How is Neddy Merrill presented in the beginning of the story?  How would you describe the narrator's tone, and what does that tone communicate about the narrator's attitude toward Neddy?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The depiction of the protagonist as a hero is a complex one. The depiction offered of Neddy in the exposition of the story, before he undertakes his "heroic quest," is one where youthful vigor is evident. This can be seen in the discussion of Neddy sliding down the banister even though this is something that people of his "age" do not do.  This condition of youth offsetting a chronological condition can be seen in the comparison of him "to a summer's day, particularly the last hours of one, and ... the impression [he made] was definitely one of youth, sport, and clement weather."  Neddy is described as living a life that "is not confining," helping to convey a sense of "escape" that he embraced within it.   Upon embarking on his "quest," Cheever brings out an essential descriptive element in Neddy:

He seemed to see, with a cartographer's eye, that
string of swimming pools, that quasi-subterranean stream that curved across the county.  He had made a discovery, a contribution to modern geography; he would name the  stream Lucinda after his wife. He was not a practical joker nor was he a fool but he was determinedly original and had a vague and modest idea of himself as a legendary figure.

Neddy's desire to be a "legendary figure," embrace "discovery" and view consciousness with a "cartographer's eye" are all part of Neddy's presentation in the exposition of the narrative.

The tone that the author features is to construct a vision opposite of what will be.  On the surface, Cheever's attitude towards Neddy is to construct him as a hero cut from the Classical cloth.  It embraces the idea of "to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield."  Yet, underneath this, Cheever has a distinct attitude that critiques Neddy.  The reference to a summer day that is passing or to the general timbre of immaturity within Neddy is present.  It is an tone that is not hammered away at the reader, but it is an attitude that is present in terms of how Cheever feels towards his hero.  There is a sense of frailty within Neddy. In contrast to his youthful zeal and exuberant nature, there seems to be an undercurrent of weakness within him.  The tone that is struck is that the monument of grandeur that Neddy might be has been built on an insecure foundation, a castle built on a firmament of sand.  This tone becomes evident in the exposition of the narrative.  It helps to add to the multiple layers and dimensions that will end up defining Neddy.