Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 123
Hemingway, Ernest 1899–1961
Hemingway was an American novelist, short story writer, and journalist. Numbered by many among the greatest American writers, Hemingway is master of the objective prose style which became his trademark. War and athletic competition often make up the subject matter of his works, allowing Hemingway to explore man's physical and metaphysical strivings. He was confounded by both the idea and the reality of death: indeed, an essential nihilism colors all of his work. Hemingway is noted for his superlative description of action, although some critics find the philosophy espoused in his later novels simplistic and pompous. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954 and the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction in 1953. (See also CLC, Vols. 1, 3, 6, 8, 10, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 77-80.)
Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1568
When Hemingway's stories first appeared, they seemed to be a transcription of the real world, new because they were accurate and because the world in those days was also new. With his insistence on "presenting things truly," he seemed to be a writer in the naturalistic tradition (for all his technical innovations)…. Going back to his work [later], you perceive his kinship with a wholly different group of novelists, let us say with Poe and Hawthorne and Melville: the haunted and nocturnal writers, the men who dealt in images that were symbols of an inner world.
On the face of it, his method is not in the least like theirs. He doesn't lead us into castles ready to collapse with age, or into very old New England houses, or embark with us on the search for a whale that is also the white spirit of evil; instead he tells the stories he has lived or heard, against the background of countries he has seen. But, you reflect on reading his books again, these are curious stories that he has chosen from his wider experience, and these countries are presented in a strangely mortuary light. In no other writer of our time can you find such a profusion of corpses…. In no other writer can you find so many suffering animals…. And morally wounded people who also devour themselves …—here are visions as terrifying as those of "The Pit and the Pendulum," even though most of them are copied from life; here are nightmares at noonday, accurately described, pictured without blur, but having the nature of obsessions or hypnagogic visions between sleep and waking.
And, going back to them, you find a waking-dreamlike quality even in the stories that deal with pleasant or commonplace aspects of the world. (pp. 40-1)
Hemingway's stories are most of them continued, in the sense that he has a habit of returning to the same themes, each time making them a little clearer—to himself, I think, as well as to others. His work has an emotional consistency, as if all of it moved with the same current. (p. 41)
After reading [a later story, "Now I Lay Me,"] we have a somewhat different attitude toward the earlier ["Big Two-Hearted River."]… [We] now perceive what we probably missed at a first reading: that there are shadows in the background and that part of the story takes place in an inner world. We notice that Nick Adams regards his fishing trip as an escape, either from nightmare or from realities that have become a nightmare…. "Nick felt happy," the author says more than once. "He felt he had left everything behind, the need for thinking, the need to write, other needs. It was all back of him." He lives as if in an enchanted country. There is a faint suggestion of old legends: all the stories of boys with cruel stepmothers who wandered off into the forest where the big trees sheltered them and the birds brought them food. (p. 42)
[Fishing] is not the only activity of his heroes that Hemingway endows with a curious and almost supernatural value. They drink early and late; they consume enough beer, wine, anis, grappa, and Fundador to put them all into alcoholic wards, if they were ordinary mortals; but drinking seems to have the effect on them of a magic potion. (pp. 42-3)
[Hemingway tried in the] early days to state everything behavioristically, and it was not until later that he began to make a deliberate use of symbolism, together with other literary devices that he had avoided in the beginning, when he was teaching himself to write "commencing with the simplest things."…
Hemingway almost never makes the error that weakens the effect of most symbolic fiction. Ordinarily we think of it as a type of writing in which the events in the foreground tend to become misty because the author has his eyes fixed on something else…. It is true that Maria, in For Whom the Bell Tolls, is almost more of a dream than she is a woman. When Frederic Henry dives into the flooded Tagliamento, in A Farewell to Arms, he is performing a rite of baptism that prepares us for the new life he is about to lead as a deserter from the Italian army; his act is emotionally significant, but it is a little unconvincing on the plane of action. These are perhaps the only two cases in which Hemingway seems to loosen his grip on reality. Elsewhere his eyes are fixed on the foreground; but he gives us a sense of other shadowy meanings that contribute to the force and complexity of his writing. (p. 46)
Hemingway's prose at its best gives a sense of depth and of moving forward on different levels that is lacking in even the best of his imitators, as it is in almost all the other novelists of our time. Moreover, I have at least a vague notion of how this quality in his work can be explained.
Considering his laborious apprenticeship and the masters with whom he chose to study; considering his theories of writing, which he has often discussed, and how they have developed with the years; considering their subtle and highly conscious application, as well as the very complicated personality they serve to express, it is a little surprising to find that Hemingway is almost always described as a primitive. Yet the word really applies to him, if it is used in what might be called its anthropological sense. The anthropologists tell us that many of the so-called primitive peoples have an extremely elaborate system of beliefs, calling for the almost continual performance of rites and ceremonies; even their drunken orgies are ruled by tradition. Some of the forest-dwelling tribes believe that every rock or tree or animal has its own indwelling spirit. When they kill an animal or chop down a tree, they must beg its forgiveness, repeating a formula of propitiation; otherwise its spirit would haunt them. Living briefly in a world of hostile forces, they preserve themselves—so they believe—only by the exercise of magic lore.
There is something of the same atmosphere in Hemingway's work. His heroes live in a world that is like a hostile forest, full of unseen dangers, not to mention the nightmares that haunt their sleep. Death spies on them from behind every tree. Their only chance of safety lies in the faithful observance of customs they invent for themselves. In an early story like "Big Two-Hearted River," you notice that Nick Adams does everything very slowly, not wishing "to rush his sensations any"; and he pays so much attention to the meaning and rightness of each gesture that his life in the wilderness becomes a series of little ceremonies…. The whole fishing trip, instead of being a mere escape, might be regarded as an incantation, a spell to banish evil spirits. And there are other rituals in Hemingway's work (besides drinking and writing…). [We] can recognize rites of animal sacrifice (as in Death in the Afternoon), of sexual union (in For Whom the Bell Tolls), of self-immolation (in "The Snows of Kilimanjaro"), of conversion (in To Have and Have Not), and of symbolic death and rebirth (in the Caporetto passage of A Farewell to Arms). When one of Hemingway's characters violates his own standards or the just laws of the tribe (as Ole Andreson has done in "The Killers"), he waits for death as stolidly as an Indian. (pp. 47-8)
[Hemingway] seems to have a feeling for half-forgotten sacraments; his cast of mind is pre-Christian and prelogical.
Sometimes his stories come close to being adaptations of ancient myths. His first novel, for example, deals in different terms with the same legend [that of the Fisher King] that T. S. Eliot was not so much presenting as concealing in The Waste Land. (p. 49)
And it is this instinct for legends, for sacraments, for rituals, for symbols appealing to buried hopes and fears, that helps to explain the power of Hemingway's work and his vast superiority over his imitators. The imitators have learned all his mannerisms as a writer, and in some cases they can tell a story even better than Hemingway himself; but they tell only the story; they communicate with the reader on only one level of experience. Hemingway does more than that. Most of us are also primitive in a sense, for all the machinery that surrounds our lives. We have our private rituals, our little superstitions, our symbols and fears and nightmares; and Hemingway reminds us unconsciously of the hidden worlds in which we live. (p. 50)
[Some of his] writing has gone bad, but surprisingly little of it. By now he has earned the right to be taken for what he is, with his great faults and greater virtues; with his narrowness, his power, his always open eyes, his stubborn, chip-on-the-shoulder honesty, his nightmares, his rituals for escaping them, and his sense of an inner and an outer world that for twenty years were moving together toward the same disaster. (p. 51)
Malcolm Cowley, "Introduction" (copyright 1944 by The Viking Press, Inc.; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission of Viking Penguin Inc.), in The Portable Hemingway, edited by Malcolm Cowley, Viking Penguin, 1944 (and reprinted as "Nightmare and Ritual in Hemingway," in Hemingway: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Robert P. Weeks, Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1962, pp. 40-51).
Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 974
Hemingway's narrator [in The Sun Also Rises] seemingly represents "the true moral norm of the book," but he appears as such only to the prejudiced reader, prejudiced by the bias of the narrator's authoritative voice….
Read the novel from Cohn's point-of-view, and you end obversely in bias against Jake Barnes and his sophomoric code and his friends who damn Cohn by it. Reversal of intention: that Hemingway consciously schemed it so is evidenced by the fact that his narrator is honest enough to include in his story the self-incriminating testimony of witnesses against him, namely Bill Gorton, Robert Cohn, and Jake Barnes himself. Jake confesses his defections from the code he seemingly exemplifies and from his role as historian of the pretenders to it. (p. 173)
Characteristically, what Jake says of his friends applies also to himself. Jake's portrait of Cohn reflects himself; it tells us as much about Jake as about Cohn.
On Jake's own admission, we cannot accept his portrait of Cohn with any certitude: "Somehow I feel that I have not shown Robert Cohn clearly."… Jake Barnes, New York Herald journalist, is not a trustworthy reporter. (pp. 176-77)
Cohn is [pictured as] awful because he is always merely nice. Niceness is discredited because it declares a weakness, an exposed flaw in the mask of mock sophistication which Jake and his friends subscribe to. The criterion is irony, and Cohn never once speaks ironically….
In both The Sun Also Rises and The Great Gatsby the narrators default on the standards by which they measure and judge others. Duplicity characterizes both narrators. (p. 178)
Contra Carlos Baker's notion of "the moral vacuum in Cohn," Cohn stands out as exemplar of the Christian virtues. That moral vacuum is located—by my reading—in Jake, in Brett, and in Mike; also in Romero. (p. 180)
Hemingway's public has been brain-washed by the Hemingway Code.
The story narrated by Jake Barnes is the story of Robert Cohn, the betrayed tin Christ. Everyone in The Sun Also Rises regards himself as a little tin Christ—the exceptions are the Count and Montoya and Cohn. They crucify Cohn as though he were one. They hang a wreath of twisted garlics around his neck while he sleeps on some wine-casks….
They blaspheme him. When Mike demands Cohn "Eat those garlics,"… it is as though Cohn were Christ—Cohn crucified by Judas Mike. When Cohn awakes, it is as though Christ Cohn were resurrected from the dead….
Says Judas Jake: "I'm not sorry for him. I hate him, myself." Says Brett: "I hate him, too…. I hate his damned suffering."… "Go away, for God's sake. Take that sad Jewish face away." So Mike speaks of Cohn as though Cohn were Christ. (p. 181)
Lady Brett Ashley has no sense of values and she has no sense of time: "I looked at the clock. It was half-past four. 'Had no idea what hour it was,' Brett said."… (p. 183)
Everything in The Sun Also Rises is rotten. Hemingway told Fitzgerald that The Sun Also Rises was "a hell of a sad story," whose only instruction was "how people go to hell."… (pp. 183-4)
Hemingway's narrator is crossed in identity with Cohn: "I put on a coat of Cohn's and went out on the balcony."… The surface reason for Jake's hatred of Cohn is envy that Cohn has possessed Brett, but the real reason stems from the subconscious recognition—rendered implicitly by his sharing Cohn's coat, for instance—that he, the outcast Jacob, shares identity with the outcast Robert Cohn and that in hating Cohn he is in effect expressing his own self-hatred.
That Jake shares identity with his antagonist, what does that spell out but the fact of a reversal of intention in The Sun Also Rises. How can Jake be represented by Hemingway critics as superior to Cohn if Jake is identified with Cohn? They thus switch places, and thereby I fashion my upside-down reading of the novel: Read it from Jake's side and he is right; read it from Cohn's side and he is right. But once you read it from Cohn's point of view, Jake is all wrong. Jake rebels against and disbelieves in that other side of his selfhood which Cohn represents. They are, as it were, the conflicting double selfhood of their creator—one side of Hemingway criticizing the other. (p. 188)
[Carlos Baker also] opines that Hemingway "early devised and subsequently developed a mythologizing tendency of his own which does not depend on antecedent literatures, learned footnotes, or the recognition of spot passages," and he adds that Hemingway's esthetic opinions "carried him away from the literary kind of myth adaptation" …; but the fact is that Frazer's The Golden Bough is the well spring source of Hemingway's mythologizing tendency in The Sun Also Rises. Any well-informed reading of the novel owes homage to The Golden Bough. It is loaded with "spot passages" and "learned footnotes" from Frazer, and—contra Baker—it exploits "the literary kind of myth adaptation." (pp. 189-90)
Ceremonies of haircutting, rituals and taboos of drinking and bathing and fishing—they are all recreated in The Sun Also Rises from The Golden Bough, a parallelism which has not been noticed (so far as I know). (p. 191)
Detached from Jake's claim—that is [Jew] Cohn's plight. If any remark by Cohn would detach him from Jake and his friends, it is his admission: "I'm not interested in bull-fighters. That's an abnormal life."… Cohn's values stand as the obverse of Jake's. Cohn's critique of the Narrator's Point-of-View provides the novel with its aesthetic antithesis. (p. 192)
Robert W. Stallman, "'The Sun Also Rises'—But No Bells Ring" (a revision of a speech originally delivered at Centre Culturel Americain, Paris, in April 1959), in his The Houses That James Built and Other Literary Studies (copyright © 1961 by R. W. Stallman), Ohio University Press, 1961, pp. 173-93.
Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 544
It is something of a joke, in view of the common belief that Hemingway is a tough, laconic writer, that the reason for the difficulty [in interpreting "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place"] is that this story by an acknowledged "realist" is as near, in its quality and its effect, to a poem as prose can be without ceasing to be honest prose. (p. 112)
Age, death, despair, love, the boredom of life, two elderly men seeking sleep and forgetfulness, and one still young enough to feel passion, cast into an hour and a place whose silence and emptiness, soon to become more silent and more empty still—it all creates in us, at first, a sad mood in which patience and futility feebly strive with one another, involve us, mesmerize us. Grimness is in the offing. Hemingway's kindness and tenderness save us from that. For Hemingway, deep down, is one of the kindest and most tender of writers. If our final feelings here are of pity and awe it is he who communicates them to us. I believe that Hemingway's "realism" is merely the carapace or shell that protects, grips, holds from overspilling a nature fundamentally emotional and tender. (pp. 112-13)
[With the waiter's confession, "I'm with all those who like to stay late at the café … With all those who need a light at night"] the meaning of the title becomes clear, and in the following references to light, as one of the defenses of man's sad soul against the Baudelaireian horror of Nothingness. As it becomes clear, the romantic notes darken. We realize that such notes as love, youth, the lighted leaves, the dew all carry dark shadows, that the silence is ominous and the night inimical. Youth implies age, love is an apple that must fall from its tree, the dew will dry, the light will go out. How unblatantly Hemingway does it! How subdued the irony of his title and his theme! And yet there is also a firm line and intention in it all. He has a strength that need never be confused with violence. He is a delicate sculptor of great muscle.
As for the craft by which Hemingway produces effects on us, transfers a somber yet soothing mood to us, this is so artfully contrived that the popular idea of the man is that he has no art at all—than which no art can be more successful. Yet his art is, in fact, a very clean, well-lighted place, practical, cool, sharp, colorless like an Italian café before the Italian decorators moved in, entirely functional and unobtrusive. His style is one of the most self-conscious, original, and personal styles ever invented, based on a proper respect for words such as a man might develop from the habit of sending cablegrams from battlefields at a high price per word. It is hard to describe an effect of simplicity originating in the silences and suppressions of a man of such deep feeling. (p. 113)
Sean O'Faolain, "'A Clean, Well-Lighted Place'," in Short Stories: A Study in Pleasure, edited by Sean O'Faolain (copyright © 1961, Sean O'Faolain; reprinted by permission of Little, Brown and Co.), Little, Brown, 1961 (and reprinted in Hemingway: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Robert P. Weeks, Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1962, pp. 112-13).
Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 4365
Very probably [Hemingway] intended [the title of In Our Time] as a sardonic allusion to a well-known phrase from the Church of England's Book of Common Prayer: "Give peace in our time, O Lord." At any rate the most striking thing about the volume is that there is no peace at all in the stories. The next most striking thing about them … is that half of the stories are devoted to the spotty but careful development of a crucial but long-ignored character—a boy, then a young man—named Nick Adams. These stories are arranged in the chronological order of Nick's boyhood and early manhood, and are intimately related, one to another. Indeed in this aspect the book is almost a "novel," for some of the stories are incomprehensible if one does not see the point, and it is often subtle, of some earlier piece. (pp. 5-6)
A careful reading of ["Indian Camp", the first story of In Our Time,] will show that Hemingway is not primarily interested … in [the] shocking events: he is interested in their effect on the little boy who witnessed them. For the moment the events do not seem to have any great effect on the boy. But it is very important that he is later on a badly scarred and nervous young man, and here Hemingway is relating to us the first reason he gives why that is so. (p. 6)
The six following stories from In Our Time concerning Nick Adams are not so violent as "Indian Camp," but each of them is unpleasant or upsetting in some way or other. (p. 7)
[An untitled sketch following the story "The Battler"] tells us that Nick is in World War I, that he has been wounded, and that he has made a "separate peace" with the enemy—is not fighting for his country, or any other, any more. It would be quite impossible to exaggerate the importance of this short scene in any understanding of Hemingway and his work. It will be duplicated at more length by another protagonist, named Frederic Henry, in A Farewell to Arms, and it will serve as a climax in the lives of all of Hemingway's heroes, in one way or another, for at least the next quarter-century.
The fact that Nick is seriously injured is significant in two important ways. First, the wound intensifies and epitomizes the wounds he has been getting as a boy growing up in the American Middle West. From here on the Hemingway hero will appear to us as a wounded man—wounded not only physically but, as soon becomes clear, psychologically as well. Second, the fact that Nick and his friend, also wounded, have made a "separate peace," are "Not patriots," marks the beginning of the long break with organized society as a whole that stays with Hemingway and his hero through several books to come…. Indeed the last story in this first volume, called "Big Two-Hearted River," is a kind of forecast of these things. It is obscure until one sees the point…. But it is really a very simple "story." It is a study of a young man who has been hurt in the war, who is all by himself on a fishing trip, escaping everyone. He is suffering from what used to be called "shell shock"; he is trying desperately to keep from going out of his mind. (pp. 8-9)
[The interest in "An Alpine Idyll"] focuses on the responses of Nick and others to a particularly shocking situation, as it did in the more famous "Killers." But whereas in the earlier story Nick was so upset by the thought of the man who was passively waiting to be murdered that he wanted to get clean out of the town where the violence impended, healthy tissue is now growing over his wounds, and the point of the story lies in the development of his defenses.
By now it is perfectly clear what kind of boy, then man, this Adams is. He is certainly not the simple primitive he is often mistaken for. He is honest, virile, but—clearest of all—very sensitive. He is an outdoor male, and he has a lot of nerve, but he is also very nervous. It is important to understand this Nick, for soon, under other names in other books, he is going to be known half the world over as the "Hemingway hero": every single one of these men has had, or has had the exact equivalent of, Nick's childhood, adolescence, and young manhood. This man will die a thousand times before his death, and although he would learn how to live with some of his troubles, and how to overcome others, he would never completely recover from his wounds as long as Hemingway lived and recorded his adventures.
Now it is also clear that something was needed to bind these wounds, and there is in Hemingway a consistent character who performs that function. This figure is not Hemingway himself in disguise (which to some hard-to-measure extent the Hemingway hero was). Indeed he is to be sharply distinguished from the hero, for he comes to balance the hero's deficiencies, to correct his stance…. [This man is generally called] the "code hero"—this because he represents a code according to which the hero, if he could attain it, would be able to live properly in the world of violence, disorder, and misery to which he has been introduced and which he inhabits. The code hero, then, offers up and exemplifies certain principles of honor, courage, and endurance which in a life of tension and pain make a man a man, as we say, and enable him to conduct himself well in the losing battle that is life. He shows, in the author's famous phrase for it, "grace under pressure." (pp. 10-11)
The finest and best known of these code heroes is old Santiago of The Old Man and the Sea. The chief point about him is that he behaves perfectly—honorably, with great courage and endurance—while losing to the sharks the giant fish he has caught. This, to epitomize the message the code hero always brings, is life: you lose, of course; what counts is how you conduct yourself while you are being destroyed. (p. 11)
The Sun Also Rises reintroduces us to the hero, here called Jake Barnes. His wound, again with both literal and symbolic meanings, is … to the genitals: Jake was, to speak loosely, emasculated in the war. His wound, then, has undergone a significant transformation, but he is still the hero, still the man who cannot sleep when his head starts to work, and who cries in the night. He has also parted with society and the usual middle-class ways; he lives in Paris with an international group of expatriates, a dissolute collection of amusing but aimless people—all of them, in one way or another, blown out of the paths of ordinary life by the war. (pp. 12-13)
Although it is not highly developed yet, Jake and the few people he likes have a code. There are certain things that are "done," and many that are "not done," and one of the characters distinguishes people as belonging or not belonging according to whether they understand or not. (p. 13)
Nothing leads anywhere in the book, and that is perhaps the real point of it. The action comes full circle—imitates, that is, the sun of the title, which also rises, only to hasten to the place where it arose (the title is, of course, a quotation from Ecclesiastes). For the most part the novel is a delightful one. The style is fresh and sparkling, the dialogue is fun to read, and the book is beautifully and meaningfully constructed. But its message is that for these people at least (and one gets the distinct impression that other people do not matter very much), life is futile.
It happens that this is not precisely the message Hemingway intended to give…. As far as he was concerned, he wrote his editor Maxwell Perkins, the point of his novel is, as the Biblical lines say in part, that "the earth abideth forever."
To be sure, some support for these contentions can be found in the novel itself. Not quite all the characters are "lost"—Romero is not—and the beauty of the eternal earth is now and again richly invoked. But most of the characters do seem lost indeed, a great deal of the time, and few readers have taken the passage from Ecclesiastes as Hemingway did. The strongest feeling in it is not that the earth abides forever, but that all motion is endless, circular, and unavailing…. (pp. 13-14)
[The hero of A Farewell to Arms comes to much the same conclusion.] Henry is left, at the end, with nothing. A man is trapped, Hemingway seems to be saying. He is trapped biologically and he is trapped socially; either way it can only end badly, and there are no other ways.
[A Farewell to Arms] is a beautifully written book. The prose is hard and clean, the people come to life instantly and ring true. The novel is built with scrupulous care. A short introductory scene at the very start presents an ominous conjunction of images—of rain, pregnancy, and death—which set the mood for, and prefigure, all that is to follow. Then the action is tied into a perfect and permanent knot by the skill with which the two themes are brought together. As the intentionally ambiguous title suggests, the two themes are of course love and war. (p. 15)
Despite the frequency of their appearance in the same books, love and war are—to judge from the frequency with which writers fail to wed them—an unlikely mixture. But in this novel their courses run exactly, though subtly, parallel, so that in the end we feel we have read one story, not two. In his affair with the war Henry goes through six phases: from desultory participation to serious action and a wound, and then through his recuperation in Milan to a retreat which leads to his desertion. Carefully interwoven with all this is his relationship with Catherine, which undergoes six precisely corresponding stages: from a trifling sexual affair to actual love and her conception, and then through her confinement in the Alps to a trip to the hospital which leads to her death. By the time the last farewell is taken, the stories are as one in the point, lest there be any sentimental doubt about it, that life, both personal and social, is a struggle in which the Loser Takes Nothing, either.
