John Cheever’s story ?The Swimmer? depicts a protaganist, and the society that has nurtured him, as lacking in seriousness and responsibility. Neddy, the bewildered protagonist, represents a society satirized for centering its values on social status and materialism. During the course of Neddy’s journey, the illusions he has constructed about his life are stripped away, and in the process the truth behind his society is realized. In unveiling the tragedy of Neddy’s existence, Cheever reveals the unworthiness of an unexamined life.
The tragedy of Neddy’s presence leads to his own demise. Through an unique usage of tone, Cheever foreshadows the misfortunes of the protagonist. Stereotypically, the author hints at the fact that that wealthy people loaf around and indulge themselves with alcohol to rid themselves of their problems (368). In a mocking manner, almost setting Neddy up for his failure, the day begins beautiful and everyone is happy, but a feeling of confusion soon follows (368). Significantly, by exemplifying the point of view, Cheever allows the reader to see Neddy from two different perspectives. According to Neddy, ?his life was not confining and the delight he took in observation could not be explained by its suggestion of escape? (368). The bystanders view of Neddy, however, depicts him as ?close to naked,? as they ?wondered if he was the victim of foul play, had his car broken down, or was he merely a fool? (371). This is the only moment in the entire story where a perspective other than Neddy’s is offered, indicating that Cheever wants to maintain an emphasis on the bewilderment of Neddy. In addition, elements of symbolism throughout the story exhibit the troubles of Neddy. The water, a symbol of the unconscious, represents the thoughts and actions of Neddy. Alcohol, a means of escape, lies as a threat to Neddy’s existence because he feels that ?whiskey would… carry him through the last of his journey? (373-74). The storm represents a change from the confusion of Neddy into the truth about his existence.
The worthlessness of Neddy’s unexamined life ultimately forces him awy from reality. Initially, the characterization of Neddy and the society which he represents reveals the meaninglessness of both his life and that of the society. ?My misfortunes? ….I don’t know what you mean,?(373) Neddy obliviously responds when receiving sympathy for his financial misfortunes that he seems totally unaware of. Due to the snobbish behavior accustomed to Neddy through his society, he is afraid that the public pool will ?damage his own prosperousness and charm?(372) which he no longer possesses anyway. Furthermore, the constant usage of allusion remains evident throughout the story. Almost Fitzgerald-like in his descriptions of the ?prosperous men and women,?(370) Cheever satirizes the society. Also similar to the works of Fitzgerald, the protagonists’ own wealth and power force his social decline. Importantly, symbolism also plays a role in describing the lifestyle of Neddy and the society of which he represents. The storm adds to Cheever’s satirical story in that confusion is even moreso emphasized(370). The parties and constant drinking of the wealthy society acts as a way for them to escape everyday responsibilities (368).
Cheever illustrates the meaningless life of Neddy and his satirized society by uncovering the affliction of Neddy’s existence. The fact that Neddy feels that he still holds the same social stature as he previously did, exhibits his ignorance and inability to accept his own misfortunes. Throughout the story, both the society and Neddy think that they can avoid the problems of life by consuming alcohol, obtaining wealth, and partying. Ultimately, the personal tragedy of mankind results from his own ignorance and misperception of reality.