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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 pervades all of his work. Hemingway is noted for his distinctive delineation of action, although some critics find the philosophy espoused in his later novels simplistic and pompous. He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction in 1953 and the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954. (See also CLC, Vols. 1, 3, 6, 8, 10, 13, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 77-80.)
Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 706
Hemingway's short stories [in In Our Time] belong with cubist painting, Le Sacre du Printemps, and other recent work bringing a feeling of positive forces through primitive modern idiom. The use of the direct, crude, rudimentary forms of the simple and primitive classes and their situations, of the stuffs, textures and rhythms of the mechanical and industrial worlds, has enabled this new American story teller, as it enabled the group to which he comes a fresh recruit, to achieve peculiarly sharp, decided, grimly affirmative expressions; and with these acute depictions and half-impersonal beats to satisfy a spirit running through the age. Hemingway's spoken prose is characteristically iron with a lyricism, aliveness and energy tremendously held in check. With the trip-hammer thud of Le Sacre his rhythms go. Emphatic, short, declarative sentences follow staunchly one upon the other, never precipitously or congestedly or mechanically, and never relenting. The stubby verbal forms are speeded in instances up to the brute, rapid, joyous jab of blunt period upon period. Hemingway's vocabulary is largely monosyllabic, and mechanical and concrete. Mixed with the common words, raw and pithy terms picked from the vernaculars of boys, jockeys, hunters, policemen, soldiers, and obscurely related to primitive impulse and primitive sex, further increase the rigidity of effect. There is something of Sherwood Anderson, of his fine bare effects and values coined from simplest words, in Hemingway's clear medium. There is Gertrude Stein equally obvious: her massive volumes, slow power, steady reiterations, and her intuition of the life of headless bodies. The American literary generations are learning to build upon each other. This newcomer's prose departs from the kindred literary mediums as a youngling from forebears. Wanting some of the warmth of Anderson and some of the pathos of Gertrude Stein, Hemingway's style none the less in its very experimental stage shows the outline of a new, tough, severe and satisfying beauty related equally to the world of machinery and the austerity of the red man.
It comes on the general errand of the group, the realization of a picture of the elements of life caught in barest, intensest opposition…. The sheer unfeeling barbarity of life, and the elementary humor and tenderness lying close upon it, is a favorite theme. The amazing single pages … bring dangerously close in instantaneous pictures of the War, of the bull-ring and the police-world, the excitement of combat, the cold ferocity of the mob, the insensibility of soldiering, the relief of nerves in alcoholic stupor, the naked, the mean, the comic brute in the human frame. Against these principles, set invariably in crude, simple, passionate opposition, the author plays the more constructive elements….
There is little analysis in this narrative art. We are given chiefly, at times with marvelous freshness and crispness, what the eye sees and the ear hears. The conflicting principles are boldly established without psychologizings. Yet Hemingway's acceptation of the aesthetic responsibility of getting his material into action in instances remains near gesturing. His units are not brought into actual opposition in all his pieces. Or, formally introduced, they remain at inadequate degrees of tension, while a youthfully insolent sense of the stereotype in life blinds the author. "Soldier's Home" is one of Hemingway's forms half left in the limbo of the stencil. The happy relief to this and other incompleted pieces is furnished by stories like "Cat in the Rain," "Indian Camp", and "My Old Man". In these, plastic elements accurately felt are opposed point against point, and a whole brought into view. It is a whole this newcomer has to show. It is one from which the many beauties of his book are fetched. He shares his epoch's feeling of a harsh impersonal force in the universe, permanent, not to be changed, taking both destruction and construction up into itself and set in motion by their dialectic. With the blood and pain, he makes us know the toughness of the earth, able to meet desire, nourish life, and waken in man the power to meet the brutalities of existence. (pp. 9-10)
Paul Rosenfeld, "Tough Earth," in The New Republic (© 1925 The New Republic, Inc.), Vol. 44, No. 573, November 25, 1925 (and reprinted in Ernest Hemingway: The Critical Reception, edited by Robert O. Stephens, Burt Franklin & Co., 1977, pp. 9-10).
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"Men Without Women" consists of short stories in the French rather than in the Russian manner. The great French masters, Mérimée and Maupassant, made their stories as self-sufficient and compact as possible. There is never a thread left hanging; indeed so contracted are they, that when the last sentence of the last page flares up, as it so often does, we see by its light the whole circumference and significance of the story revealed. The Tchekov method is, of course, the very opposite of this. Everything is cloudy and vague, loosely trailing rather than tightly furled. The stories move slowly out of sight like clouds in the summer air, leaving a wake of meaning in our minds which gradually fades away. Of the two methods, who shall say which is the better? At any rate, Mr. Hemingway, enlisting under the French masters, carries out their teaching up to a point with considerable success.
There are in "Men Without Women" many stories which, if life were longer, one would wish to read again. Most of them indeed are so competent, so efficient, and so bare of superfluity that one wonders why they do not make a deeper dent in the mind than they do. (p. 53)
[All] of these are good trenchant stories, quick, terse and strong. If one had not summoned the ghosts of Tchekov, Mérimée and Maupassant, no doubt one would be enthusiastic. As it is, one looks about for something, fails to find something, and so is brought again to the old familiar business of ringing impressions on the counter, and asking what is wrong?