But like all of Hemingway's better books this one is bigger than any short account of it can indicate. For one thing there is the stature of Frederic Henry, and it is never more clear than here that he is the Hemingway "hero" in more senses than are suggested by the term "protagonist." Henry stands for many men; he stands for the experience of his country: in his evolution from complicity in the war to bitterness to escape, the whole of America could read its recent history in a crucial period, Wilson to Harding. When he expressed his disillusionment with the ideals the war claimed to promote, and jumped in a river and deserted, Henry's action epitomized the contemporary feeling of a whole nation. Not that the book is without positive values, however…. Henry progresses from the messiness represented by the brothel to the order that is love; he distinguishes sharply between the disciplined and competent people he has to do with and the disorderly and incompetent ones: the moral value of these virtues is not incidental to the action but a foundation on which the book is built. Despite such foundations, however, the final effect of this mixture of pessimism and ideals is one of tragedy and despair. (pp. 15-16)
[To Have and Have Not is not a good novel.] But it is one in which its author clearly showed that he had learned something that would become very important to him before he was done writing. As often before, and later too, it is the code hero,… Harry Morgan, who teaches the lesson…. In the end he is killed, but before he dies he has learned the lesson that … a man has no chance.
It is regrettable that this pronouncement, articulating a deathbed conversion, does not grow with any sense of inevitability out of the action of the book. A contrast between the Haves and the Have Nots of the story is meant to be structure and support for the novel and its message, but the whole affair is unconvincing. The superiority of the Nots is apparently based on the superiority of the sex life of the Morgans, on some savage disgust aimed at a successful writer in the book, and on some callow explanations of how the Haves got their money. Just how all these things lead to Harry's final pronouncement was Hemingway's business, and it was not skillfully transacted. (pp. 17-18)
The play [The Fifth Column] is distinguished by some excellent talk, and marred by a kind of cops-and-robbers action. The Hemingway hero, now called simply Philip, is immediately recognizable…. A kind of Scarlet Pimpernel dressed as an American reporter, Philip appears to be a charming but dissolute wastrel, a newsman who never files any stories. But actually, and unknown to his mistress, Dorothy, he is up to his neck in the Loyalist fight. The most striking thing about him, however, is the distance he has come from the hero, so like him in every other way, who decided in A Farewell to Arms that such faiths and causes were "obscene." (pp. 18-19)
[For Whom the Bell Tolls] is true to its controlling concept [as stated in the epigraph by John Donne "No man is an Iland, intire of itselfe…."]. It deals with three days in the life of the Hemingway hero, now named Robert Jordan, who is fighting as an American volunteer in the Spanish civil war. He is sent to join a guerrilla band in the mountains near Segovia to blow up a strategic bridge, thus facilitating a Loyalist advance…. Jordan believes the attack will fail, but the generals will not cancel it until it is too late. He successfully destroys the bridge, is wounded in the retreat, and is left to die. But he has come to see the wisdom of such a sacrifice, and the book ends without bitterness.
This is not a flawless novel. For one thing the love story, if not sentimental, is at any rate idealized and very romantic; for another, there are a good many passages in which Jordan appears more to be struggling for the faith on which he acts than to have achieved it. The hero is still the wounded man, and new incidents from his past are supplied to explain why this is so; two of the characters remark pointedly that he was too young to experience the things he tells them of having experienced. But Jordan has learned a lot, since the old days, about how to live and function with his wounds, and he behaves well. (pp. 19-20)
The skill with which this novel was for the most part written demonstrated that Hemingway's talent was once again intact and formidable. None of his books had evoked more richly the life of the senses, had shown a surer sense of plotting, or provided more fully living secondary characters, or livelier dialogue (p. 20)
[Across the River and into the Trees] is a poor performance…. Again there is the "Hemingway heroine."… There are also many signs of the "code." But the code in this book has become a sort of joke; the hero [Richard Cantwell] has become a good deal of a bore, and the heroine has become a wispy dream. The distance that Hemingway once maintained between himself and his protagonist has disappeared, to leave us with a self-indulgent chronicling of the author's every opinion; he acts as though he were being interviewed. The novel reads like a parody of the earlier works.
But there is one interesting thing about it. Exactly one hundred years before the appearance of this novel Nathaniel Hawthorne published The Scarlet Letter, in which he wrote: "There is a fatality, a feeling so irresistible and inevitable that it has the force of doom, which almost invariably compels human beings to linger around and haunt, ghostlike, the spot where some great and marked event has given the color to their lifetime; and still the more irresistibly, the darker the tinge that saddens it."… [No] one in the history of American letters has demonstrated Hawthorne's insight with as much force and clarity as have Hemingway and his hero. And nowhere in Hemingway is the demonstration more clear than in Across the River and into the Trees, for it is here that Colonel Cantwell makes a sort of pilgrimage to the place where he … was first wounded. He takes instruments, and locates by survey the exact place on the ground where he had been struck. Then, in an act of piercing, dazzling identification, he builds a very personal if ironic sort of monument to the spot, acknowledges and confronts the great, marked event that colored his lifetime,… and comes to the end of his journey (or the end so far), not at the place where he first lived, but where first he died. (pp. 20-2)
The thing that chiefly keeps The Old Man and the Sea from greatness is the sense one has that the author was imitating instead of creating the style that made him famous. But this reservation is almost made up for by the book's abundance of meaning. As always the code hero, here Santiago, comes with a message, and it is essentially that while a man may grow old, and be wholly down on his luck, he can still dare, stick to the rules, persist when he is licked, and thus by the manner of his losing win his victory. (p. 22)
To take the broadest view, however, the novel is a representation of life as a struggle against unconquerable natural forces in which a kind of victory is possible. It is an epic metaphor for life, a contest in which even the problem of right and wrong seems paltry before the great thing that is the struggle. It is also something like Greek tragedy, in that as the hero falls and fails, the audience may get a memorable glimpse of what stature a man may have. And it is Christian tragedy as well, especially in the several marked allusions to Christian symbolism, particularly of the crucifixion—a development in Hemingway's novels that begins, apparently without much importance, in the early ones, gathers strength in Across the River and into the Trees, and comes to a kind of climax in this book. (p. 23)
[A Moveable Feast] is easily the best nonfiction he ever wrote.
The achievement is chiefly stylistic; it is largely the shock of immediacy, the sense of our own presence on Paris streets and in Paris cafés, that makes the book. Some of the dialogue with the first Mrs. Hemingway is a little embarrassing, and occasionally the borders of sentimentality are at least skirted. But for the most part the prose glitters, warms, delights—or is witty, or hard-hitting as ever. It moves and evokes, as the author looks back on the time of innocence, poverty, and spring, so soon to pass. (pp. 24-5)
For the most part [Hemingway's prose style] is colloquial, characterized chiefly by a conscientious simplicity of diction and sentence structure. The words are normally short and common ones and there is a severe economy, and also a curious freshness, in their use. As Ford Madox Ford remarked some time ago, in a line that is often (and justifiably) quoted, the words "strike you, each one, as if they were pebbles fetched fresh from a brook." The typical sentence is a simple declarative one, or a couple of these joined by a conjunction. The effect is of crispness, cleanness, clarity, and a scrupulous care. (p. 37)
It is a remarkably unintellectual style. Events are described strictly in the sequence in which they occurred; no mind reorders or analyzes them, and perceptions come to the reader unmixed with comment from the author. The impression, therefore, is of intense objectivity; the writer provides nothing but stimuli. Since violence and pain are so often the subject matter, it follows that a characteristic effect is one of irony or understatement. The vision is narrow, and sharply focused.
The dialogue is equally striking, for Hemingway had an ear like a trap for the accents and mannerisms of human speech; this is chiefly why he was able to bring a character swiftly to life. The conversation is far from a simple transcription, however, of the way people talk. Instead the dialogue strips speech to an essential pattern of mannerisms and responses characteristic of the speaker, and gives an illusion of reality that reality itself would not give.
