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Hemingway, Ernest 1899–1961
A novelist and short story writer, Hemingway is regarded by many to be one of America's greatest authors. Known for his abbreviated style and stories which picture men proving their worth in situations of conflict, Hemingway attempted to live what he wrote. An associate of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ford Madox Ford, and James Joyce in Paris during the 1920s, Hemingway fought in World War I, the Spanish Civil War, and led resistance action against the Germans in France during World War II. A recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature, Hemingway committed suicide in 1961. (See also CLC, Vols. 1, 3, 6.)
As critics have pointed out, The Torrents of Spring satirizes [Sherwood] Anderson's experimental novel Dark Laughter (1925), in which he had gone pretty far out. Straining for new effects, he had drifted uncertainly. Especially tempting to the shark-like instincts of the satirist were some of Anderson's experiments with impressionism and stream of consciousness…. There are whole paragraphs in The Torrents of Spring exaggerating the jerky, noun-heavy style which resulted from [Anderson's] experiments…. (p. 488)
In addition to parodying the older author's flickering, impressionistic presentation, Hemingway also zeroed in on Anderson's unsuccessful attempts at stream-of-consciousness narrative….
It is risky to apply the stream-of-consciousness elements of the parody exclusively to Anderson, for Hemingway was also sniping at Gertrude Stein. Although Dark Laughter's attempts at stream-of-consciousness narrative and its catalogs are definitely Joycean, Hemingway's profound and lasting respect for Joyce rules out satire. (p. 489)
[Hemingway's story "My Old Man"] provides evidence of Anderson's influence. Although it is Hemingway's only known experiment with a naïve, colloquial, adolescent narrator, other elements of the story, such as colloquial devices and a new, subjective way of describing things, persisted and can thus be traced back to Anderson, particularly to "I Want to Know Why." (pp. 490-91)
As Hemingway said in defending the originality of his story, it does include the father-son dimension not present in Anderson's tale…. But in matters of style, there are parallels of far-reaching significance, parallels which can be extended to vernacular elements found throughout the body of the authors' works. (p. 491)
[A] fundamental characteristic of the colloquial style, polysyndeton, or the linking of simple sentences with and, is … found in both stories…. (p. 492)
Hemingway … made extensive use of the construction in work following "My Old Man." It is especially evident in his early writing: The Sun Also Rises (1926), "Now I Lay Me" (1927), and A Farewell to Arms (1929). Polysyndeton is less prominent in his later prose, although Green Hills of Africa (1935) provides a few good examples. He was at the same time beginning to forsake the coordinated sentence for more involved ones. Two outstanding stories appearing in 1936 continued the movement toward a new style: In "The Snows of Kilimanjaro," a fondness for polysyndeton is still discernible, but even the compound sentences manifest an increasing amount of subordination. "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber" provides further illustration of this change in emphasis. The trend toward two widely divergent styles accelerates in For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940), which has on the colloquial side Pilar's account of the massacre of the Fascists, but is more typically represented by denser, more complexly subordinated sentences.
The thrust of Hemingway's stylistic development after A Farewell to Arms, then, may be seen as being toward greater complexity and increased subordination. Overall evaluations of Hemingway's style have always been complicated by eccentric works such as Death in the Afternoon (1932), To Have and Have Not (1937), and Across the River and Into the Trees (1950), which are sometimes interpreted as being his attempt to attain that "fourth and fifth dimension" in prose. With his last two books, The Old Man and the Sea (1952) and A Moveable Feast (1964), it seemed that Hemingway was trying to return to his proven vernacular strength. Although not specifically colloquial, yet providing examples of polysyndeton, the style of The Old Man and the Sea is nonetheless simpler than the middle works, if rather mannered. It is in returning to Paris, appropriately, in attempting to recapture the simple pleasures, that Hemingway most closely approaches the style he was writing thirty years before…. Comparing A Moveable Feast with Across the River and Into the Trees, it occurs to the reader not only to question Faulkner's widely shared opinion that Hemingway never experimented, but also to lament that he ever sought any other than the third dimension of prose he found in Paris.
While he employed it … Hemingway apparently made more extensive use of polysyndeton than did Anderson. Influence is difficult to ascribe here, but it should be noted that Anderson did not really use polysyndeton as much as appearances suggest. Also, it is unwise to overlook possible sources of influence on both. (pp. 493-95)
[It] would seem that, although Anderson did provide some models, the relationship was more one of parallel development than of direct influence. And it is Hemingway who made the most of the legacy left by vernacular pioneers such as Mark Twain and Gertrude Stein. (p. 495)
Perhaps the most significant link between [Anderson and Hemingway], one which grows out of their common vernacular heritage, but which ultimately transcends it, is the colloquial habit of understatement, the deliberate use of simple modifiers like nice, fine, and good in place of more descriptive words. (p. 498)
Both stories ["I Want to Know Why" and "My Old Man"] utilize vague adjectives which convey states of feeling rather than concrete details. This subjective descriptive technique, which later came to be associated with Hemingway, is very evident in "I Want to Know Why." (p. 500)
Beginning … with the inspiration of British and American colloquial understatement, Hemingway followed Anderson's lead in developing this technique for conveying the maximum amount of emotion with the least possible fuss. It would seem from the evidence of "I Want to Know Why" and "My Old Man" that this was Anderson's clearest technical gift to him, the others bearing to varying degrees the mark of Gertrude Stein. Whereas in matters of syntax and repetition, Anderson was in a way his fellow pupil, in this stylistic area above all others, he showed Hemingway the way to convey immediacy with emotional intensity. (p. 503)
Paul P. Somers, Jr., "The Mark of Sherwood Anderson on Hemingway: A Look at the Texts", in South Atlantic Quarterly (reprinted by permission of the Publisher; copyright 1974 by Duke University Press, Durham, North Carolina), Autumn, 1974, pp. 487-503.
As a man [severely wounded in World War I], Hemingway lived every day in the full knowledge of his own death; and as a writer, he sought, at the deepest levels of his art, to confront this knowledge and to shape its meanings. In the process, he highlights the flowering of the tremendous and probably irreversible change in the direction and content of human consciousness which began in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries and culminated in the middle and late nineteenth century: the secularization and internalization of reality which is the true significance of those much misused terms, realism and naturalism. Then as now, the most characteristic and influential thinkers and artists increasingly saw reality in, and only in, this world and man and in the dynamic interrelationship between them. Then and since, the shifting glow of the magical, the supernatural, the transcendent, the absolute increasingly flickered out in those remote and mysterious mental processes we call human consciousness.
So it was too with Hemingway. The beliefs and values implanted by his childhood … were shredded in the explosion of the trench mortar. For Hemingway, death and its implications for life became entirely existential realities to be confronted existentially—though, to be sure, with a small rather than with a large e. In his writing, religion appears only as an empty echo of what once was but is no more; and men turn to objective nature and to themselves and each other for meaning and solace. (pp. 176-77)
In such a universe, reality for Hemingway is entirely and only secular and human: objective nature and the external world as man perceives them with his senses and learns from them through experience. The famous and extraordinarily eloquent concreteness of Hemingway's style is inimitable precisely because it is not primarily stylistic: the how of Hemingway's style is the what of his characteristic vision.
