The Swimmer

The Swimmer Literary Elements


Short story

Setting and Context

The suburbs of New York City in midsummer, 1960s.

Narrator and Point of View

Third-person point of view.

Tone and Mood

The mood is light-hearted at the start of the text, transitions to uncertain and melancholy in the middle, and is dark and surreal by the end. The tone is matter-of-fact and serious.

Protagonist and Antagonist

Neddy Merrill is the protagonist of the story; Neddy's flawed conception of himself, imposed by suburbia, is the conceptual antagonist.

Major Conflict

The major conflict is person vs. self: whether Neddy will be able to come to terms with who he truly is vs. the flawed conception he has of himself.


The climax comes at the end of the story: Neddy staggers up his driveway, cold and exhausted, only to find his home dark and empty, finally confronting the distance between his real life and what he took his life to be.


"The Swimmer" is laden with examples of foreshadowing. In the very first scene, the fine midsummer day is interrupted by an ominous cloud in the distance. Later, Neddy hears thunder. He also notices hints of autumn, such as red and yellow leaves, which signal that something is not right: time is passing too quickly. Similarly, the truth of the final moment of the story, Neddy's reckoning with loss, is foreshadowed many times throughout the text. At many pools along the Lucinda River route, he hears concern, gossip, and shadowy remnants of his misfortunes, which he himself has forgotten or does not know.




In "The Swimmer," Neddy Merrill reflects the image of the legendary Greek adventurer, Odysseus. As he was described in "The Odyssey," the Greek traveler and war hero Odysseus encounters countless challenges on his long, arduous journey home, and he must confront them with bravery in order to return to his home.


The weather and the passing of seasons are described with great detail throughout "The Swimmer." This is accompanied by images of decay and the acceleration of the clock. See the separate "Imagery" section of this ClassicNote for further details.




Neddy is positioned to parallel the epic hero Odysseus, establishing one of the story's central ironies (see this ClassicNote's separate "Irony" section for further details).

Metonymy and Synecdoche