In Neddy, John Cheever created a truly delusional man who suffers from selective amnesia while he imagines himself to be great. Neddy lives in what should be a suburban paradise, but in the superficial McCarthy-era world of deceit, materialism, and broken promises, nothing is as Neddy wants to believe it is. Even the weather eludes him. There are hints of autumn everywhere, but Neddy believes it is still summer. Yet, he takes pleasure in the possibility of a coming storm. “Why did the first watery notes of a storm wind have for him the unmistakable sound of good news cheer, glad tidings?”
Neddy is completely blind to the truth. “Was his memory fading or had he so disciplined it in the repression of unpleasant facts that he had damaged his sense of the truth?” He doesn’t want to entertain thoughts that his life is a mess, but he has moments where he can’t stop those thoughts from taking over. Then again, his self-delusion kicks in. “Neddy…thought that he might contaminate himself – damage his own prosperousness and charm – by swimming in this murk, but he reminded himself that he was an explorer, a pilgrim…”
Toward the end of the story, Neddy can no longer keep going with the lies to himself. He looks up at the sky, and sees autumnal constellations. “What had become of the constellations of midsummer? He began to cry.” Neddy realized, “He had swum too long, he had been immersed too long, and his nose and throat were sore from the water.” Yet, when he finally reaches his former home, he is still caught off guard that it’s vacant and that his daughters are gone.
John Cheever uses setting and characterization to illustrate how a man can deceive himself while existing in a society that is also deceitful. Neddy’s epic swim through his neighborhood should have been a pilgrimage, but he’s nothing more than a drunk gate-crasher, who has lost everything but can’t admit it to himself.
Questions to Consider:
- Is the storm symbolic? How do Neddy’s experiences change from before the storm to after it?
- Throughout the story, Neddy ignores the signs of autumn, until finally, he looks up into the sky and breaks down. Does the reader’s perception of Neddy change in this moment?
- Describe the different neighbors Neddy sees and his interactions with them. Why might have Cheever chosen to only have Neddy interact with the female neighbors?
- Neddy believes himself to be an explorer, a pilgrim. Is this in any way true? Why/why not?
- Neddy has lost a lot recently. By the end of the story, has he gained anything? If so, what?