Tortured to the edge of insanity by a world gone mad in war, Nick Adams keeps his hold on reality by returning to the pure and absorbing sensuousness of camping and fishing on the Big Two-Hearted River…. Waiting to be killed by Fascist cavalry, Robert Jordan in For Whom the Bell Tolls finds meaning not in religious or philosophical abstractions but in the people he loves and is dying for and in his sensuous perceptions of nature. "He was completely integrated now and he took a good long look at everything. Then he looked up at the sky. There were big white clouds in it. He touched the palm of his hand against the pine needles where he lay and he touched the bark of the pine trunk that he lay behind." Santiago in The Old Man and the Sea prays for divine aid in catching his great fish, but he does so mechanically: "I am not religious," he thinks; and reality for him is the sea with all its creatures, the birds above it, and himself and his fellow fishermen upon it. (pp. 177-78)
Hemingway recognizes that with the disappearance of the transcendent and the absolute from man's consciousness, the universe becomes empty of meaning and purpose…. Santiago doesn't understand a universe in which he must kill the great fish he has come to love. "I do not understand these things, he thought. But it is good that we do not try to kill the sun or the moon or the stars. It is enough to live on the sea and kill our true brothers."
In such a universe, the ultimate truths of man's condition are existential and creatural: whatever else life may be or become, it is first of all a matter of violence, pain, suffering, and death. These are the characteristic terms of Hemingway's world, these and his conviction that man must confront them directly. Moreover, in addition to nature, Hemingway's richest source of imagery and symbolism is Christianity; but for Hemingway, the meaning of Christ is not martyred God but suffering and enduring man. It is a rare story of Hemingway's which does not center in some way on violence, suffering, or death; and nearly all his novels end in death. (pp. 179-80)
If Hemingway sees man trapped in a void, he is also convinced that man is not without resources in the trap. "Light was all it needed," he writes, "and a certain cleanness and order." For Hemingway, the central problem of man is how to live in this world; and he believes devoutly that man has the capacity and the will to recognize the existential and creatural truths of his condition and yet to find or to create within it meaning, order, and beauty.
The first thing man must do, Hemingway suggests, is to discard the illusions which lie to him about reality. A powerful current of disillusion flows through Hemingway's writing, especially in his early works, a feeling that little or nothing in the human condition is what he had been led to believe it is. Not surprisingly, therefore, many of his characters undergo a stripping away of all illusions. (pp. 181-82)
Once man has recognized the truth of his condition and accepted it, he can, if he will, Hemingway believes, live in it with meaning, order, and beauty, finding or creating them in the processes of life itself. Experience in this world is the key: "Perhaps as you went along you did learn something," Jake Barnes tells himself. "I did not care what it was all about. All I wanted to know was how to live in it. Maybe if you found out how to live in it you learned from that what it was all about." For Hemingway, learning to live in this world means turning to the sensuous beauty of nature, to sequential processes with immediate goals to be found in or imposed on nature and society, and to meaningful personal and social relationships…. Hemingway's fascination with bullfighting stems largely from his view of it as an art form, a ritual tragedy in which man confronts the creatural realities of violence, pain, suffering, and death by imposing on them an esthetic form which gives them order, significance, and beauty.
But learning to live in this world also implies for Hemingway a meaningful involvement with other people. (pp. 182-83)
By living in [this world], then, man can find or create meaning, order, and beauty; and working increasingly at the deepest levels of Hemingway's thought and art is the conviction that man's fullest source of meaning and value lies in his relationship to all those who share life with him. Friendship, love, and empathy: these are man's finest triumphs over an existential and creatural human condition he can neither escape nor change nor ultimately understand. Hemingway's writing is rich in memorable friendships: Jake Barnes and Bill Gorton, Frederick Henry and Rinaldi, Robert Jordan and Anselmo, Santiago and Manolin. Equally important in Hemingway's world is sexual love. Love may be only secular and natural, not the spiritual absolute of the romantics; and its highest, not its lowest, expression may be sexual; but it is none the less for Hemingway a life-transforming experience. (pp. 183-84)
The fullest measure of meaning and value which can come to man through living in this world, a consequence of experience that appears increasingly in Hemingway's middle and later works, is a profound empathy, an acceptance of life in all its paradoxical imperatives and a deep compassion for those creatures who share them with him. In Hemingway's earlier writing, nature is primarily objective reality to be experienced sensuously; and hunting and fishing are principally important as sequential activities with immediate goals. In Green Hills of Africa, however, his love of nature deepens into a profound harmony with it; he feels love and compassion for the creatures he hunts, and he identifies with them and shares their pain. These responses to life become the central experience of The Old Man and the Sea. (p. 184)
The high seriousness of Hemingway's writing evokes an essentially tragic vision of man. His characters can and do transcend the conditions which hurt and destroy them: in an empty and indifferently maleficent universe, they confront the human condition directly and by living fully within it find or create meaning, order, and beauty. "Man is not made for defeat," says Santiago, "A man can be destroyed but not defeated." But Hemingway's vision and his art, in all their greatness, look backward to a time still able to evoke and sustain them: he has something of the rationality and the stoicism of a classical age, something of the harmony with nature of the Romantics, a largely positivistic epistemology, much of the concept of character of the realists, and much of the subject matter of the naturalists. He is, then, in most respects a thinker and artist with his roots in the nineteenth century, a great writer of the recent past. (p. 191)
Clinton S. Burhans, Jr., "Hemingway and Vonnegut: Diminishing Vision in a Dying Age," in Modern Fiction Studies (copyright © 1975 by Purdue Research Foundation, West Lafayette, Indiana, U.S.A.), Summer, 1975, pp. 173-91.
Hemingway … learned one role early, that of Special Correspondent, professionally detached from public horrors which he owed it to his readers to write down…. This role, in the inter-chapters of In Our Time, established a center from which to write of private horrors as well, and we can tell from the swept and tidied prose of those stories how readily it could blend into another role, that of the martyr to literature, starving while he sought to write One True Sentence. (p. 144)
The quest of the one true sentence leads to wordlessness; that is the irony of Hemingway's aesthetic. And if, to get a novel written, wordlessness must be filled with words, they will verge on the parodic. Joyce began Ulysses in naturalism and ended it in parody, understanding more profoundly than any of his followers that naturalism cannot end anywhere else, and a law like the hidden law that governs the unfolding of styles in Ulysses brought Hemingway to self-parody at last, as though, not understanding the history disclosed by Joyce, he was condemned to repeat it. (p. 155)
[His] drive, he thought, [was] to recapture perfect moments: to put down "what the actual things were which produced the emotion that you experienced." But that drive was menaced, perfect moments were encroached on, by a … small word, which he preferred in its Spanish form, nada. We see it surrounding "A Clean Well-Lighted Place," and the light holding it at bay.
Fighting off nada was his conscious drive, but only a small part of his achievement. His achievement, seldom vouchsafed to the novels but often to the stories, consisted in setting down, so sparely that we can see past them, the words for the action that concealed the real action: Nick Adams fishing, not thinking, very deliberately not thinking of the shadows, or the protagonist of "After the Storm" withheld by the very limits of the body from satisfying his almost bodily greed for the rings on the fingers of the submarine Venus, her dead face afloat amid its floating hair beneath that impregnable glass between what is quick and what is still. (pp. 156-57)
Hugh Kenner, in his A Homemade World: The American Modernist Writers (copyright © 1975 by Hugh Kenner; reprinted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.), Knopf, 1975.