Nothing in this brief account of the "Hemingway style" should seem very surprising, but the purposes, implications, and ultimate meanings of this manner of writing are less well recognized. A style has its own content, and the manner of a distinctive prose style has its own meanings. The things that Hemingway's style most conveys are the very things he says outright. His style is as communicative of the content as the content itself, and is a large and inextricable part of the content. The strictly disciplined controls exerted over the hero and his nervous system are precise parallels to the strictly disciplined sentences. The "mindlessness" of the style is a reflection and expression of the need to "stop thinking" when thought means remembering the things that upset. The intense simplicity of the prose is a means of saying that things must be made simple, or the hero is lost, and in "a way you'll never be." The economy and narrow focus of the prose controls the little that can be absolutely mastered. The prose is tense because the atmosphere in which the struggle for control takes place is tense, and the tension in the style expresses that fact. (pp. 37-8)
[A near-perfect parallel can be made between Twain's Huck Finn and Hemingway's Nick Adams.] In both Huck and Nick … we have a sensitive, rather passive but courageous and masculine boy, solitary and out of doors, who is dissatisfied with respectability, chiefly as represented by a Bible-quoting woman of the house. Each runs away from home. "Home" in both cases … was a place of violence and pain, but though it was easy to flee the respectability, off on their own both boys came up against brutality harder than ever. Both were hurt by it and both ended by rebelling utterly against a society that sponsored, or permitted, such horror. Nick decides that he is not a patriot, and makes his own peace with the enemy; Huck decides that he will take up wickedness, and go to hell. He lights out for the territory, the hero for foreign lands. Huck and Nick are very nearly twins. Two of our most prominent heroes, Huck and the Hemingway hero, are casualties whom the "knowledge of evil," which Americans are commonly said to lack, has made sick.
This theme of the boy shattered by the world he grows up in is a variation on one of the most ancient of all stories,… the meeting of innocence and experience. (pp. 41-2)
The stories of Huck Finn and the Hemingway hero share this general theme, for they tell again what happens when innocence, or a spontaneous virtue, meets with something not at all itself…. [There] is nothing subtle about the force that confronts the natural goodness of Huck and Nick. It is violence, an essential experience of the frontier, and also in our time—which is a wartime—of the American in Europe. And there is nothing triumphant about the beating which innocence takes, or about what happens to it after it is beaten. (pp. 42-3)
[It is] a very limited world that we are exposed to through [Hemingway]. It is, ultimately, a world at war—war either literally as armed and calculated conflict, or figuratively as marked everywhere with violence, potential or present, and a general hostility. The people of this world operate under such conditions—of apprehension, emergency, stiff-lipped fear, and pleasure seized in haste—as are imposed by war. Restricted grimly by the urgencies of war, their pleasures are limited pretty much to those the senses can communicate, and their morality is a harshly pragmatic affair; what's moral is what you feel good after. Related to this is the code, summarizing the virtues of the soldier, the ethic of wartime. The activities of escape go according to the rules of sport, which make up the code of the armistice, the temporary, peacetime modification of the rules of war.
Hemingway's world is one in which things do not grow and bear fruit, but explode, break, decompose, or are eaten away. It is saved from total misery by visions of endurance, competence, and courage, by what happiness the body can give when it is not in pain, by interludes of love that cannot outlast the furlough, by a pleasure in the countries one can visit, or fish and hunt in, and the cafés one can sit in, and by very little else. Hemingway's characters do not "mature" in the ordinary sense, do not become "adult." It is impossible to picture them in a family circle, going to the polls to vote, or making out their income tax returns. It is a very narrow world. It is a world seen through a crack in the wall by a man pinned down by gunfire. The vision is obsessed by violence, and insists that we honor a stubborn preoccupation with the profound significance of violence in our time. (pp. 44-5)
Philip Young, in his Ernest Hemingway (American Writers Pamphlet No. 1; © 1959, 1964, University of Minnesota), University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 1964.
Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 3184
[Often] Hemingway's fictional women emerge as more admirable than his men: braver, more faithful and loving, more responsible. (p. 6)
[Hemingway expressed his view of the morality of compensation, in which nothing can be given or taken without an equivalent] in the metaphor of finance—a metaphor which runs through the fabric of [The Sun Also Rises] as a fine, essential thread. It is Jake Barnes who explicitly states the code of Hemingway's novel…. Jake reflects that in having Lady Brett Ashley for a friend, he "had been getting something for nothing" and that sooner or later he would have to pay the bill, which always came…. (p. 22)
Jake's philosophical musing is illustrated time and again in the profuse monetary transactions of The Sun Also Rises…. Between the beginning and the end, Hemingway specifically mentions sums of money, and what they have been able to purchase, a total of thirty times. (pp. 22-3)
Hemingway reveals much more about his characters' financial condition and spending habits than about their appearance….
Hemingway had several good reasons to note with scrupulous detail the exact nature of financial transactions. Such a practice contributed to the verisimilitude of the novel, denoting the way it was; it fitted nicely with Jake's … obsession with the proper way of doing things; and mainly it illustrated in action the moral conviction that you must pay for what you get, that you must earn in order to be able to buy…. (p. 23)
Money and its uses form the metaphor by which the moral responsibility of Jake, Bill, and Pedro Romero is measured against the carelessness of Brett, Mike, and Robert. Financial soundness mirrors moral strength. (p. 26)
[Robert Cohn, a] romantic,… is understandably unable at first to conceive that his weekend with Brett at San Sebastian has meant nothing to her, but he forfeits any claim to sympathy by his subsequent stubborn and violent unwillingness to accept that obvious fact. Terribly insecure, he takes insult after insult from Frances and Mike without retaliation, though he is ready enough to fight with his "best friend" Jake over what he construes as insults to Brett and himself. A Jew in the company of gentiles, he is a bore who takes himself—and his illusions—far too seriously. Unlike Jake, he has not "learned about" things. He does not know how to eat or drink or love. (p. 27)
Still, it would be possible to pity Cohn for his dominant malady … were it not for his callous and opportunistic use of the money he has not earned. (pp. 27-8)
What comes too easily has a pernicious effect on him as a person. Having inherited a good deal of money, he wastes nearly all of it on a little magazine—and in purchasing the prestige that comes to him as its editor. But Cohn's most damning misuse of funds occurs when he attempts to buy his way out of obligations to women…. It is in his attempt to buy his way out of entanglements without expending anything of himself that Robert Cohn most viciously breaks the moral code of compensation. (pp. 28-9)
Both "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber" and, even more notably, "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" depict bad marriages held together by despicable financial binding. (p. 34)
In "The Snows of Kilimanjaro," the writer Harry [dies at the end, his demise] … brought about by a physical gangrene that parallels his moral rot. He has married Helen, an extremely wealthy woman, and let his talent go to seed…. Harry knows that what has happened is no one's fault but his own. After all, he had let himself be bought…. (p. 35)
[In his] fiction Ernest portrayed the rich as an entirely separate breed, more distasteful than the rest of mankind. Clearly, there was no doubt in his mind that an inverse relationship existed between money and morals. (pp. 53-4)
Marxist critics like Alvah Bessie had rightly complained that [For Whom the Bell Tolls] did not fulfill the promise of its title … by affirming the value of universal brotherhood. But For Whom the Bell Tolls does affirm the value of belonging to and sharing with a family (a word which Hemingway several times applies to Pablo's irregulars).
The point is emphasized through the metaphor of the gift. When Jordan first reaches the band, he jealously guards what is his. (p. 119)
After sharing danger and disappointment during his three days in the mountains, however, Jordan learns to put aside his selfishness and becomes "completely integrated" with the band. One of his teachers is the valiant El Sordo, whose generosity vividly contrasts with the American's possessiveness. (pp. 119-20)
[Jordan] remains behind to cover the retreat of Maria and the others at the end, and so makes the ultimate gift of self. "Each one does what he can," he thinks as he lies crippled. "You can do nothing for yourself but perhaps you can do something for another."
Yet Jordan does do a good deal for himself in staying behind: he regains the dignity and self-respect which his own father had failed to bequeath to him. Visions of his brave grandfather and cowardly father course through his brain during his last hours, and it is only as one man alone that he can redeem the suicide of the father he cannot forgive. Like Anselmo, who, having been brought up in religion, misses God but realizes that "now a man must be responsible to himself," Jordan understands that the final test is within. (p. 120)
A Farewell to Arms supplies Hemingway's most extended fictional statement of [his disillusionment with war]. (p. 126)
The symbols of war—pistol, medal, helmet, salute—take on a shabbiness that parallels the quality of combat generalship. In Frederic's company, no one knows what is going on, though they all speak "with great positiveness and strategical knowledge," and it is no different at the top….
