What is the theme of John Cheever's short story, "The Swimmer"?

Essay by AmesChickHigh School, 11th gradeA+, November 2003

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A River in Egypt

Like the famous saying goes, denial isn't just a river in Egypt. On the surface, "The Swimmer" may appear to be a tale of the effects of alcohol abuse or maybe even a characterization of a mental disorder like Alzheimer's. Upon closer scrutiny, however, one discerns that it is denial that allows for the supremacy of the human mind over logic and reason during desperate times. Cheever insinuates that the mind is not only a dangerously powerful tool, but also an instrument that can command authority over the rest of the senses. Not even the most levelheaded person is immune to the haunting repression of unaccepted memories, thoughts, or experiences.

Upon first being introduced to Neddy Merrill, a sense of wariness descends upon the reader. Why would this seemingly invincible man, glowing with the vitality usually accompanying one much younger than he, attempt to journey home through a cluster of neighboring swimming pools? The answer can be found by a slight stretch of the imagination.

Cheever has left room for several inferences as far as Ned's background goes. It's understood that Ned apparently is basking in the picturesque, 1950's, New England lifestyle complete with a beautiful wife, four daughters, and a white picket fence. As his journey continues, however, strange details are alluded to. "When Lucinda said that you couldn't come, I thought I'd die," exclaims an overzealous Enid Bunker. One might wonder why Neddy's wife would decline an invitation for her husband without letting him know. This points to marital problems between the couple, an indication that Ned pays little attention to.

A few swimming pools later, time is obviously progressing much faster than Ned is allotting to. "We've been terribly sorry to hear about all your misfortunes, Ned. We heard you sold...