“The Swimmer” was published in 1964, at a time of great prosperity for middle- and upper-class Americans. Having survived World War II, which ended in 1945, and the Korean War, which took place in the 1950s, many Americans—at least white Americans—were enjoying the wealth and affluence of the postwar era. It was during this time that the American suburbs, the setting of “The Swimmer,” grew at a rapid pace. This world of the upper classes is the world of Neddy Merrill as he appears at the beginning of “The Swimmer.”
Neddy Merrill’s world was in no way, however, one to which most Americans had access. The civil rights movement was active, and basic liberties were still an issue of great concern for many Americans. Although slaves had been freed as outlined in the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 and slavery was abolished in 1865 with the enactment of the Thirteenth Amendment, many African Americans continued to be denied their civil rights. The civil rights act issued in June 1964 was intended to end this discrimination. Despite the progress that the passage of this bill symbolized, the problems faced by women and many minorities were not immediately resolved. Various other “rights” movements were also active in the early 1960s. The environmental movement gained much momentum in 1962 with the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique (1963) shed much light on the problems faced by American women.
Short Stories for Students, Volume 2, John Cheever, Edited by Kathleen Wilson, Published by Gale Research, New York, 1997.