[Islands in the Stream] consists of material that the author during his lifetime did not see fit to publish; therefore it should not be held against him. That parts of it are good is entirely to his credit; that other parts are puerile and, in a pained way, aimless testifies to the odds against which Hemingway, in the last two decades of his life, brought anything to completion. It is, I think, to the discredit of his publishers that no introduction offers to describe from what stage of Hemingway's tormented later career Islands in the Stream was salvaged, or to estimate what its completed design might have been, or to confess what editorial choices were exercised in the preparation of this manuscript. Rather, a gallant wreck of a novel is paraded as the real thing, as if the public are such fools as to imagine a great writer's ghost is handing down books intact from Heaven. (pp. 422-23)
Carlos Baker's biography speaks of a trilogy about the sea that Hemingway, amid the distractions of Cuba, the cockfights and double Daiquiris and proliferating hangers-on, carried forward with enthusiasm in late 1950 and early 1951. The third item of the trilogy, "The Sea in Being," was separately, and triumphantly, published as The Old Man and the Sea. The first part, "The Sea When Young," seems to have been an abridgment of an earlier, disastrously long and gauche novel called Garden of Eden. The middle section, "The Sea When Absent," has for its hero an American painter named Thomas Hudson and, in the form that Hemingway announced as "finished" by Christmas of 1950, answers the description of the section entitled "Cuba" in the present book. "The Island and the Stream" (sic) had become, by mid-1951, the working title of the first section, presumably the revamped Garden of Eden. (p. 423)
What we have, then, is a trio of large fragments crudely unified by a Caribbean setting and the nominal presence of Thomas Hudson. "Bimini" is a collection of episodes that show only a groping acquaintance with one another; "Cuba" is a lively but meandering excursion in local color that, when the painter's first wife materializes, bizarrely veers into a dark and private region; and "At Sea" is an adventure story of ersatz intensity. Hudson, if taken sequentially, does not grow but dwindles, from an affectionate and baffled father and artist into a rather too expertly raffish waterfront character into a bleak manhunter, a comic-book superhuman containing unlooked-for bubbles of stoic meditation and personal sorrow. (pp. 423-24)
Whereas an achieved novel, however autobiographical, dissolves the author and directs our attention beyond him, Islands in the Stream, even where most effective, inspires us with a worried concern for the celebrity who wrote it. His famous drinking, his methodical artistic devotions, his dawn awakenings, his women, his cats, even his mail (what painter gets anything like a writer's burdensome, fascinating mail?) are all there, mixed with less easily publicized strains, dark currents that welled into headlines with his last illnesses and shocking suicide. The need to prove himself implacably drives Thomas Hudson toward violence and death. His enemy, pain, has become an object of infatuation. (p. 424)
Hemingway of course did not invent the world, nor pain, mutilation, and death. In his earlier work his harsh obsessions seem honorable and necessary; an entire generation of American men learned to speak in the accents of Hemingway's stoicism. But here, the tension of art has been snapped and the line between sensitive vision and psychopathy has been crossed. The "sea-chase story" is in many ways excellent, but it has the falsity of the episode in Hemingway's real life upon which it was based. (p. 425)
The new generations, my impression is, want to abolish both war and love, not love as a physical act but love as a religion, a creed to help us suffer better. The sacred necessity of suffering no longer seems sacred or necessary, and Hemingway speaks across the Sixties as strangely as a medieval saint; I suspect few readers younger than myself could believe, from this sad broken testament, how we did love Hemingway and, pity feeling impudent, love him still. (pp. 426-27)
John Updike, "Papa's Sad Testament," in his Picked-Up Pieces (copyright © 1975 by John Updike; reprinted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.), Knopf, 1975, pp. 422-27.
The difficulty of deriving a single, coherent understanding of the political theme of For Whom the Bell Tolls is a result of the major value of the novel—that it refuses to simplify events, motives, or politics, but insists on rendering the complexity of what was a very complicated historical and political event. In fact, the novel seems to do a number of paradoxical things: while Jordan praises the organizing and disciplining power of the Communists, he also reveals their corruption and divorce from the Spanish people; while defending the Republican cause, Hemingway renders sympathetic portraits of several Nationalist soldiers; while portraying the bravery, and communal unity of the guerilla fighters, he also indicts their lack of discipline and responsibility; and, finally, although the novel supports the Republican cause and makes a number of warning statements about fascism, it also indicts the dehumanizing effects of power politics, Falangist and Communist alike. (pp. 269-70)
[The] Jordan that we see at the narrative beginning of For Whom the Bell Tolls is a wounded romantic hero, a man who has become an emotionally alienated, pragmatic instrument of those who are conducting the war. All that he really has to sustain himself is his craft and his current assignment. When Pilar asks him what he believes in, he replies, "In my work."… His reply is uninvolved, mechanistic, emotionally detached from the cause; it defines the insulated mental discipline that Jordan has shored up against his profound disillusionment in order to continue to function. But if this were the primary subject of the novel's political theme, then For Whom the Bell Tolls would not be a great deal different from the political novels of Silone, Koestler, and Orwell—all of whom have dramatized the liberal-humanist disillusionment with power politics. However, Hemingway is interested in doing something different than just showing this classic disillusionment. The novel is primarily concerned with retrieving Jordan from the abyss of his disillusionment and restoring the values which he has lost—for Hemingway's concern is not with saving his hero from the mucky world of politics, but with preserving both Jordan's personal authenticity and his ability to function as a political man.
With his entrance into the Sierra del Guardarama and the community of the partisans, Jordan undergoes a process of reorientation that reawakens his humanist sensibility…. The effect of this community, then, is to reawaken Jordan to the values of personal relations and personal conscience, both of which he has tried to hold in abeyance. This almost simple re-education of the disillusioned Jordan is the method by which Hemingway dramatizes what he sees as the dichotomy between power politics and the basic struggle of the common people—asserting, like Orwell, that the war against fascism must also be concerned with the preservation of personal and the individual values. (pp. 272-74)
While Hemingway seems to make more of the underlying humanity that connects … men than of the rival ideologies which separate them, he also realizes that in the face of fascism men must act as political men. And this is precisely the problematic political sensibility behind the novel.
I think we can now see that although For Whom the Bell Tolls rejects both power politics and ideological rhetoric, the novel is by no means without a clear political commitment. The conclusion of the novel is concerned with exposing the very real danger imposed by the threat of fascism and with suggesting what must be done in order to avoid the domination of power politics. Hemingway offers a simple, almost naive panacea for a world that has become increasingly ideological: education. (p. 276)
If this political vision seems to be fundamentally simplistic and expressive of a conservative-bourgeois standard, it nevertheless defines the political sensibility of the novel. The final political message of the novel is the need to combat both fascism and power politics in the name of such simple human virtues as individual freedom and dignity—for it is finally just such bourgeois-humanist language that expresses Hemingway's political commitment in For Whom the Bell Tolls. (p. 278)
David E. Zehr, "Bourgeois Politics: Hemingway's Case in 'For Whom the Bell Tolls'," in The Midwest Quarterly (copyright, 1976, by The Midwest Quarterly, Kansas State College of Pittsburg), Spring 1976, pp. 268-78.
