How are the themes of masculinity, poverty, political conflict, idealism and illusion vs. reality portrayed in quotes from Hemingway's short story "The Capital of the World"?
"The Capital of the World" is one of Hemingway's many short stories which focuses on bullfighting. It is set in Madrid, the capital of Spain. The title reflects the fact that for the main character, Paco, Madrid is the world. As with much of Hemingway's work masculinity is a major theme in the story. It is suggested in the descriptions of the bullfighters and picadors who reside in the "Pension Luarca", some of whom are skilled, old or cowardly. It is also apparent in the figure of Paco, a young waiter who has come to Madrid from the Spanish countryside. Hemingway describes a handsome, masculine youth:
He was a well built boy with very black, rather curly hair, good teeth and a skin that his sisters envied, and he had a ready and unpuzzled smile.
And like other Hemingway heroes he is very much interested in proving his masculinity, especially within the scope of the bullfight. Paco also hopes to overcome his impoverished background. Hemingway writes:
He came from a village in a part of Extramadura where conditions were incredibly primitive, food scarce, and comforts unknown and he had worked hard ever since he could remember.
For Paco, his job as a waiter lifts him out of poverty and he revels in his city life that "seemed romantically beautiful." He's also keenly interested in the political discussion between the two other waiters, one an anarchist who spouts communist credos. The tall waiter speaks of destroying both the government, which he refers to as bulls, and the church. He says,
"Only through the individual can you attack the class. It is necessary to kill the individual bull and the individual priest. All of them. Then there are no more."
The political discussion fits well into Paco's idealism. He is replete with dreams and illusions of his future life of glamour as a bullfighter. When the dishwasher Enrique suggests that fear would overcome him in the ring, Paco denies it. He has fantasized of the moment when his dreams become reality:
Too many times he had seen the horns, seen the bull's wet muzzle, the ear twitching, then the head go down and the charge, the hoofs thudding and the hot bull pass him as he swung the cape, to re-charge as he swung the cape again, then again, and again, and again, to end winding the bull around him in his great media-veronica, and walk swingingly away with bull hairs caught in the gold ornaments of his jacket from the close passes; the bull standing hypnotized and the crowd applauding.
Like many Hemingway heroes, the reality is quite different. Characters such as Nick Adams and Frederick Henry went off to war with the illusion that it would all be glory, only to discover the true horrors which awaited. For Paco, his life is cut short as he missteps in the play bullfight with Enrique and his femoral artery is cut, ending his life on the floor of the dining room. For Hemingway, there was often courage and glory in death. While on the surface, Paco's death seems meaningless, it is similar to other deaths in Hemingway's work, especially the violent ending of Francis Macomber, who dies just at the point when he finds his courage.