Under the circumstances, patriotism seems out of place, and indeed most of the patriots whom Frederic meets are at considerable distance from the combat zone. (p. 128)
A Farewell to Arms has usually been interpreted as a tragic tale of two lovers, driven together by the war, who selflessly give themselves to each other in an affair that might have lasted in indefinite bliss had not fateful death unjustly intervened to snatch one away…. But to read A Farewell to Arms in this way drastically minimizes Hemingway's accomplishment. The construction of his 1929 book is far subtler and more complicated than that of the conventional sentimental novel, and the story it has to tell is anything but straightforward. (p. 151)
[The] character Frederic Henry, whom Rinaldi calls "the remorse boy," has a great deal to be remorseful about. In dealing with his own sins …, he tries to smooth them away, just as he had tried to brush the taste of harlotry away with toothpaste. The entire novel may reasonably be construed as his attempt to excuse himself from blame. But Hemingway does not let his storyteller off so easily. He makes it clear, between the lines, that we should take what Lieutenant Henry has to say with a grain of salt. The difficulty in grasping this point derives from the reader's tendency to identify with Frederic, who as first-person narrator serves as guide to what happens in the novel. He seems a trustworthy enough guide to the action. But as Hemingway warned, even when he wrote a novel in the first person, he could not be held responsible "for the opinions of the narrator."
People are always misspelling Frederic Henry's name, and no wonder: only once in the book does Hemingway supply it, in full, and those who know him best usually do not call him by any name at all. What is significant is what they do call him…. ["Baby" is] the term of affection which Rinaldi consistently and repeatedly uses in talking to Frederic. (pp. 152-53)
Whether they use "baby" or "boy,"… the other characters in A Farewell to Arms clearly perceive Frederic Henry as young, inexperienced, and unaware. (p. 153)
A mere boy, Frederic Henry suffers at the beginning of the novel from a pervasive lack of awareness. He does not know why he has enlisted in the Italian army, nor what he is fighting for. He lacks any perceptible ambition or purpose in life beyond the securing of his own pleasure. During the course of his war experiences he does to some degree grow in understanding…. The question at issue involves the extent of his education, how far Frederic Henry moved along the continuum from ignorant, self-centered youth to knowing, caring adulthood. (p. 154)
As the book progresses, [Frederic] becomes more loving and less selfish, but only as compared to an initial policy toward Catherine that can best be defined as exploitative. During their first meetings in Gorizia, Catherine poignantly reveals her vulnerability, but Frederic nonetheless treats her as he would any other potential conquest—as an opponent in the game of seduction he intends to win. (p. 156)
The love he feels is almost entirely sexual, however, and derives from the pleasure she gives him, pleasure far superior to that dispensed by the [prostitutes he has known]…. Since he is bedridden, she must come to him, a practice which symbolizes his role, then and later, as an accepter, not a giver, of services. (p. 157)
Throughout their affair, Frederic rarely displays honest and thoughtful concern for Catherine's feelings. Where she invariably thinks of him first, he often does not think of her at all. Only when she lies dying of childbirth in the Lausanne hospital does he finally begin to want to serve and to sacrifice for her. (p. 160)
The creator of Frederic Henry believed in retribution, in rewards and punishments, in actions producing consequences…. In an attempt to justify himself, he fixes all blame on a deterministic world. "The world" stands against the lovers; a vague "they" are at fault: "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." Adopting the rhetorician's device of the second person "you," Frederic tries to gain his audience's assent to this philosophy. But there is a logical inconsistency in the terrible game of life-and-death he posits: though he is at least an equal partner in any mistakes that have been made, he survives and Catherine dies. (pp. 160-61)
[Frederic] attempts under cover of the doctrine of determinism to evade responsibility years after the fact of his affair with Catherine Barkley. Worse yet, he does not love Catherine as she deserves. He takes without giving. He withholds. By showing us these shortcomings in Frederic Henry and by implicitly repudiating his philosophical justifications, Hemingway distances himself from his protagonist, who is one of those first-person narrators whose opinions are not to be trusted. (p. 162)
Hemingway rarely again portrayed a woman as believable and sympathetic as the heroine of A Farewell to Arms. The bitches who populate his fiction of the 1930s, like Margot Macomber in "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber" and Helene Bradley in To Have and Have Not, yield in later novels to such Latinized Child-women as Maria in For Whom the Bell Tolls and Renata in Across the River and into the Trees…. Dorothy Bridges in The Fifth Column … is satirically depicted as lacking in perception and understanding because of her foolish, knee-jerk liberalism. (p. 163)
More than half of the fifty-odd stories Ernest Hemingway wrote dealt with love in one form or another; but not one of them depicted a satisfactory, lasting, mutually shared love between a man and a woman. (p. 169)
Characteristically, Hemingway's fictional protagonists finish alone, a pattern which becomes increasingly dominant in his later writing….
Most of Hemingway's love stories, which usually assume a dominant-submissive relationship, focus on [a symbiotic love, in which one partner assumes a passive, masochistic, inferior role to the other's active, sadistic superiority]…. Mature lovers, on the other hand, share equally: they give and gain by giving. (p. 173)
Among his fictional counterparts, Robert Jordan in For Whom the Bell Tolls comes closest to achieving the … state of mature love. Like Frederic Henry with Catherine, he resists Maria's desire to become exactly like him, to passively submerge herself in him…. Unlike Frederic, though, during his three days among the Spanish guerrillas, Jordan comes to understand the beauty of giving and the importance of selflessness to those in love….
At least once in his fiction, then, Ernest Hemingway created a hero who loved maturely and selflessly without giving up his own integrity. (p. 174)
Driven to seek a substitute for the outmoded faith of their fathers, Hemingway's characters often turn to primitive rituals for comfort. They invest physical love-making with mystical import; they ritualize the mundane business of eating and drinking; they follow elaborate procedures derived from games. Such rituals, as they have always done, help to satisfy his characters' yearning for order and meaning in their lives. Sometimes they serve a therapeutic purpose as well. In this sense, [Malcolm] Cowley points out, Nick Adams' fishing trip in "Big Two-Hearted River" may be regarded "as an incantation, a spell to banish evil spirits" [see excerpt above]. (p. 234)
[The Sun Also Rises] is rather carefully organized around a contrast between paganism and Christianity. The initial scenes in Paris establish that cosmopolitan city as the home of paganism. Sexual aberrations proliferate there…. But as soon as Jake enters Spain, a far more devout Christian country, the references to churches multiply, and Jake goes to pray in them as he had not done in Paris. These two strains commingle during the fiesta of San Fermin ("also a religious festival") at Pamplona, where Brett is elevated to the status of a pagan idol by the drunken crowd…. She is forbidden entrance to one church because she has no head covering, and finds herself unable to pray for her lover Romero in another, because the experience makes her "nervy." She even asks to hear Jake's confession, but that, he tells her, is not allowed "and, besides, it would be in a language she did not know." (p. 235)
Hemingway used Christian symbolism in his fiction as it suited his artistic purposes, not so much out of calculation as instinctively. Thus, two very dissimilar protagonists, Colonel Richard Cantwell of Across the River and into the Trees and Santiago of The Old Man and the Sea, are both symbolically associated with Jesus Christ…. What [Cantwell and Christ] have most in common is suffering, and it is [Cantwell's] wounded places, especially his misshapen right hand, that Renata most loves. Cantwell acquired his wounded hand "Very honorably. On a rocky, bare-assed hill," like Calvary, which was surrounded by Christmas trees. (pp. 238-39)
Though he must die, he will not, the colonel decides, "run as a Christian" in the end. That would be hypocritical, since he resembles the Messiah closely only in the courage and endurance with which he faces suffering and death. Suffering was the natural condition of man and death his inevitable end, but each man could face these tyrants as he chose. Hemingway finds his heroes among those who, like Cantwell and Santiago, confront their fate with courage, endurance, and dignity.
