Hamlet and Anthony Swofford's "Jarhead"In Jarhead, his memoir about being a Marine in Desert Shield and Desert Storm, Anthony Swofford compares his experience in the Marine Corps to Shakespeare's...

Hamlet and Anthony Swofford's "Jarhead"

In Jarhead, his memoir about being a Marine in Desert Shield and Desert Storm, Anthony Swofford compares his experience in the Marine Corps to Shakespeare's Hamlet. At the end of Jarhead, Swofford says one of the central conflicts of being a Marine is that, if you don't kill, you're not a real Marine and if you do kill, you have to live with the guilt of murder.

Another experience Swofford writes about in his book is the conflict between pre- and post-combat experience. In pre-combat, such as boot camp and training, you learn to dehumanize and toughen yourself to function in battle. In post-combat, you have to re-integrate into society and try to rehumanize yourself.

Do you think Swofford's comparison of Marine life to Hamlet's situation is a good one? Hamlet has to toughen himself up to avenge his father's death and kill Claudius. One of the reasons he's reluctant to kill Claudius, however, is that he'll have to live with his conscience once he's done it. If Hamlet did kill Claudius and survive, do you think he could live happily ever after? Or would his conscience always dog him?

Would the rest of Elsinore accept his actions and perceive him as a just avenger, or would they perceive him as a murdering usurper? Would he be able to live with public censure as well as his own conscience? How is this situation similar to the "coming home" experience of Marines who have killed in combat and now have to account for their actions in "polite" American society?

Asked on by quentin1

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litteacher8's profile pic

litteacher8 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

Hamlet was very young.  I usually think about his struggle as a conflict between an innately passivist nature and the duty he had to his country.  A Marine might have the same duty, but why would you join the Marines if you were a passivist?

shake99's profile pic

shake99 | Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

Posted on

I think Hamlet, had he lived, would have been filled with self-doubt about the killing of Claudius. He just did not have the make up of a remorseless killer, and the fact that he vacillated so much for so long shows it.

quentin1's profile pic

quentin1 | (Level 2) Honors

Posted on

Re litteacher8, you make some good points. Re passivism, however, if you choose not to fight to defend your country, someone else ends up fighting for YOUR right not to fight. That's a breezy way to phrase a difficult debate, but there is some truth to it.

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