The Swimmer

by

John Cheever

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Swimming Pools Symbol Analysis

Swimming Pools Symbol Icon

In “The Swimmer,” Neddy Merill swims home through a chain of suburban swimming pools, which he imagines is actually the “Lucinda River,” a wild river flowing into unexplored territory. These pools—the focal points of idyllic midsummer afternoons—represent the desire of the suburban upper-middle class to control their environment by repressing unpleasantness or ugliness of any kind. Indeed, Ned’s characterization of the pools as the wild “Lucinda River” obscures the reality of the situation: the river is actually a disconnected series of suburban backyard pools, each one boxed-in and often sanitized with chemicals, surrounded by neighbors offering cocktails. Characterizing the pools as the “Lucinda River,” however, enables Neddy’s image of himself as a primal man battling his environment through his unique strength and adventurousness, or an explorer charting a course through an untouched landscape. In reality, though, Ned is clearly a vain suburban socialite wandering through domesticated backyards he has seen many times during parties. These suburban residents curate their backyards like Neddy curates his life, choosing only the pleasurable or beautiful elements and casting out all that is ugly. Regardless, though, the ugliness is always present: backyard swimming pools are the sites of confrontations with mistresses, spurned neighbors, and fawning but hollow conversations, and Neddy’s swim along the river sours when his immersion in fantasy can no longer obscure his ruined life. In the end, the pools drive home the futility of trying to banish discomfort and displeasure from life.

Swimming Pools Quotes in The Swimmer

The The Swimmer quotes below all refer to the symbol of Swimming Pools. 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

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:

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 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:
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Swimming Pools Symbol Timeline in The Swimmer

The timeline below shows where the symbol Swimming Pools appears in The Swimmer. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
The Swimmer
Suburban Alienation Theme Icon
...from priests to birdwatchers 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... (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 and slender. That morning, he had... (full context)
The Natural vs. The Artificial Theme Icon
Suburban Alienation Theme Icon
Time Theme Icon
...this thought is not about “escape.” He imagines, “with a cartographer’s eye,” a line of pools stretching across the county back to his house.  This line of pools forms a river... (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 the steps. His stroke... (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 have to cross. He’s ecstatic as he starts out, feeling that a world “so... (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. Mrs. Graham welcomes him, claiming that she’s been trying to call him all morning to... (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 the Bunkers’ backyard, he finds... (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... (full context)
The Natural vs. The Artificial Theme Icon
Delusion and Repression Theme Icon
...shocked to see a “for sale” sign out front, with the house boarded and the pool drained. He’s especially confused because “no one ever drains their pool,” and the interruption in... (full context)
Delusion and Repression Theme Icon
Time Theme Icon
...plan to swim home. He tries to recapture the pleasure he experienced at the Westerhazys’ pool, which initially sparked the journey. He wonders whether he lacks “common sense” for continuing, but... (full context)
The Natural vs. The Artificial Theme Icon
He comes to a public pool where he’s greeted with a sign requiring him to wash his feet before entering. The... (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... (full context)
The Natural vs. The Artificial Theme Icon
Time Theme Icon
...he notices a yellow beech hedge and Mrs. Halloran fishing beech leaves out of the pool. Neddy focuses on the pool, which is the oldest in the county. It’s a natural... (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.” Neddy denies any misfortune,... (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 him, but he claims... (full context)
The Natural vs. The Artificial Theme Icon
Delusion and Repression Theme Icon
...looks in on the Hallorans’ daughter Helen and her husband Eric and notes that their pool is “small.” He asks them for a drink, but Helen tells him that they don’t... (full context)
The Natural vs. The Artificial Theme Icon
Suburban Alienation Theme Icon
...a drink, as they’re having a party. Neddy reluctantly decides to “get wet,” swimming Helen’s pool. On his way to the Biswangers, he claims that he and Lucinda want “terribly” to... (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 momentarily excited by the prospect of... (full context)
Delusion and Repression Theme Icon
Time Theme Icon
...up” when he talks about his quest to swim across the county. He swims her pool, but he feels so weak and tired that he uses the ladder to jump out... (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... (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 end, he uses the ladder to get out... (full context)