In "The Swimmer," how do the major symbols challenge our view of these characters as human beings?
There is a sense in which this excellent allegorical short story presents us with a rather harsh critique of the rich and powerful in American society. One of the primary symbols that is used to convey this impression is the possession of a swimming pool. Consider the way that the characters in this story all have swimming pools, so much so that Neddy Merrill is able to return home from a party (note the commonplace occurence of parties as well) by swimming through the various pools owned by his neighbours. The sheer wealth and leisure time of Neddy and his neighbours is reflected in these swimming pools and the amount of time they spend partying. Let us remember that the story begins with characters complaining that they drank too much and nursing hangovers. This does little to engender sympathy for them amongst readers. This impression continues as Neddy goes on his voyage through his neighbours' swimming pools and crashes various parties that are going on. All are catered, and all feature vast quantities of alcohol and food. Linked to this comment on wealth and affluence is the sense of social snobbery exhibited by Neddy and his contemporaries against couples such as the Biswangers, who did not "fit in" to Neddy's circle. Note Neddy's thoughts as he aproaches the Biswangers' garden:
They would be honoured to give him a drink, they would be happy to give him a drink. The Biswangers invited him and Lucinda for dinner four times a year, six weeks in advance. They were always rebuffed and yet they continued to send out their invitations, unwilling to comprehend the rigid and undemocratic realities of their society.
Not only do the symbols of parties and swimming pools alienate us from Neddy and his contemporaries because of the sheer wealth that they exhibit, it is clear that they also give rise to social snobbery that clearly reduce even further our sympathy for them as characters.