What is the meaning of the following sentence of The Swimmer by John Cheever?

His life was not confining, and the delight he took in this thought could not be explained by its suggestion of escape.

1 Answer 1


In the early paragraphs of "The Swimmer", Neddy Merrill is described as a man who lacks nothing. He has good looks, an energetic body, a house in the affluent New York suburbs of Westchester County, four beautiful daughters, plenty of friends, an ample supply of drink, and invitations to more social engagements than he can accept. He appears to have achieved the American dream.

A cornerstone of this dream is freedom. Sean Illing notes that "America is uniquely obsessed with 'freedom'", and the meaning of American freedom has been explored by many writers such as Eric Foner and Sebastian Junger. Merrill's charmed life appears to embody that freedom. But this freedom isn't just defined in negative terms, as being free from confining circumstances. Rather, it's the freedom of endless possibility, being free to do anything—such as traverse the eight miles from the Westerhazy's home to his own by swimming across backyard pools. The sentence you ask about specifies precisely this sort of freedom: Merrill's seemingly unconfined life is enjoyable to him because it represents not an escape from but an absence of constraint.

Generally, when one says "I'm free!", it has a suggestion of escape from unhappy circumstances: a prisoner might say this on being released, or someone who was in an unhappy marriage might say this on getting a divorce. But Merrill does not seek to escape from his life. He thinks that his life is not confining, but the delight he feels about this is because he revels in the possibilities of his unfettered existence, not because he has escaped from some fetters.

  • What is meant by "its suggestion of escape."? Oct 19, 2023 at 1:20
  • Added some further explanation, hope it helps!
    – verbose
    Oct 19, 2023 at 5:16

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