arms were lame. His legs felt rubbery and ached at the joints. The worst of it was the cold in his bones and the feeling that he might never be warm again. Leaves were falling down around him and he smelled wood smoke on the wind.

Related Characters: Neddy Merrill (speaker)
Related Symbols: Swimming Pools
Page Number: 609
Explanation and Analysis:

The next pool on his list, the last but two, belonged to his old mistress, Shirley Adams. If he had suffered any injuries at the Biswangers’ they would be cured here. 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. They had had an affair last week, last month, last year. He couldn’t remember.

Related Characters: Neddy Merrill (speaker), Shirley Adams
Related Symbols: Alcohol
Page Number: 611
Explanation and Analysis:

Looking over his shoulder he saw, in the lighted bathhouse, a young man. Going out onto the dark lawn he smelled chrysanthemums or marigolds—some stubborn autumnal fragrance—on the night air, strong as gas. Looking overhead he saw that the stars had come out, but why should he seem to see Andromeda, Cepheus, and Cassiopeia? What had become of the constellations of midsummer?

Related Characters: Neddy Merrill (speaker)
Page Number: 611
Explanation and Analysis:
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Neddy Merrill Character Timeline in The Swimmer

The timeline below shows where the character Neddy Merrill appears in The Swimmer. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
The Swimmer
Suburban Alienation Theme Icon
...to golfers moans about their hangovers, and the Westerhazys—sitting around their pool with Lucinda and Neddy Merrill—note that all of them drank too much wine the night before. (full context)
Delusion and Repression Theme Icon
Time Theme Icon
Neddy, who is lounging by the pool drinking gin, is “far from young” but still youthful... (full context)
Delusion and Repression Theme Icon
Neddy had just been swimming, and right now he’s breathing heavily, savoring the physical sensations of... (full context)
The Natural vs. The Artificial Theme Icon
Suburban Alienation Theme Icon
Time Theme Icon
Neddy’s life “was not confining” so his joy in this thought is not about “escape.” He... (full context)
The Natural vs. The Artificial Theme Icon
Suburban Alienation Theme Icon
Neddy dives into the pool, noting his disdain for men who creep down into pools using... (full context)
Suburban Alienation Theme Icon
Time Theme Icon
Neddy plots his course through memory and imagination, listing all the neighbors whose swimming pools he’ll... (full context)
The Natural vs. The Artificial Theme Icon
Suburban Alienation Theme Icon
Neddy walks through a hedge and past a shed to cross into the Grahams’ backyard pool.... (full context)
The Natural vs. The Artificial Theme Icon
Delusion and Repression Theme Icon
Back on track, Neddy swims a few other pools regardless of whether the owners are home or not. Reaching... (full context)
Suburban Alienation Theme Icon
Mrs. Bunker greets him and insists that Neddy’s arrival is a “marvelous surprise” and that she’d “die” if he couldn’t make it to... (full context)
The Natural vs. The Artificial Theme Icon
Delusion and Repression Theme Icon
After swimming the Bunkers’ pool, Neddy crosses over to the Levys’ property, where he sees a “private property” sign. The Levys... (full context)
The Natural vs. The Artificial Theme Icon
Delusion and Repression Theme Icon
Neddy notes the natural signs of a storm’s approach, as “pinheaded birds” warn of it with... (full context)
Time Theme Icon
...significantly. A blighted tree in the Levys’ yard spills red and yellow leaves, which disquiets Neddy and he “brace[s] his shoulders [and] emptie[s] his glass.” An autumnal chill replaces the heat... (full context)
The Natural vs. The Artificial Theme Icon
Delusion and Repression Theme Icon
Neddy crosses the Lindleys’ yard and is confused to see that their horses are gone. He... (full context)
Delusion and Repression Theme Icon
Neddy can’t remember when or why the Welchers moved, but he does mention that he tends... (full context)
The Natural vs. The Artificial Theme Icon
Neddy has to cross Route 424, a busy road lined with trash. He’d known he’d have... (full context)
Delusion and Repression Theme Icon
Time Theme Icon
His unpleasant experience crossing the road makes Neddy question his plan to swim home. He tries to recapture the pleasure he experienced at... (full context)
The Natural vs. The Artificial Theme Icon
...wash his feet before entering. The pool is filled with loud and rowdy swimmers, and Neddy recoils at the chlorine used to clean it and the smell of suntan oil. He... (full context)
The Natural vs. The Artificial Theme Icon
Suburban Alienation Theme Icon
After emerging from the public pool, Neddy crosses into a quieter wooded area owned by the Hallorans. Neddy describes them as a... (full context)
The Natural vs. The Artificial Theme Icon
Time Theme Icon
As Neddy passes into the Hallorans’ backyard, he notices a yellow beech hedge and Mrs. Halloran fishing... (full context)
Delusion and Repression Theme Icon
Suburban Alienation Theme Icon
Neddy swims the Halloran’s pool, after which Mrs. Halloran tries to express condolences for Neddy’s “misfortunes.”... (full context)
The Natural vs. The Artificial Theme Icon
Delusion and Repression Theme Icon
Time Theme Icon
As Neddy leaves the Hallorans’ pool, he feels depressed and weak. The swim is starting to exhaust... (full context)
The Natural vs. The Artificial Theme Icon
Delusion and Repression Theme Icon
Time Theme Icon
Neddy decides he needs a drink to restore his strength and also to restore his original... (full context)
The Natural vs. The Artificial Theme Icon
Delusion and Repression Theme Icon
Neddy looks in on the Hallorans’ daughter Helen and her husband Eric and notes that their... (full context)
The Natural vs. The Artificial Theme Icon
Time Theme Icon
After this reminder of Eric’s operation, Neddy examines in vivid detail Eric’s surgery scars. He’s unsettled by the disappearance of Eric’s navel,... (full context)
The Natural vs. The Artificial Theme Icon
Suburban Alienation Theme Icon
Helen points Neddy towards the Biswangers for a drink, as they’re having a party. Neddy reluctantly decides to... (full context)
Delusion and Repression Theme Icon
Suburban Alienation Theme Icon
Neddy describes his history with the Biswangers, whom he describes as boring, unpleasant people who talk... (full context)
Delusion and Repression Theme Icon
Suburban Alienation Theme Icon
Neddy approaches the house, expecting to be welcomed, but Mrs. Biswanger is clearly hurt and insulted... (full context)
Delusion and Repression Theme Icon
Suburban Alienation Theme Icon
As Neddy enters the party, he hears others talk behind his back, describing a Sunday when he... (full context)
Delusion and Repression Theme Icon
Time Theme Icon
Neddy moves on to his third-to-last pool, which belongs to his old mistress Shirley Adams. He’s... (full context)
Delusion and Repression Theme Icon
Previously, Neddy had broken it off with Shirley and she seemed crushed, while Neddy had thought it... (full context)
Delusion and Repression Theme Icon
Time Theme Icon
Shirley tells Neddy to “grow up” when he talks about his quest to swim across the county. He... (full context)
Delusion and Repression Theme Icon
Time Theme Icon
Leaving Shirley’s backyard, Neddy feels miserable. He looks up at the summer night sky only to see winter constellations... (full context)
The Natural vs. The Artificial Theme Icon
Time Theme Icon
Faced with the next pool, Neddy is so weak that he has to gingerly descend the steps instead of diving in... (full context)
Delusion and Repression Theme Icon
Time Theme Icon
Neddy stops periodically by the curb of the pool to rest, and when he reaches the... (full context)
Delusion and Repression Theme Icon
Time Theme Icon
Reaching his house, Neddy sees that it’s dark. He speculates about whether Lucinda and the girls are still at... (full context)