Whistling Vivaldi


Claude Steele

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The Swimming Pool Symbol Analysis

The Swimming Pool Symbol Icon

Claude Steele begins the book by describing the day he first “realized” that he was black. In the 1950s, when Steele was a child, Chicago was a heavily segregated city, and one summer’s day, Steele was surprised to learn that because of his race he wasn’t allowed to go into the nearby swimming pool to cool off. In other words, Steele first became aware that he was black in the instant that he learned that black people were banned from the pool. For Steele, this humiliating incident is a symbol for the power of social contingencies. In this case, the rule against swimming in the pool is an identity-defining contingency (if Steele goes in the pool, then he will be breaking the law—therefore, he is black). At the same time, the swimming pool symbolizes the power of negative contingencies in defining identity. More often than not, Steele argues, people come to understand their identities because of negative, painful experiences, such as being banned from a pool.

The Swimming Pool Quotes in Whistling Vivaldi

The Whistling Vivaldi quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Swimming Pool. 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:
Identity, Stereotyping, and Identity Threats Theme Icon
Chapter 1 Quotes

I have a memory of the first time I realized I was black. It was when, at seven or eight, I was walking home from school with neighborhood kids on the last day of the school year—the whole summer in front of us—and I learned that we "black" kids couldn't swim at the pool in our area park, except on Wednesday afternoons.

Related Characters: Claude Steele (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Swimming Pool
Page Number: 1
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 11 Quotes

When I look over my life as an African American, I see improvements in the contingencies attached to that identity. The swimming pool restrictions of my youth are gone. So are the suffocating limitations Anatole Broyard would have faced as a black man in New York City in the late 1940s. Things have gotten better. But remember, contingencies grow out of an identity's role in the history and organization of a society—its role in the DNA of a society—and how society has stereotyped that identity.

Related Characters: Claude Steele (speaker), Anatole Broyard
Related Symbols: The Swimming Pool
Page Number: 212
Explanation and Analysis:
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The Swimming Pool Symbol Timeline in Whistling Vivaldi

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Swimming Pool appears in Whistling Vivaldi. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
Identity, Stereotyping, and Identity Threats Theme Icon
Autonomy and Freedom Theme Icon
...the summer, and he learned that black kids weren’t allowed to swim in the nearby swimming pool , except on Wednesdays. Steele was living just outside of Chicago at the time, the... (full context)
Identity, Stereotyping, and Identity Threats Theme Icon
...of life.” Just as Steele became aware of his own “condition” of blackness at the swimming pool , his student was made to feel aware of being white in a mostly black... (full context)
Identity, Stereotyping, and Identity Threats Theme Icon
Autonomy and Freedom Theme Icon
...want. For example, Steele had to deal with his race when trying to enjoy the swimming pool , and in the end he had to restrict his behavior and swim only one... (full context)
Chapter 4
Identity, Stereotyping, and Identity Threats Theme Icon
...strongly aware of his blackness while learning that he wasn’t allowed to go to the swimming pool —a textbook threat contingency. (full context)