Learning to Swim Summary
by Graham Swift

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Learning to Swim Summary

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“Learning to Swim,” told in the third person, describes the dysfunctional Singleton family’s holiday in England’s Cornwall. As Mr. Singleton teaches his young son Paul to swim, his wife reflects on her past and her relationship with her husband. She recalls that she had first considered leaving Mr. Singleton while vacationing on a Greek island before they were married. She had enjoyed the holiday, but while she lay on the beach, he remained in the sea, afraid, she believed, of the land. After they were married, she again thought about leaving him. He had become professionally successful but was personally distant, preferring his engineering accomplishments to her.

Their love life, or lack of it, also has led Mrs. Singleton to consider ending the marriage. Her ideal lover is an ethereal artist, but Mr. Singleton is an athletic swimmer and engineer. She claims she has taken the lead in their sexual relations throughout their marriage, but their lovemaking has been almost nonexistent. In her opinion, her husband simply does not want to be happy. In spite of the infrequency of sexual intercourse, she did become pregnant and bear a child. In reflecting on their past arguments, she thinks that she has always forgiven him, as a mother would forgive a child. However, Mr. Singleton has rejected her mothering and, she feels, her sexuality. After Paul’s birth, she had wished to put her husband into her womb, and she believes he had desired the same thing.

Mr. Singleton, too, has thought about leaving Mrs. Singleton, once after she had taken him to a classical music concert in London. No lover of music, he suspected that she simply wished to humiliate him. At school he had been a competitive swimmer, and his success established in his mind that he needed no one else, and he pursued physics and mathematics with single-minded dedication. He often dreams about swimming to an empty distant shore, and when he makes love to Mrs. Singleton, he thinks about swimming through her to that pristine land.

From the shore, Mrs. Singleton watches Paul’s...

(The entire section is 541 words.)