In recent years,… several critics have referred briefly to similarities between [Hemingway and Henry James]. Their tremendous dedication to their craft is generally acknowledged, for example, as is their at times almost obsessive interest in style, an interest which sometimes goes beyond their desire to describe "the way it was." Arthur Mizener has observed [in Twelve Great American Novels] that both men "wrote in styles that to some extent exist independently of what they are being used to express in order that they may display certain purely stylistic qualities that have some sort of false but irresistible appeal for the writer."… Their handling of dialogue has been compared—the almost stichomythic quality of much of their conversation, for example, and their use of what Carlos Baker calls [in Hemingway: The Writer as Artist] the "hovering subject": conversation which proceeds along two planes—the overt and bland, the covert and significant. They create dialogue which reveals even as it attempts to conceal, a fact which helps to explain the tension that a reader feels in scenes from both writers in which the surface subjects are trivial…. [Critics have] noted important thematic similarities between the two men:… their common interest in the themes of the American in Europe, the artist in society and … their mutual efforts to dramatize ways of life in which the physical, the aesthetic, and the ethical are fused. (pp. 155-56)
Perhaps the most effective way of convincing critics of the remarkable and interesting similarities which exist between the visions of both writers (particularly between the work of the early Hemingway and that of James from The Portrait of a Lady on) is to compare two novels ostensibly very different. Hence, my focus on What Maisie Knew, James's story about a little English girl whose parents are divorced, and on The Sun Also Rises, Hemingway's tale about postwar expatriate life in Paris and Spain. Both are excellent novels, and both possess cogent likenesses which can be found in other works by the two men.
That the world of Jake Barnes and his coterie is, for the most part, a moral wasteland, is obvious to any reader of the novel. The fine causes seem dead; the values of church, state, and middle class spurious to the Hemingway characters…. All this is clear and need not be dwelt upon.
It is equally clear that the world of James's child heroine in What Maisie Knew is also squalid, something which James stresses satirically in the prologue to the novel when he describes the effect on the child of her parents' divorce…. (pp. 156-57)
In The Sun Also Rises, the possibility of family life does not even exist for the central characters; the sexual relationships are often sado-masochistic. In Maisie, the family is a chameleon, shifting identities almost as soon as the child begins to recognize an old one or feel comfortable in it; and in James's story the men and women also engage in relationships which are at times exhilarating, but more often either subtly or patently destructive….
Perhaps the most crucial similarity between the worlds of the two novels is that both are ravaged, metaphorically, by war…. It is a commonplace of Hemingway criticism, of course, that the threat of sudden physical and psychological violence and death pervades Hemingway's fiction. What also must be stressed, however, is that the drawing room world in many of James's novels can burst equally, frighteningly into war—a fact suggested in Maisie by several scenes in which hostility crackles and by the martial imagery which pervades the novel…. (p. 158)
[The] question which James poses paramountly—as does Hemingway—is not the why of the situation (although causes are implied), but "how to live in it." Jake Barnes, looking backward at the experience from which he has emerged, tries to find meaning in the heap of broken images which assault his memory, attempts to impose shores against his ruins. James, looking forward as he dramatizes the growth of Maisie's consciousness, watches while she seeks clues in her "domestic labyrinth" … and tries to learn how to live well as she plummets toward the death of her childhood. (p. 160)
In view of all these conditions, the most remarkable aspect of both The Sun Also Rises and What Maisie Knew is that, within the waste land worlds, values exist which, however evanescently, can transform games of war into games of love. Jake learns the values, of course, by observing Count Mippipopolous and Pedro Romero, the "code heroes." Thus he discovers not only the essentially negative virtues (because their worth is primarily defensive) of endurance, self-discipline, and courage; but also the positive ones—joy, love, the ability to suck from the marrow of the smallest piece of existence the goodness which is always there. Jake knows the values, although he is not very successful in living by them. Perhaps it is only through the telling of his story, thus reliving the events in memory and shaping them into meaningful form, that he is able to achieve Hemingway's peculiar blend of stoicism and hedonism—to live his life "all the way up, like the bullfighter." (p. 161)
W. R. Macnaughton, "Maisie's Grace Under Pressure: Some Thoughts on James and Hemingway," in Modern Fiction Studies (copyright © 1976, by Purdue Research Foundation, West Lafayette, Indiana, U.S.A.), Summer, 1976, pp. 153-64.
Critics agree that Ernest Hemingway's "After the Storm" is about the narrator but disagree on how the reader is supposed to regard this scavenger of the Florida keys. Most critics have seen him as an exemplary Hemingway hero, representing "man's victory over himself and adjustment to the world in which he lives." Concomitant with this sympathetic view of the narrator is the idea that his values and behavior are moral, or at worst amoral: the scavenger acts and feels as he does in order to survive in a jungle-like environment. Recently, however, Anselm Atkins, calling attention to the loss of human life that the scavenger observes and reports totally dispassionately, has suggested that the narrator should be treated ironically, not sympathetically. This note aims first to point out a literary allusion hitherto unnoticed in Hemingway's story, and second to suggest tentatively how awareness of this allusion helps to determine which of the two prevalent approaches to the story is more valid.
The very title of Hemingway's story implies the kind of world into which the fiction seems to lead us: a world where the primary relationship between events is a temporal one ("After the Storm"), but also a world where being first does not guarantee a claim on buried treasure, (p. 374)
By far the most memorable portion of the story is the description of the narrator's discovery and examination of the wrecked liner…. This picture of a man excluded from wealth and, symbolically, from feminine companionship by the unyielding glass is an excellent instance of vivid naturalistic writing. That the narrator is close enough to note even the rings on the woman's hand emphasizes the painful near miss of fortune. But the scene can give us still more. Hemingway here employs an allusion to a passage from Plato, an allusion so subtle and so well-integrated into the narrative that it has escaped previous observation.
In the second book of The Republic, Glaucon, discussing with Socrates whether or not justice is intrinsically good, relates the myth of Gyges, a Lydian shepherd:
after a great deluge of rain and an earthquake the ground opened and a chasm appeared in the place where he was pasturing;… he saw and wondered and went down into the chasm; and … he beheld other marvels there and a hollow bronze horse with little doors, and … he peeped in and saw a corpse within, as it seemed, of more than mortal stature, and … there was nothing else but a gold ring on its hand, which he took off and went forth.
Gyges subsequently discovers that the ring has the power to make its wearer invisible, and so, relieved of the possibility of detection, he seduces the king's wife, slays the king, and usurps the throne. Glaucon's point is that "no one is just of his own will but only from constraint"…. The allusion seems indisputable…. But how does recognizing the reference help us to understand Hemingway's work?
To state the obvious, the semi-educated sponge fisherman is oblivious of the reference to Plato. This in itself creates a distance between the narrator on one hand and the author and the audience on the other, thus introducing the possibility of ironic treatment. Moreover, the critical disagreement over how the narrator should be regarded is indicative, I think, of the issue Hemingway knew his story would arouse: how does man reconcile selfishness and self-survival with concern for the well-being and survival of others? Perhaps the reference to a passage in The Republic which debates the very same question shows us Hemingway taking a Joycean perspective and laughing at those who would delve too deeply into his story in search of a solution. Or perhaps, and this is the answer I prefer, just as Glaucon's temporary argument in favor of moral relativity gives way eventually to Socrates' moral absolutism, so we are meant to see, indeed, that the narrator does not express Hemingway's last word, that the cold and ruthless scavenger's lack of an ethical system must give way to one which places a price other than salvage value on human life. (pp. 374-76)
Robert G. Walker, "Irony and Allusion in Hemingway's 'After The Storm'," in Studies in Short Fiction (copyright 1976 by Newberry College), Summer, 1976, pp. 374-76.