Santiago is virtually inundated with religious imagery…. Despite all the religious imagery, however, The Old Man and the Sea is not a Christian fable. Hemingway nowhere suggests that we are all fallen with the persecutors of Christ or saved by His example. What he is celebrating is the capacity of one man to endure terrible suffering and pain with dignity. (pp. 239-40)
In exalting the value of the struggle itself, and in celebrating the endurance and bravery a man might summon in the face of suffering, Hemingway affirmed the grandeur of which the individual human being was capable. And there was one other article in Hemingway's private creed: a worship of the natural world around him. Santiago, for example, feels a powerful affinity for the sea which supports him….
[Reverence] for the natural world, then, constitutes a kind of glory for Hemingway, but it is balanced—often overbalanced—by his concurrent sense of the blank, dark meaninglessness of our existence. In his feeling for nature, Hemingway stems from Emerson and Thoreau; in his consciousness of the blackness "ten times black," he derives from Hawthorne and Melville. His unsolved problem—a basic problem of modern faith—was to reconcile the two, the "glory and the blackness" both. (p. 240)
Hemingway used a memorable figure of speech to describe his most striking technique as storyteller: that of leaving out critical details. "I always try to write," he put it, "on the principle of the iceberg. There is seven eighths of it under water for every part that shows. Anything you know you can eliminate and it only strengthens your iceberg."… At its best, as in "Big Two-Hearted River," this device worked brilliantly. (p. 245)
As time wore on, the iceberg theory became less and less applicable to Hemingway's fiction. For one thing, he could seldom resist the opportunity to point his moral through irony. It is in terms of his use of irony that he may most accurately be called … a sentimentalist. His writing was not sentimental, of course, in the usual sense of calling for overblown emotional responses to trivial matters. In fact, if sentimentality is that error which exacts of the reader more emotion than the event calls for, Hemingway might be regarded as a sentimentalist in reverse, since in its understatement his writing apparently asks for less emotional expenditure than is warranted. Sometimes, though, he intrudes with irony to help make up for the unseen portions of his iceberg.
Hemingway's irony usually functions to separate the mechanical, unfeeling, unperceptive, and therefore immoral character from the one who feels deeply and sees well below the surface. Such distinctions abound in his fiction, and occasionally—as at the end of A Farewell to Arms …—the irony seems to be tacked on gratuitously. In [that] novel, two nurses come hurrying along the hallway, laughing at the prospect of witnessing the Caesarean that will take Catherine's life. (pp. 245-46)
For Whom the Bell Tolls traces the painful education, telescoped into three short days, of its protagonist Robert Jordan. From Maria, he learns what it is to love. From Pilar and Anselmo, he learns what it is to belong to a family. Finally he learns in triumph how to die, the most difficult lesson of all and one which he must master on his own.
The novel stands as an in-depth study of death, a theme reflected not only in its title but in Hemingway's alternate title, "The Undiscovered Country" from whose bourn no traveler returns. Early in For Whom the Bell Tolls, Pilar "reads" Jordan's imminent death in his palm; after that, the issue becomes not whether Jordan will die, but how. (p. 299)
Scott Donaldson, in his By Force of Will: The Life and Art of Ernest Hemingway (copyright © 1977 by Scott Donaldson; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission of Viking Penguin Inc.), Viking Penguin, 1977.
Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2505
The themes that Hemingway weaves into The Old Man and the Sea, like counterpoint in a Bach fugue, explore the ideas of pride in killing and victory in conquest as opposed to humility in defeat and suffering in abnegation. Santiago is a pagan Catholic whose age, pride, honor, and courage force him to prove that pain is nothing to a man and that a fisherman can perform miracles. This Cuban protagonist of Spanish birth harpoons marlin like a matador and suffers pain like a Christ figure. Using Santiago as a symbolic namehead Hemingway fuses the themes into a moving experience of life and death. (p. 39)
C. N. Stavrou believes that in Hemingway's world human existence moves inexorably toward futility, vacancy, destruction, and waste; that the tug in the direction of death, nothingness, and despair is one of the most significant ingredients in his work. In The Sun Also Rises Jake characterizes Roman Catholicism as a "beautiful religion," but when he tries to pray and fails he concedes that prayer is "a futile gesture." In The Old Man and the Sea Santiago says a few perfunctory prayers, then goes about the more important and pressing business of catching the marlin and fighting sharks. There is also Hemingway's "memorable and excoriating travesty of the Lord's Prayer" in the short story "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place."… (p. 42)
[The saturation of Christian symbolism in The Old Man and the Sea] has prompted a number of commentators to see the novel as a Christian parable, though, in my opinion, the work should probably be classified as a pagan poem to existential man. (pp. 42-3)
[On] the conscious, verbalized, and symbolic levels the interpretations of the novel as parable rely on the fact that Hemingway gives it a prominent Christ motif. It should be noted that this motif has no bearing on Santiago's own evaluation of his experience. Santiago is a proud and not uncomplicated man, but his view of the world does not include the artistic dimension Hemingway structures for the reader. There is a fictional level … that carries beyond Santiago's consciousness to include the Christian tradition….
Is the comparison between [Christ and Santiago] important because in Hemingway's story "Today is Friday" one of the Roman soldiers admires the stoic way Christ took his suffering and that therefore Santiago's ordeal, like the Crucifixion, is the epitome of grace under stress? Such an answer, while relevant, is perhaps also too facile. Besides, it minimizes the artistry of the novel. The effect of the christological imagery on the reader, contrary to expectations generated by its use, is essentially non-Christian. (p. 43)
Santiago's ordeal through the stages of separation, vision, and return mirrors a heroic cycle of trial through endurance which, in spite of Hemingway's carefully structured parallel with Christianity, is more typical of the initiation rites of primitive societies than it is of the Crucifixion. On a cultural level the novel mirrors the cycle by which a moribund tradition must perhaps be slain and resurrected. The novel's Christian symbolism suggests that the tradition Hemingway is slaying is Christianity (the fish). Santiago's vision and message will be resurrected through Manolin (meaning Immanuel or the Messiah). When Santiago returns he ties the rope of his skiff to a rock. In Christian symbolism a ship represents the Church. God founded his Church upon the rock of St. Peter. Appropriately, Pedrico, Manolin's friend, gets the dead marlin's head. (p. 44)
The Christ motif in The Old Man and the Sea provides the imagery which the reader follows, but the idea that emerges is non-Christian. Why, for instance, does Pedrico get the marlin's head? (pp. 44-5)
Pedro, whose diminutive is Pedrico, is the Spanish for Peter. Saint Peter is known as the Great Fisherman and is the patron saint of fishermen. Peter is the leading Apostle of Christ…. Peter's name always heads the Twelve…. Peter was the leader of the apostolic church…. The Roman Catholic church considers Peter as its first pope. Peter is the head of the Christian church….
