Neddy Merill's Drinking Problem in John Cheever's Short Story, The Swimmer

Published: 2021-06-24 18:55:04
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John Cheever an American novelist from the 1900’s did tons of work depicting characters with sadness who also carry sympathetic irony. His work touches on issues with alcoholism which is one of the key themes in his 1964 work titled “The Swimmer”. The short story focuses on Neddy Merrill a man who enjoys the high social lifestyle with his wife Lucinda. From mid- day cocktail parties to evening gatherings the neighborhood they live in seems to host all sorts of events. After a day of drinking by the pool at one of Ned’s neighbors house he decides to get home by swimming through the different pools throughout his neighborhood since according to him his life was not confining. “Making his way home by an uncommon route gave him the feeling that he was a pilgrim, an explorer, a man with a destiny.” (159) Here a reader can see how to Ned the feeling of excitement and exploration has been absent in his life. As Ned carries on his journey he runs into many neighbors who mention a thing or two that Ned has no memory of. Toward the end of his journey Ned reaches his home but to find the house with a rusty lock that had been completely empty. From Ned being with his wife at the beginning of the story to him locked out of his empty house at the end one can analyze how Ned’s drinking became such a problem his wife not only left him but his consumption of alcohol left him with issues keeping track of time and remembering problems he has had in the past.
According to the introduction of John Cheever in The Norton Anthology, Cheever “agonized over the disruptive facts go his alcoholism and homosexuality”(157). “The Swimmer” doesn’t focus on Ned having an alcoholism problem but it seems to be more of a underlining theme that you catch as the story is being finished. The story starts off on a Sunday with a get together at the Westerhazy’s pool. Many of the guests proclaim how they had drank too much and were possibly feeling a hangover. As Ned is introduced he is already spotted with a glass of gin in his hand. This sets the tone of Ned having a slight problem with drinking. When the other guests are talking about how they have had too much too drink Ned is by the pool still finishing a drink. As Ned begins his journey he stops at multiple neighbors houses many having parties and accepts a drink from the hosts, “A smiling bartender he had seen at a hundred parties gave him a gin and tonic and stood by the bar for a moment”. (159) Ned wasn’t even offered a drink at this party and instead found his way to the bartender before he was off continuing his journey. This is a huge indicator Ned may have a problem with alcohol after drinking in the day before his swim and engulfing in drinking through the swim. Ned then arrives to the Welchers house were he notices there pool is empty. He also sees windows were shut and a for-sale sign nailed onto a tree. He then thinks about how he and his wife missed an invitation to dinner with them only a week or so ago. This is were the issue of keeping track of time is introduced. With the pool being drained and a for-sale sign being up it it clear how the Welchers had not been there for a long time and the invitation to dine with them had been many weeks ago. Ned even says to himself, “Was his memory failing or had he so disciplined it in the repression of unpleasant facts that he had damaged his sense of the truth?”(161) Long term drinking can lead to memory damage and other serious mental health damages. Ned’s drinking may have caused him to forget some weeks that had passed making him believe the invitation he had received was just the other week. The worse situation were Ned didn’t seem to recall the situation was when he arrived to the Halloran’s backyard. Mrs. Holloran opens up to Ned and gave her apologies for his misfortunes, “We’ve been terribly sorry to hear about all your misfortune, Neddy.” (162) Mrs. Halloran followed with how she had heard Ned sold the house and something that had happened to his kids but wasn’t stated. Ned seemed extremely confused and mentioned how he never recalled selling his house. This also backs up the idea how Ned’s drinking had effected his life. Ned ends up getting to his house at the end of the story and it is completely locked and empty. Many things could have gone wrong in Ned’s life but from what Mrs. Halloran stated he had to sell his house and he either lost his kids or his wife, possible ex-wife has them.Ned’s journey is underlined with swimming, and running into neighbors but the biggest theme was the consumption of alcohol. Wether Ned realizes is in the end or not he had a problem with the bottle. He had issues with constantly having a drink, and forgetting past incidences. It can’t be said for certain if Ned’s drinking drove his wife away or his drinking developed after his wife possibly left him. What is certain though is the problem Ned has. If he realizes it or not is up to him if he wants to remember the issues he has.

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