The title of For Whom The Bell Tolls demonstrates that Hemingway was aware of the notion of men as islands, and in spite of that novel's apparent implication that no man is an island, the story of Thomas Hudson [Islands in the Stream] is a clear demonstration that at least one kind of man, in a psychological sense, is an island. Hudson, in fact, is only one island of an archipelago within Hemingway's fiction. Beginning with Nick Adams and Jake Barnes his characters are consistently isolated (from the Italian word isola, island), alone in the stream of human society. They occasionally make contact with others and experience a certain degree of communion and attachment, but these contacts are temporary…. The famous Hemingway code, after all, is a technique for coping with the island condition…. From Nick Adams's solitary and deliberate trout fishing to Santiago's lonely test with the great fish, Hemingway's characters are island men who confront loneliness and isolation by a ritual of disciplined physical activity. But the exterior toughness of these characters and their preoccupation with physical activity are masks for personalities that are essentially emotional, sensitive, and even tender. (p. 75)
Wright Morris once pointed out [that] the real "subject" of Hemingway, pushed to its extremity, is nostalgia. Hemingway himself was markedly prone to nostalgia and even as a young writer was beginning, in Carlos Baker's words, "To make fictional capital of the remembrance of things past." Nostalgia was at the very center of the process by which he created art from his own experience; and within his fiction it not only contributes to subject matter, but functions as an artistic device for developing characterization, vivifying settings, and producing a dramatic rhythm and intensity. He learned to make time past work in a special way in time present. (pp. 75-6)
The future never has a significant place for Hemingway. His concern is with the past and the present. His main interest in the future is in storing up experiences and memories which will later be recollected and savored. (p. 80)
Hemingway [sometimes used nostalgia] as an artistic device, as a distinct method of narration. Many of the conventional ways for revealing and developing character were unavailable to him because he had committed himself to the principle of showing rather than telling, to objective narration in which the author is self-effacing. This method has the advantage of dramatic immediacy, but the disadvantage of preventing the author from telling about subtle inner emotions and experience. Hemingway, by exploring a quality of his own temperament, was able to transcend this limitation. Islands of nostalgic recollection can be presented with an objectivity consistent with his chosen impersonal method of narration, but at the same time, nostalgia has an evocative power which awakens within the reader a rich and emotionally understood knowledge of the character's inner life. Hemingway seemed to believe that a man is his nostalgia—that is, what he remembers about the past and how it affects him in the present constitutes his essential personality. In Hemingway's naturalism a man is what he has experienced, and nostalgia seems to be the process by which the most meaningful of those experiences are selected to be actively remembered. As Hudson says to himself while looking over favorite paintings he bought long ago, "Nostalgia hecha hombre"—a man is formed or shaped by nostalgia. (p. 81)
Stephen L. Tanner, "Hemingway's Islands," in Southwest Review (© 1976 by Southern Methodist University Press), Winter, 1976, pp. 74-84.
Hemingway has a hard time imagining beginnings but an easy time inventing ends. Middles challenge him most of all. His novels constantly anticipate, when they do not prematurely achieve, the sense of an ending…. Living from birth to death through a long life proves difficult of depiction for a writer trying to stave off death by continually adumbrating it. Hemingway's beginnings have the uncanny effect of raising the very specter of the end against which they are so concerned to defend. In the attempt to forestall annihilation by preempting it, Hemingway loses hold on the present. His moments of immediate experience unshadowed by future loss are rare indeed. His present tense, abundant as it is, registers itself as the tension of a consciousness caught between the trauma of the "before" and the fear of the "after." Hemingway's pleasure in the "now" is a largely apocryphal experience. Short stories, consumed in the limit of a single sitting, can protect us from the gathering sense of doom which becomes, in all but one of Hemingway's five major novels, his central effect. For writing novels of any length excites as much tension as it releases. The sense of option felt while beginning to write (or read) proves to be an oppressive irony when all that can be foreseen is the outstretched interval of time that must be filled. (pp. 476-77)
The major obstacle to understanding In Our Time is ellipsis. Do the spaces between the stories and vignettes connect or separate? Life emerges here as a series of gaps punctuated by crises. Reading In Our Time trains us to infer, to search for patterns of continuity underlying seemingly disjointed episodes. The continuity of the book reveals itself as psychological rather than structural. What we uncover is a life history obsessively unified. The reader's attention weaves together Nick's story as the true plot of the book…. "Indian Camp" is the true beginning of Nick's story and of Hemingway's novelistic career:
At the lake shore there was another rowboat drawn up. The two Indians stood waiting.
Nick and his father got in the stern of the boat and the Indians shoved it off and one of them got in to row. Uncle George sat in the stern of the camp rowboat. The young Indian shoved the camp boat off and got in to row Uncle George.
The two boats started off in the dark. Nick heard the oarlocks of the other boat quite a way ahead of them in the mist. The Indians rowed with quick choppy strokes. Nick lay back with his father's arm around him. It was cold on the water. The Indian who was rowing them was working very hard, but the other boat moved further ahead in the mist all the time.
"Where are we going, Dad?" Nick asked.
The darkness which shuts off sight does more than disorient. It presents departure as risky. Origins are murky here, just as ends will prove too certainly known. The one thing we will see clearly in "Indian Camp" is death; the one thing Nick cannot look at is birth. Our not being able to see where we start sharply contrasts with his being able to see how all of us must stop. Yet for all its obscurity about specific contours, this opening makes us confront the fact of priority. We enter a world already filled with objects. "Another" has gone before us. Repetition of definite articles (as in "the Indians") suggests that this is a place with which we are already familiar. Hemingway never questions the givenness of reality. He refuses to deal in epistemological angst. The world is not unknowable; it is just unpredictable. Parataxis conveys the sense that event follows event by only the slimmest logic. "And" reflects Hemingway's honest ignorance of how one thing leads to another. It is not an ignorance he cherishes. Hemingway's project becomes to predict as well as to know.