Even though Pedrico's role is a minor one, the use of his name is consistent with the novel's Christ motif. Santiago's desire that Manolin give "the head" of the giant fish to Pedrico is given specific emphasis by being repeated twice. Manolin, the new Messiah, gets the marlin's spear…. This spear is also described as a rapier, which is a straight two-edged sword with a narrow pointed blade. In Christian symbolism the sword denotes spiritual warfare against the forces of evil…. Such biblical knowledge is extrinsic to the novel, yet it provides information, only hinted at in the narrative, which is essential for a correct reading of its intent…. The names Santiago, Manolin, and Pedrico, three very frequent and familiar Spanish names, work well in symbolic association with each other. (p. 45)
The reader is therefore perhaps justified in concluding that Santiago is the symbolic Father who teaches his symbolic Son and disciple, Manolin. After Santiago has once again proved his superiority as a fisherman by catching the largest marlin, Manolin, like Christ, will leave his parents in order to follow the teachings of his master, Santiago…. Manolin, the Messiah, gets the dead fish's spear which, in Christian terms, is also the sword of faith, and the reader infers that he, together with Pedrico, will spread the "good news" of Santiago's "victory." After his ordeal Santiago falls asleep in a cruciform position on his newspapers (good news?). We have God, His Son, and Saint Peter—a trinity, the beginning of a new faith, the cell of a new religion, the founding rock of a new church…. Hemingway has used the archetypal quest not only as a structural device, but as a metaphor for the cultural quest to revitalize the dead God—that is, the cultural heritage—by resurrecting the Son. A myth is reborn and as though made new for an existential age. (pp. 45-6)
A number of commentators have mentioned the relevance of pride to the meaning of the novel, but none has given it central billing nor related it to Hemingway's attempt to substitute a naturalistic religion of man for an entire religious tradition. Astonishing perhaps is the fact that one of Hemingway's favorite themes, the solitude of man, should in this story have jelled into something beyond itself, be the catalyst for ideas affecting all men, and serve as an example and an ideal for man vis-à-vis himself and the world…. Repeatedly, Santiago's experience and physical suffering are compared to Christ's agony, yet Hemingway's message is one of pride rather than humility—an exaltation of man with only perfunctory obeisance to God. (pp. 46-7)
[Eyes are also a recurring motif.] While eyes are important in themselves, thematically … they serve to highlight the discrepancy between what the villagers see and what Santiago is—between appearance and reality, between what Santiago can still do and what others think he can, between past achievements and present failure. Santiago may seem to be on his last legs, but there is an inner, invisible strength of heroic proportions that will lead him to prove once more that he is still The Champion—El Campeón. Thus, one of the themes of The Old Man and the Sea, as it was the subject of "The Undefeated," is the gap between outward failure and inner pride, thereby suggesting that point of view is a relevant if not important issue. (p. 49)
While profoundly attuned to nature's rhythms Santiago is also in rebellion against nature. The fish and the stars are his brothers and while he says he "must kill" … the fish, he is glad he does "not have to try to kill the stars," or the moon, or the sun…. These are strange thoughts for an old man, thoughts which would seem to imply that if stars were as accessible as fish man would have to try to kill them too. Whatever for?… Man takes pleasure in giving death, says Hemingway, because in this way he can usurp one of the godlike attributes. The very need to assimilate such strength and dominion implies pride and pride in turn can lead to rebellion either against nature, or against God, or both. Santiago, for the sake of his pride, is rebelling against old age and death…. (pp. 49-50)
[Santiago's humility] is a humility of strength. The Christ motif is Hemingway's, not Santiago's (Santiago is blissfully oblivious of it all) and it is essential that we keep this dual point of view in mind. In fact, Hemingway sets Santiago up as a kind of superman rivaling the Deity. Santiago may be killing fish, but Hemingway is killing God. This is why Santiago is not tempted to cut the line and let the big fish go, as Norman Mailer says he should have been, because the despair and pride which drove him too far out in the first place also prompt him to hang on. He would rather die than lose the fish. (p. 52)
Santiago, from his boyhood onward, has always been self-reliant. He knows the ocean, he knows the weather, and he fishes with precision. The laws and moral code that he observes, except for the perfunctory and ritual use of prayer, are his own and those of the sea. The marlin will teach him dignity, nobility, and endurance, but the law of the sea, and this is the essential point, is survival. Furthermore, Hemingway's precise naturalistic descriptions of life in and on the Gulf-Stream give us more than local color. Man-of-war birds … eat the flying fish, turtles eat the men-of-war…. Seahawks eat the little birds and so on and so forth. Santiago, as yet another manifestation of natural forces (and the survival in this case is of the most intelligent), catches and destroys a great sixteen-hundred pound marlin.
The laws of nature are a code in themselves, and man, like the marlin which swims for three days against the Gulf Stream, can, as long as he is alive, resist death and affirm his dignity by "swimming" against the current…. [There] is great symbolic value for Hemingway and existentialists alike in "swimming against the current." Santiago, like Sisyphus rolling his stone up the mountain, must affirm his identity as a fisherman (since that is what he was "born for") by fishing and proving it up to the very end. (pp. 52-3)
This is what it means to be a man cast adrift in a contingent universe, for who can be more alone than Santiago on the Gulf Stream with no relatives and nothing to return to but his shack in the village? Yet Santiago, the tenacious, precise, and intelligent fisherman shows what a man can endure, how he can behave, and how he can affirm his identity in the jaws of sharks, adversity, old age, and even death….
Santiago's message is that "man can be destroyed but not defeated."… Santiago will die, but the example of his heroic struggle will live. To fight heroically is to affirm man's dignity. (p. 55)
Santiago kills fish, in part because he is a fisherman, but also because such acts tend to deny his mortal condition. This is metaphysical revolt, not Christian humility, because it questions the ultimate ends of Creation and protests conditions of mortality imposed on man. The rebel acknowledges yet challenges the power that forces him to live in that condition. Although he defies Creation, Santiago cannot deny it. He cannot suppress Creation, but he can challenge it. He must have the experience of Dominion which can only come through killing. He must continue killing sharks, up to the end, even though he knows it is hopeless, because only in this way can he redeem the initial act of going out "too far" or of "ruining" the marlin or himself. Such desperate heroism is of tragic proportions and relates the old man to Ahab [in Melville's Moby Dick]…. Santiago's quest, like Ahab's, is animated by a desire to conquer. (pp. 56-7)
Meeting death on his own terms is in part the reason behind Santiago's decision to venture out so far…. Too proud to be the laughing stock of the village or to accept his physical decline, Santiago will challenge nature and die, if necessary, rather than live rejected and humiliated by God, nature, and his fellow fishermen. Such feelings explain why he is never tempted to let go of the line, not even for one moment. (p. 59)
Hemingway's death roster includes people, bulls, big game, birds, fish, and ants. When Catherine Barkley and Robert Jordan die, it is tragic. But Hemingway also handles death with an ironic and even comic touch. In Green Hills of Africa bird and hyena shooting become a joke—a type of black humor. (p. 60)
Shooting animals is to consciously experience the acceleration of death. To kill an animal is to momentarily and vicariously become God—He who gives life and who takes it away. That is why, whenever Hemingway misses, the joke is on him, for he has claimed a power which he has not been able to deliver. His superior role has reversed itself and now the joke is on the would-be killer. He has tried to play God but his incompetence has transformed him into a clown. The same reasoning transforms the hyena into a superclown since we have a death scavenger in its death-throes devouring its own entrails. (pp. 60-1)
While animal death can have its comic asides, there is no humor in The Old Man and the Sea. This may be due to Santiago's play for the highest stakes—honor in life—but also to Hemingway's apparent desire to replace Christianity with his own brand of stoic humanism. In this novel, as in so much of Hemingway's work, the moment of death and the act of killing are central. (p. 61)
We have mentioned the Messianic aspect of the name Manolin—the diminutive for the Spanish Manuel which in English is Immanuel; "the true God with us, the Saviour, the Christ." Immanuel means "God is with" and that his message is true. (p. 62)
The Old Man and the Sea is a long prose poem that has to be read on several simultaneous levels: the realistic and the symbolic, the intrinsic and the extrinsic. Hemingway's writing produces a series of associations based on linguistic ambiguity and symbolic vibrations that give the reader a certain feeling about the work. These ineffable, undefinable, and intangible reactions to Santiago and the Christ motif combine to give an emotional impact that is a blend of the writer's skill, the reader's intuition, and his knowledge. The novel's realism constitutes one eighth of the iceberg. Seven eighths are underwater. Together they produce a "fourth" and "fifth dimension" which, according to Hemingway, come from a prose that has never before been written and which is more difficult than poetry. The combination reveals the inner, invisible dimension of the old man of the sea—his pride…. (pp. 78-9)
Ben Stoltzfus, in his Gide and Hemingway: Rebels against God (copyright © 1978 by Kennikat Press Corp.; reprinted by permission of Kennikat Press Corp.), Kennikat, 1978.
Unlock This Study Guide Now
Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.
- 30,000+ book summaries
- 20% study tools discount
- Ad-free content
- PDF downloads
- 300,000+ answers
- 5-star customer support