The Swimmer


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John Cheever’s The Swimmer is a work of fiction that examines the extent to which we perceive reality, and the effect of that perception on us and those around us. I was able to find some similarities within both The Swimmer and Hamlet, such as the the male protagonists decline in mental stability and the feeling of helplessness as one embarks on a path that they cannot find a way out of.

The first similarity was obvious, identifiable by specific section in Hamlet when the main character is described as going mad, and then subtly through The Swimmer, when readers experiences a twinge of suspicion that not all is right with the main character’s situation. In both of these instances, the main character’s mental decline is brought to the readers through accounts or conversations with outside characters; we seem to be discovering the problem along with the main characters.

However, the main objectives of both characters seem to deviate. While Ned wishes to undertake a journey that is noble in its comedy and innocence, Hamlet embarks on a revenge plot that is in no way noble. I think that because of this, by the end of The Swimmer I felt much more for the main character, because I was able to empathize with him more so than I was able to with Hamlet, due to the nature of Hamlet’s underlying motives. The desire for a simple swim I viewed as clean, refreshing, and wholesome, and to have such an act defiled and corrupted by the twist of Ned’s fate makes me mourn that loss of innocence. There is nothing that I mourn in Hamlet; the path that Hamlet chooses puts him and those around him in the path of destruction, something that I cannot sympathize with.