The casualness of this narrator contrasts with the ignorance of the reader and encourages us to pretend that we are, in fact, at home here. Yet no one is at home here. A relaxed and knowing tone acts as defense against a wholly unfamiliar scene. Hemingway approaches the terror of the sublime through the uncanny, the umheimlich. In "The 'Uncanny,'" Freud points out that the German synonym for the "uncanny" derives from the word for home (heim) and that its original meaning was "familiar." Hemingway's career follows a similar evolution: what begins as familiar becomes unfamiliar, and yet is sought for as if it were still desired as much as feared. So his goal turns out to be at once "mysterious and homelike." The uncanny is the opposite of the "good place" Nick will spend his life trying to recover, and yet the "good place" (the womb) becomes for Nick the most uncanny place of all. (pp. 477-78)
Nick asks two questions just before the story ends: "Do ladies always have such a hard time having babies?" and "Is dying hard, Daddy?" These are the central questions in Hemingway's novels. To ask one is to ask the other, since to confront any kind of birth is to confront one's mortality. What has a specific beginning very likely has a specific end. But Nick confronts not only the facts or origins and ends—he witnesses them as violent. From this night on, Nick's psyche begins to play the violent extremes of human life against its uncertain middle. Love emerges as the fleeting center of a parenthesis. It only lasts in fantasy. (pp. 478-79)
While there is nothing new in calling Hemingway's basic fantasies regressive, we need to look more closely at how difficult this makes it for him to conceive of going forward as satisfying. The recurring experience in In Our Time is of anticlimax. Narrative pathos constantly collapses into bathos: "He loved the mountains in the autumn. The last I heard of him the Swiss had him in jail in Sion." (p. 479)
The story which brackets [Sam Cardinella's] execution is Hemingway's most ambitious flight from the world of death. ["Big Two-Hearted River"] cannot be understood apart from the personal history necessitating it. An elliptical return to the darkness of "Indian Camp," this regression to origins proves how little Nick has moved beyond them. He lives but he does not develop. Nick's initial trauma either predicts or preempts future experience…. The recurrent limitations of this composite character is an ability to adapt. None of [Nick's] experiences lead to emotional development. Nick's life has no middle. It emerges as pure reaction. It is not by accident that Nick suffers wound after wound. Some inner compulsion leads him to put himself in the way of disaster. Nick's fate reflects his author's lack of faith in life after birth. (p. 480)
Nick transforms his anxieties over stopping and starting into a despair over middles. A lack of closure thus becomes more intimidating than foreclosure. A known death menaces less than unpredictable life. This anxiety originates, as we have seen, in a premature exposure to the dark and uncertain place from which life emerges and of which living and loving must therefore be a part. Sex and birth cross the hard fact of personal limitation with the harder facts that our limits are vulnerable, that we are not the original possessors of our first source, and that our first source must be lost. This anxiety terminates in Nick's confrontation with the swamp, that evokes the boundary where sexuality merges with mortality. (p. 481)
Every book is an invitation and a challenge. The Sun Also Rises begins by inviting us to believe [Jake Barnes] and challenges us to despise Robert Cohn…. Cohn emerges as a massive projection of the speaker's anxieties…. The dominant emotion here is rage at Cohn's inability to appreciate a potency that he possesses and the narrator lacks. Jake's uncanny fantasy becomes explicable once we realize that it reflects a universal fear which for Jake has become a realized fact. So by the logic of Jake's fantasy (mutilation points back to the mother), it is not Cohn's birth he libels, but his own.
This is the only one of Hemingway's major novels which does not begin at a specific season or time of day. Its action will remain the least constrained by rhythms other than those the characters themselves impose. This generation is "lost" to any connection with earlier or later generations and hence to the primary vehicle for forwarding life. The Sun Also Rises is a novel about wasting time. Jake's castration has made him unable to participate in the natural rhythms of life. He can never consummate experience; resolution is always withheld from him. Sexual impotence becomes a metaphor for the inability to enter the flow of duration. (pp. 482-83)
Style here focuses the repetitiveness which is necessarily Jake's fate. Chapter V opens with a new morning, but the prose soon confines any sense of option within a recurring formula for Jake's movement: "I walked," "I read," "I got," "I walked," "I passed," "I stepped," "I walked," "I walked." Anyone who narrates his experience through such unvarying syntax experiences motion as anything but discovery. Jake's two experiences of déjà vu provide the strongest evidence that he feels himself caught in an uncanny pattern of repetition beyond his control. His most promising attempt at love collapses into "the feeling as in a nightmare of it all being something repeated, something I had been through and that I must go through again." After Jake fights Cohn and begins to cross the Pamplona square, he experiences a déjà vu about returning home: "I felt as I felt once coming home from an out-of-town football game. I was carrying a suitcase with my football things in it, and I walked up the street from the station in the town I had lived in all my life and it was all new. They were raking the lawns and burning leaves in the road, and I stopped for a long time and watched. It was all strange." Jake can never beat Cohn, for he has lost the organ which would permit him to consummate, rather than endlessly repeat, the attempt to get "home." Here the déjà vu gets dangerously close to exposing the original experience for which the feeling of "something repeated" acts as a screen memory. Jake … remembers a homecoming experienced as a dream. It is a déjà vu about déjà vu—an uncanny repetition of the feeling of the uncanny. If Hemingway's fiction continually strives to get back home, the greatest irony awaiting it would be to achieve the return only to find it "all strange." (pp. 483-84)
It may be more appropriate, then, to read Jake's actual castration as a literalization of the original castration-anxiety that threatens to make home feel unhomelike. Jake's conscious drive toward competency expresses his author's unconscious anxieties about potency. Jake's narration is an instruction manual—how to drink, kiss, fish … and pimp. Technique culminates in the bull ring. Bullfighting is the great orgy of a repressed culture: competence killing potency. What makes this more than just another "how to" is the prospect of death. Hemingway finds here a game like life, one played for mortal stakes. And yet in Death in the Afternoon he admits that it is the opposite of a truly existential sport: "Rather it is a tragedy; the death of the bull, which is played, more or less well, by the bull and the man involved and in which there is danger for the man but certain death for the animal." As Jake teaches Brett, bull-fighting is something "with a definite end." Watching a bullfight, Hemingway unconsciously identifies with the doomed animal. He has no more sense of hope for his own end than for the bull's. Jake's irony is to be granted the comparative immortality of a "steer." He drifts onward in a life promising no final climax. By insisting upon the analogy between the tragedies of the ring and the ironies of the café ("It's no life being a steer"), Hemingway again confounds anxieties over death and sex. The Sun Also Rises can be read as the story of an impotent animal submitted to repeated gorings. (p. 484)
Our belated disgust with the book's beginning exemplifies … morality [as after-thought] at work. Hemingway so skillfully gets us to "go along" with Jake that only afterward do we learn "how to" understand what his beginning is all about. If we do not resist the opening, the increasingly simple demands the novel makes on us—just to go along—become more and more easy to accept. The moral contexts which permit judgment are precisely those that the book tries to tease us out of. It finally asks us to abandon all prejudices except the love of style. The obsession with "how to" do something is the only forethought Jake allows himself. We tardily realize that the novel opens with a display of Jake's skill at how "to get rid of friends." While the middle does not justify the tone of the beginning, it explains it. We come to understand that Jake is jealous of Cohn for his unmistakable potency. His symbolic castration of Cohn (flattening his nose) attempts metaphorically to convert a bull into a steer. Language is the only weapon Jake has left.
Yet this first person narrator, upon whom the prolonging of the narrative depends, finally disbelieves in language: "You'll lose it if you talk about it." Jake talks because he has already lost everything. Yet he expresses a theory that where language is not necessary as a defense, it is not necessary at all. For whom, then, does he speak? We can speculate that Hemingway invents an impotent male who is still the "hero" of the novel in order to establish that impotency is a crisis that a man can actually survive. Yet his project ends in a draw, for it appears that in the case of this wound, talking or not talking finally makes little difference. Hemingway begins by marshalling his best rhetorical skills in a sneak attack on the threat, and ends once he realizes that even direct talk "about it" will only confirm the loss of what has been already lost.
A Farewell to Arms is Hemingway's most fatal book. While it promises the most life, it delivers nothing but loss. The imagination of disaster intrudes even into the strenuously pacific opening:
In the late summer of that year we lived in a house in a village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountains. In the bed of the river there were pebbles and boulders, dry and white in the sun, and the water was clear and swiftly moving and blue in the channels. Troops went by the house and down the road and the dust they raised powdered the leaves of the trees. The trunks of the trees too were dusty and the leaves fell early that year and we saw the troops marching along the road and the dust rising and leaves, stirred by the breeze, falling and the soldiers marching and afterwards the road bare and white except for the leaves.
