The Swimmer

The Swimmer Essay Questions

  1. 1

    How does the parallel between The Odyssey and "The Swimmer" create irony in the text?

    The parallel between Odysseus and Neddy's journeys contrasts the epic nature of the former with the absurdity of the latter. Odysseus undergoes great challenges in his quest to return home. Neddy's equivalent challenges are crossing a highway and swimming through a public pool—events that can hardly even be categorized as challenges. Second, two of Odysseus's central values are familial and social responsibility. Neddy is keenly aware of social class and reputation, but his concerns are selfish. His desire to return home only vaguely has to do with his wife and daughters. Instead of duty, his motivation is personal gain.

  2. 2

    What is one possible critique of the suburb that arises out of "The Swimmer"?

    John Cheever's "The Swimmer" is an effective portrayal of the lack of meaning in mid-century American suburb life and the accompanying attachment to superficial norms such as social pretensions and leisure pastimes. Neddy exemplifies this suburban malaise. He is clearly searching, for example, for a way to distinguish himself, make meaning out of his actions, and find a purpose for his life. He finds them in a farcical task—a faux journey that ultimately leads to his demise.

  3. 3

    What is the role of alcohol in "The Swimmer"?

    Alcohol is a central motif in the text. It lurks in the background of Neddy's life, as he consumes many gins throughout his travels. Yet it is also a possible cause of his confusion and anxiety: Neddy seems to be unable to remember many important life events. Nor can he distinguish his memories from last week from memories from a few years ago. These are common symptoms of alcoholism, just as they are of a more sinister malaise. Thus alcohol could potentially function both as a literal obstacle for Neddy and also as a metaphor for the alluring yet ultimately toxic experience of suburban life.