The Swimmer


John Cheever

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Themes and Colors
The Natural vs. The Artificial Theme Icon
Delusion and Repression Theme Icon
Suburban Alienation Theme Icon
Time Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Swimmer, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

The Natural vs. The Artificial

As Neddy Merrill swims across the county, he tries to make a wilderness out of the well-kept pools of suburbia, reimagining them as a unified body of water. His progress across the county shows him tapping into a more elemental, less civilized part of himself as he soaks in the physical sensations of the day and removes his clothing, but the effort falters badly as he’s diverted across a highway and through a public pool…

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Delusion and Repression

At the beginning of the story, Neddy’s life seems wonderful: he and his wife, Lucinda, are sitting around his neighbor’s pool on a glorious summer day, and he’s so happy that he wants to “gulp into his lungs the components of that moment.” However, over the course of Neddy’s swim across the county, this wonderful life unravels without clear cause: the weather sours and then turns autumnal while Cheever gives clues that Neddy…

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Suburban Alienation

When Cheever wrote “The Swimmer,” suburban life—which promised blissful and affordable living after the horrors of the Second World War—was booming. The suburbs of “The Swimmer,” however, do not enable the characters to live an ideal life. Neddy Merrill views his suburban neighbors almost uniformly as obstacles and inconveniences. Indeed, as the story progresses, readers begin to see suburban life as nothing more than an exhausting progression of façades and obligations: invitations are extended and…

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“The Swimmer” depicts the passage of time at three superimposed levels. One is the course of a single Sunday—the “real” timeline on which the story plays out. Another is the accelerated passage of seasons, as the story begins in high summer and then descends into fall and winter. The third (and most important) timeline is the course of Neddy’s adult life. Cheever uses these superimposed timelines to emphasize how subjective the feeling of time…

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