E222 JOHN CHEEVER QUESTIONS, CSU FULLERTON
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"The Swimmer" (Norton Vol. E 157-65).
"The Swimmer" (Norton Vol. E 157-65)
1. On page 157 of "The Swimmer," the story opens on a midsummer's day and everyone seems to have been drinking. Consider the role that alcohol plays in this story from here on out – how might alcohol consumption be thought to correlate to Neddy Merrill's illusions and, more broadly, his way of life and outlook?
2. On pages 157-59 of "The Swimmer," what initial description and characterization of Neddy Merrill does the narrator give us, and what seems to spark the idea of making his way home from the Westerhazys' poolside party by swimming through all the pools in the neighborhood? How does this strange voyage begin? What is Neddy's navigation plan and how does he handle his interactions with some of the first neighbors he encounters during his trip?
3. On pages 160-161 of "The Swimmer," a storm kicks up while Neddy Merrill is swimming his way home. How does he react to the storm at first? What unpleasant circumstances soon confront him, however, and what troubling insight comes his way as a result of them? Moreover, how does the narrator's description at this point suggest that the story is veering away from simple realism and towards the inclusion of a symbolic dimension accompanying Neddy's trip?
4. On page 161 of "The Swimmer," Neddy Merrill must cross the highway Route 424 and then use a public pool before he makes his way to the wealthy Halloran couple and their pool. In terms of the story's suburban landscape and its quality as an exploration of suburban ideology, why is it significant that Neddy finds it necessary to make his way across a very busy highway and then dip into a very public pool rather than the private, upscale ones of his neighbors?
5. On page 162 of "The Swimmer," Neddy Merrill makes his way to the wealthy Halloran couple and their pool. What startling and supposedly new information does he hear from them, and how does he respond to what they say? After his conversation with the Hallorans, what mood is Neddy in, and what is the condition of his body at this point? What does the narrator mention about the quality of the season, and why should that description jar us?
6. On page 163 of "The Swimmer," Neddy Merrill reaches the pool area of Helen and Eric Sachs, where he finds out that Eric had a major operation three years ago, one that has left him disfigured. How might the particular type of disfigurement, as it's described, be interpreted as having a symbolic charge with regard to the suburban lifestyle that the text explores? How does Neddy react to Helen and Eric's news at this point, and what reflections occur to him about the other disturbing things he has been told about his own recent existence?
7. On pages 163-64 of "The Swimmer," the wealthy Biswangers snub Neddy Merrill when he encounters them in hopes of getting something to drink, and his former mistress Shirley Adams also spurns him. What is the basis of these people's harsh treatment of Neddy, and what do they add to our understanding of his recent past? Why is the harsh treatment more or less deserved, and how, if at all, do these two encounters near the story's end change your view of Neddy?
8. On pages 164-65 of "The Swimmer," what condition is Neddy Merrill in (both physically and mentally) as he enters the home stretch of his strange trip through a suburban neighborhood's swimming pools, and then finally arrives home? What is "home" by the end of the story? How do the literal and symbolic dimensions come together at this point to cap our understanding of Neddy's downfall?