Shirley Adams is Neddy’s former mistress. When Neddy arrives at her home, she is shocked by his presence and warns him that she will not lend him any money. She is with a younger man.
Grace Biswanger is hosting a party when Neddy arrives and is angered by his presence, calling him a gate-crasher. Grace regularly invites Neddy and his wife to her parties, but they consistently decline. Neddy and his wife consider the Biswangers socially inferior. Grace reveals that Neddy is broke and has attempted to borrow money from her and her husband.
Enid Bunker is an acquaintance of Neddy’s and Lucinda’s. She and her husband are hosting a pool party that Neddy interrupts on his swim home. Neddy and his wife were invited to the party but decided not to attend it. Enid is subsequently surprised and happy to see Neddy there, and she detains Neddy on his journey by giving him a drink, assuming that he has come to join the festivities.
Mrs. Halloran is the mother of Helen Sachs and is one of Neddy Merrill’s friends whom he encounters on his swim home while she sits next to her pool reading The New York Times. She and her husband are elderly and rich. They are also something of nonconformists. They prefer to swim in the nude and are rumored to be communists. Mrs. Halloran is the first character in the story to mention Neddy’s recent misfortunes, all of which Neddy denies.
Lucinda Merrill is Neddy Merrill’s wife. It is after her that Neddy names the stream of pools that he has “discovered.” She, like Neddy, is active in their neighborhood’s social circle. Because of her relationship with the Biswangers, it is implied that she and Neddy are somewhat snobbish and unwilling to associate with the “wrong” sort of people. When the story opens, she speaks her only line: “We all drank too much.”
The protagonist of “The Swimmer,” Neddy Merrill, has a young, active, and playful spirit. He is described as having slid down the bannister earlier in the day even though he is approaching middle age. He is also likened “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.” He sees himself as something of a heroic figure and explorer and decides to swim home through the chain of pools in his suburban neighborhood. His wife is named Lucinda, and he has four daughters. He and his wife are active in their neighborhood’s social circle and attend numerous parties. They have also declined to attend several functions, which has offended some of their acquaintances and resulted in their gaining a snobbish reputation. As this surreal tale unfolds, however, Neddy is additionally described or portrayed as lonely, miserable, fatigued, and either forgetful, senile, or disoriented. He is also in financial trouble and has had extramarital affairs. His status as a hero is considered ironic.
Eric Sachs is the husband of Helen Sachs and a friend of Neddy’s. Eric has given up drinking due to an operation he had three years earlier. He still has scars on his stomach from this operation.
Helen Sachs is the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Halloran and the wife of Eric Sachs, a friend of Neddy’s. She is unable to give Neddy the drink that he requests; Eric had an operation three years ago, after which they both stopped drinking. Helen’s comments mystify Neddy, who does not remember that her husband had an operation. Neddy subsequently begins to doubt his memory. Kind and hospitable, Helen directs Neddy to a party at a nearby neighbor’s house where he can get a drink.
Short Stories for Students, Volume 2, John Cheever, Edited by Kathleen Wilson, Published by Gale Research, New York, 1997.