The plain was rich with crops; there were many orchards of fruit trees and beyond the plain the mountains were brown and bare. There was fighting in the mountains and at night we could see the flashes from the artillery. In the dark it was like summer lightning, but the nights were cool and there was not the feeling of a storm coming.
At first this voice appears simply to report what it sees. it sounds in touch with seasons and elements. We stand aside here and conserve ourselves. The water flows, the troops pass, the leaves fall. Everything else spends itself. Yet high summer—a time of ripeness—somehow becomes late fall. We are manipulated into the season of loss. Parallel syntax presents an army of falling leaves. Men are "marching" and leaves are "falling," and through this parataxis they become all too easily confused. The leaves last; the men disappear. What remains is the emptiness of landscape—"a road bare and white"—which the human presence interrupts but cannot master.
The narrator subtly repeats this involvement of the reader in a fall that is at once natural and human. To say that "the nights were cool and there was not the feeling of a storm coming" is to protest too much. Yes, the storm is denied—but why is it ever envisaged? In A Farewell to Arms potential turbulence has more presence than actual peace. What Frederic Henry anticipates, Hemingway actually precipitates. A storm is exactly what Catherine fears: "I'm afraid of the rain because sometimes I see me dead in it." The storm looms over the entire novel, and inevitably breaks.
Yet this is not the only disaster the beginning obliquely foreshadows. More striking is Frederic's projection of pregnancy. As he watches the troops march by he notices "under their capes the two leather cartridge-boxes on the front of the belts … bulged forward under the capes so that the men, passing on the road, marched as though they were six months gone with child."… [The] metaphoric leap from carefully measured cartridges to carefully measured pregnancy is so idiosyncratic as to reveal more about the mind of the beholder than what he beholds. Even before Frederic conceives a child, he seems to "feel trapped biologically." Projection allows him to assign to others what he feels as threatening to himself. Yet he no more negates this possibility than he does the chance of a storm. (pp. 485-88)
The storm is upon us before we have time to feel it coming. Yet we will learn to get ready. The novel educates us in anticipating the worst.
Such presentiments are uncanny. They make us uneasy because they so often come true. They express a fascination with death that recurs throughout Hemingway's work. Such recurrence suggests that every encounter with death aggravates rather than allays the fear of it. It is a repression which continually fails and so must repeat itself—a repetition compulsion. (p. 488)
Caught in the middle, Frederic is a man with no belief in middles. His one memory of childhood defines this sense of limbo:
The hay smelled good and lying in a barn in the hay took away all the years in between. We had lain in hay and talked and shot sparrows with an air-rifle when they perched in the triangle cut high up in the wall of the barn. The barn was gone now and one year they had cut the hemlock woods and there were only stumps, dried tree-tops, branches and fireweed where the woods had been. You could not go back. If you did not go forward what happened? You never got back to Milan. And if you got back to Milan what happened?
Here Frederic's inability to go either forward or backward proceeds from one anxiety. Later, his thoughts about his dead child show how a fear of dying derives from an ambivalence over the conditions of birth:
He had never been alive. Except in Catherine. I'd felt him kick there often enough. But I hadn't for a week. Maybe he was choked all the time. Poor little kid. I wished the hell I'd been choked like that. No I didn't. Still there would not be all this dying to go through. Now Catherine would die. That was what you did. You died. You did not know what it was about. You never had time to learn. They threw you in and told you the rules and the first time they caught you off base they killed you.
Frederic renounces Jake's hope that learning to live in the world might help one to know what it was all about. In this world, dying is what one learns how to do. (p. 489)
[The] book is stillborn. Like the child, "it had never been alive." It never knows an interval of time free from intimations of mortality. We do not experience its middle as a discovery of its end. Nothing is allowed to seem lasting. Our insecurity is founded on untimeliness…. Our disappointment with A Farewell to Arms comes less from fastidious omission … than from Hemingway's refusal of this "splendid chance to be a messiah." Love is always something had on leave, stolen from fate. Throughout, Frederic treats his love for Catherine as something already over—as recollection. His "mistake was this," Kierkegaard argues in Repetition, "that he stood at the end instead of the beginning." Yet he goes on to admit that
the man who in his experience of love has not experienced it thus precisely at the beginning, has never loved. Only he must have another mood alongside of this. This potentiated act of recollection is the eternal expression of love at the beginning, it is the token of real love. But on the other hand an ironic elasticity is requisite in order to be able to make use of it…. It must be true that one's life is over at the first instant, but there must be vitality enough to kill this death and transform it into life.
Frederic has … irony but not … elasticity and so begins and proceeds by "seeing it all ahead like the moves in a chess game." Would we begrudge Hemingway his oft-criticized romance were it not betrayed from the start to so bitter an irony? If books can be defined by how they end—tragedy with the death of the hero, comedy with the birth of a new society—then romance never ends and irony ends before it begins. The two modes are simply incompatible. A Farewell to Arms might have been Hemingway's best novel had he opened himself more to the awkward and sometimes silly lovemaking many readers find so embarrassing. Embarrassment is precisely what Hemingway dreads and what he must overcome. But he cannot imagine a future that is not foreclosed in advance because he cannot trust in the basic facts of human continuity: procreation and married love. While Hemingway remains capable of depicting a series of carefree sexual encounters, he fails to invent a hero who truly domesticates the uncanny place. (pp. 490-91)
Across the River and into the Trees returns to the mode of "Indian Camp." Darkness and uncertainty dominate. As before, we are belated—"other boats had gone on ahead." We travel in someone's wake. The narrator knows no more about this world than the reader. Things are just "somewhere." Directions are given which do not direct. We are not only cut off from shore but from the action. "They started" makes the novel's beginning simultaneous with a fictive moment of beginning but leaves us ignorant of and distant from these third persons. Movement goes on here, but only its aftermath—broken ice—testifies surely to its presence. Human presence is once again an interruption. After that presence turns aside "there was no broken water," and the world becomes quiet, still, seamless again. (pp. 491-92)
If the beginning of the novel establishes the uncertainty of going forward, it is because there is so little to go forward for. This is a book about going back. The Colonel is a man without a future. All that is left to him (except one more day of love) is cleaning up old messes, paying old debts, opening old wounds—"merde, money, blood." (p. 492)
Unpracticed in the presentation of ruminative consciousness, Hemingway must rely on the awkward device of having Renata ask the Colonel to remember. No narrative requirement governs these forays into the past…. This is not a novel but an essay about impending death. All the action (with the exception of one "act") is past. Hemingway, against his best impulses, chooses to tell rather than show, and thus the book is as revealing about how Hemingway thinks as about who its hero is: "Death is a lot of shit, he thought. It comes to you in small fragments that hardly show where it has entered." The threat as usual is less death than consciousness of dying. Hemingway here replaces death with a metaphor and reduces it through synecdoche. (pp. 493-94)
Though the book itself is not a spatial form, it does contain one—Renata's portrait. The Colonel responds to "the static element in painting" as a stay against the confusion of dying. Yet this nostalgia for a life arrested by art Hemingway's art cannot requite. The Colonel is a man who has made fatal decisions at every stage in life: "I made them early. In the middle. And late." His life has nevertheless decomposed even while exhibiting the classic and neatly punctuated contours of a composition. Only one more decision awaits him—to opt for the present one last time. He must turn from the portrait toward the actual woman:
The Colonel said nothing, because he was assisting, or had made an act of presence, at the only mystery that he believed in except the occasional bravery of man.
