Discussion Topic

The journey in "The Swimmer" as a reflection of human consciousness and the journey of life


In "The Swimmer," the journey reflects human consciousness and the journey of life by symbolizing the protagonist's decline through a series of pools. As he progresses, his physical and mental state deteriorates, mirroring the inevitable passage of time and the realization of life's fleeting nature. This journey highlights themes of denial, aging, and the loss of social status.

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How does the journey's symbolism reflect human consciousness in "The Swimmer"?

I think that there is much in way of the symbolism in the journey that Neddy undertakes and its connection to modern being in the world.  On one hand, the quest has significance to Neddy and that's about it. If there was a shared understanding of the quest that Neddy undertakes, his wife would not have left and the other neighbors would have been more understanding.  Instead, the journey that Neddy commences has significance to him and him alone.  This reflection is one that shows the symbolism of the modern journey as one undertaken by individuals, whose significance is only understood by the individual.  Another element of symbolism in this journey is that it fails to accomplish anything of meaning.  Neddy is able to complete his journey.  Enduring pain and struggle, he ends up finishing the journey.  Yet, when he returns to an empty house with no one there, Neddy's pounding on the door to no one there is the culmination of his journey.  It is one in which all toil and endeavor has been done and given, with nothing of significance at the end of it.  The symbolism of the emptiness of the journey is evident at the end of the narrative.

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How does "The Swimmer" relate to the journey of life?

Cheever's "The Swimmer" can be read as an allegory for the life cycle.  Note from the very beginning of the story when Neddy quickly dives into the Westerhazys' pool and scoffs at using the ladder to get out, how heroic and brave Neddy seems as he sets out on his unique journey.  He appears to be a man in peak physical condition and the height of youth and strength.  Even the imagery Cheever uses - that of the summer and the sun high in the sky - early in the story reinforces this. 

However, once Neddy is trapped at the Levys' house by the storm, the imagery begins to change to that of fall - the leaves fade, the air grows colder, and their is an emptiness about the homes.  There is a change in Neddy too.  Instead of vigorously navigating the Lucinda River, he begins to show his true age.  He is tired and struggles to continue, even resorting to having to use a ladder to get out of a pool.

Ultimately, when Neddy finally arrives home, he appears to be a ruined man.  He is confused as to why his wife is not there to meet him.  He also doesn't know where his daughter are or why the house is locked and vacant.  He seems almost like a senile old man.

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