"Please don't move," the girl said. "Then move a great amount."
The Colonel, lying under the blanket in the wind, knowing it is only what man does for woman that he retains, except what he does for his fatherland or his motherland, however you get the reading, proceeded.
Hemingway here steps out of the novel to challenge his reader in one of the most self-conscious moments in his fiction. If it is not well done it is bravely done, for it admits that this writer can no longer create meaning alone in a world of death. And it implies one of his guiding premises—that language separates us as surely from experience as death does. When one is present to an act, one says nothing. Speech testifies to the absence of immediacy, to the death of the moment. (p. 494)
For Whom the Bell Tolls is a long book about a short time. It reverses the mode of In Our Time by leaving nothing out…. [Reading] fuses intensity and duration into an experience where every moment brims with value. This is a book that fills rather than kills time…. Robert Jordan's story not only consummates Hemingway's development but takes great and welcome exception to it. (p. 495)
The novel begins on a summer morning. We see a man seeing at a distance. Nothing is melodramatically foreshadowed or withheld. The scene is both familiar and strange. The landscape is known; the mill is new. Yet far from producing an uncanny effect, the scene unfolds as one more stage in its viewer's education. An old man gives information to a younger one. It is a scene of instruction innocent of any resonance of a primal scene. Knowledge passes from an older to a younger generation with no apparent loss of power.
The relaxed tone of the opening contrasts sharply with the ultimate objective of the book: the proper timing of an explosion. As usual, Hemingway gives away the end at the beginning: "To blow the bridge at a stated hour based on the time set for the attack is how it should be done." We also learn—or are encouraged to expect—that Robert Jordan will be killed. (pp. 495-96)
How then does Hemingway help us to live through the book rather than anticipate the end of it? By encouraging us to commit an act of presence, of forgetting…. [It] is less the overt instruction to enter into the passing moment than the patient recording of the least remarkable of them that commands our attention. Certainly the novel can be read as apocalyptic, but we are allowed throughout to participate in a sense of reprieve. While we remain torn between the impulse to finish and the impulse to prolong, it is making the most of time which truly distinguishes character here. (p. 496)
Hemingway knew that he carried his fortune in his hand. When he could no longer write with it, he turned it against himself. What had made him was used to break him. Yet the novel literalizes this metaphor in order to reject it. Pilar literally reads Robert's palm to give the ending away a second time. But he refuses to believe this prophecy. Pilar has already given Maria better advice: "She said that nothing is done to oneself that one does not accept."… "In this sack will be contained the essence of it all": [in this line spoken by Pilar] all of Hemingway's fantasy material coalesces. It is a lurid triumph of the uncanny. But it is also a triumph over the uncanny. Hemingway presents this less for effect than for scrutiny. The fantasy is unique in its explicitness, its self-consciousness, and its patent absurdity. (pp. 497-98)
For Whom the Bell Tolls divests love of all its vestigial uncanniness. The first thing Robert must learn about love is to make time for it. From believing only "in my work" Robert moves toward believing in "making believe." He gives in to "a complete embracing of all that would not be." This reverses Hemingway's typical attitude toward the future. To embrace what will not be is to embrace a fiction, not a fate. Love is the supreme fiction. If it has previously been left out of the novels, here it is consciously brought back in. The two notorious and extended descriptions of "la gloria" mark important stages in Robert's (and his author's) development. During the first lovemaking Robert repeatedly goes "nowhere." He experiences love as a recurring "dark passage" toward the unfamiliar. But in the second love scene Robert is carried into the "now". A Hemingway hero finally becomes present to the act of love, finally has time to become familiar with the woman he loves. A new kind of heroine emerges here—one both pure and impure. Maria is an experienced virgin. Her rape is a fact; her sense of newness, a shared fiction. Both Robert and Maria must face her past before they can share a true present. They cleave to the liberating principle "that nothing is done to one that one does not accept and that if I loved some one it would take it all away." Forgiven is the guilt Maria carries from her traumatic past. Her story couples catharsis with the insight that resolves the aftereffects of the trauma. Hemingway breaks through here, against the entire history of his defenses, to the freedom implicit in love, the great fiction of reversal. (pp. 498-99)
[Robert's] recurring response to his father is embarrassment. He is "embarrassed by it all" when his father says good-bye at the train, apprehensive lest at any future meeting "both he and his grandfather would be acutely embarrassed by the presence of his father." This embarrassment is authentic and difficult to criticize. Embarrassment is a minor version of the uncanny: shame at something familiar which ought to have remained hidden and secret, and yet comes to light. What is striking is that Hemingway chooses to bring it to light. Robert is distinguished from Nick Adams not by his traumatic upbringing—Nick's is traumatic too—but by the chance he is given to work directly back through it. Robert's overt rehearsal of his embarrassing past (his father proves a "coward"; his mother, "a bully") helps him to understand it, and "to understand," he ventures, "is to forgive." He can contemplate the forgiveness (of himself and his origins) which will integrate his past with his present and free him to grow into the future. A past no longer repressed loses the power to return as an anxiety experienced as unavoidable fate.
This marks the victory of insight over repression. The potentially crippling force of Robert's past is not denied its return but openly assimilated to a more inclusive imaginative scheme. The single obsession which has dominated Hemingway's fiction—waiting for the end—is absorbed into a multiplicity of truths. The ending of For Whom the Bell Tolls celebrates the power of "making believe" over fantasies which the traumas of our personal history make us believe…. The power of the imagination over a sense of fate culminates in Robert Jordan's good-bye to Maria. When he says "I go with thee," he gives his entire life up to a saving fiction. Metaphor here is truth. Robert will always "go" with her in her heart. Wounded and lying alone at the very end, he knows that truth comes down to getting the tenses right. "I have tried to do with what talent I had. Have, you mean. All right, have."
Robert Jordan is alive until the end. His novel does not end—it recommences. Its last words carry us not into loss but return us to the first sentence: "He could feel his heart beating against the pine needle floor of the forest." This is a repetition which knows nothing of the uncanny. These words are familiar; we have heard them before. But they return us to a point of origin unshadowed by loss. The book draws a circle and thus spatializes our sense of return. It overcomes the sense of being bound by unwilled recurrence and creates instead a sense of eternity, of being still in the place and time where we began. Of course between the first and last sentence everything has changed, but these words say the ending as if it had not. Here Hemingway's end truly does create the fiction of recovering his beginning. Robert Jordan refuses to take his life by his own hand: "I don't want to do that business that my father did." He understands his father and forgives him but will not emulate him. That Hemingway ultimately chose to emulate his father's final act suggests that the vision of possibility held out by his greatest novel did not at last help him to live until he died. Yet however Hemingway ended, his most generous novel authorizes us to remember him not as the man who took his own life, but as the creator of Robert Jordan, who can say, facing certain death, "I wish there was more time." (pp. 499-501)
David M. Wyatt, "Hemingway's Uncanny Beginnings," in The Georgia Review (copyright, 1977, by the University of Georgia), Summer, 1977, pp. 476-501.