For some reason the book of short stories does not seem to us to go as deep or to promise as much as the novel [The Sun Also Rises]. Perhaps it is the excessive use of dialogue, for Mr. Hemingway's use of it is surely excessive. A writer will always be chary of dialogue because dialogue puts the most violent pressure on the reader's attention. He has to hear, to see, to supply the right tone, and to fill in the background from what the characters say without any help from the author. Therefore, when fictitious people are allowed to speak it must be because they have something so important to say that it stimulates the reader to do rather more than his share of the work of creation. But, although Mr. Hemingway keeps us under the fire of dialogue constantly, his people, half the time, are only saying what the author could say much more economically for them. At last we are inclined to cry out with the little girl in "Hills Like White Elephants" "Would you please please please please please please stop talking?"
And probably it is this superfluity of dialogue which leads to that other fault which is always lying in wait for the writer of short stories; the lack of proportion. A paragraph in excess will make these little craft lopsided and will bring about that blurred effect which when one is out for clarity and point so baffles the reader. And both these faults, the tendency to flood the page with unnecessary dialogue and the lack of sharp, unmistakable points by which we can take hold of the story, come from the more fundamental fact that, though Mr. Hemingway is brilliantly and enormously skillful, he lets his dexterity, like the bullfighter's cloak, get between him and the fact. For in truth story writing has much in common with bullfighting. One may twist one's self like a corkscrew and go through every sort of contortion so that the public thinks one is running every risk and displaying superb gallantry. But the true writer stands close up to the bull and lets the horns—call them life, truth, reality, whatever you like,—pass him close each time.
Mr. Hemingway, then, is courageous; he is candid; he is highly skilled; he plants words precisely where he wishes; he has moments of bare and nervous beauty; he is modern in manner but not in vision; he is self-consciously virile; his talent has contracted rather than expanded; compared with his novel his stories are a little dry and sterile…. (pp. 53-4)
Virginia Woolf, "An Essay in Criticism," in The New York Herald Tribune Books (© I.H.T. Corporation; copyright renewed © 1955; reprinted by permission), October 9, 1927 (and reprinted in Ernest Hemingway: The Critical Reception, edited by Robert O. Stephens, Burt Franklin & Co., 1977, pp. 53-4).
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The publishers called ["The Old Man and the Sea"] a classic … with a hastiness of epithet that suggests the speed of modern times; in more backward ages it took three or four centuries to make a classic. There is one sense, however, in which the publishers' claim is justified. "The Old Man and the Sea" is classical in spirit if we think of "classical" as a term applied to those works in all fields that accept limitations of space, subject and treatment while trying to achieve faultlessness within the limitations: Greek temples as opposed to Gothic Cathedrals. In its own terms the book is as nearly faultless as any short novel of our times.
Its length of less than thirty thousand words would seem to place it with earlier long stories like "The Undefeated" and "Francis Macomber" and at first glance it seems to be simpler than either of these. It has no complications of plot and it presents only three characters, counting the fish. When read carefully, however, it proves to have a power of suggestion that gives it more weight and scope than any of the early stories…. I remember one sentence among others: "They walked down the road to the old man's shack and all along the road, in the dark, barefoot men were moving, carrying the masts of their boats." In twenty eight words, all of them short, each of them right, it gives a background to the characters by evoking the life of a whole community.
At cocktail parties you already hear the book described as the poor man's "Moby Dick."… In the present instance it is justified by a surface resemblance in plot, but by absolutely nothing in the essence of the two books. "Moby Dick" is still our greatest novel and the other is a long story; if they illuminate each other—and they do—it is only by contrast.
Where "The Old Man and the Sea" is classical in spirit, "Moby Dick" is quintessentially romantic; it accepts no limits of any sort…. Demon and titan, whale and whalesman, are described in a fashion that strains the resources of the English language, as if the author, like Captain Ahab, were in perpetual pursuit of the never attainable.
Hemingway's hero, instead of being a titan, is an old man reduced to living on food that is begged or stolen for him by a teen-age boy. He is even "too simple to wonder when he had attained humility," but he still takes pride in his skill and resolution as a fisherman. Therefore, when his luck turns bad, he goes farther out into the Gulf Stream than anyone else from his village had dared to go alone. The fish that takes his bait is not a great gliding demon, a natural force personified, but simply the largest and noblest of the marlin. There is no hint in the story of Melville's essentially romantic feeling that God is immanent in man and nature. When the old man prays it is to an orthodox god transcending nature, but he and the fish are both in nature; they are even brothers in nature.
As simple as the story seems to be, it implies a complicated system of meanings and values. I might mention a few of these, if only to combat the notion that Hemingway writes about nothing but physical sensations. The lonely old man, whose only moral support has been the sense of his calling as a fisherman, broke the rules of his calling by going out too far. That was the sin of presumption or hubris for which he was punished by losing the fish. But he had fought and loved and killed the fish as a fisherman should and therefore he wasn't defeated in his ultimate purpose. It hadn't been to sell the fish for money enough to support him through the winter, but rather to win a battle over loneliness by proving his right to human companionship. He wins the battle in his humble fashion. Seeing the huge skeleton, other fishermen respect him once more and the boy defies his family by coming back to the old man's boat.
I couldn't write even a short report on the book without paying tribute to Hemingway's prose. It is as different from Melville's prose in "Moby Dick" as anything could be and still remain English. There is no attempt in it to express the inexpressible by inventing new words and turns of phrase; instead Hemingway uses the oldest and shortest words, the simplest constructions, but gives them a new value—as if English were a strange language that he had studied or invented for himself and was trying to write in its original purity. (p. 346)
Malcolm Cowley, "Hemingway's Novel Has the Rich Simplicity of a Classic" (© I.H.T. Corporation; copyright renewed © 1980 by Malcolm Cowley; reprinted by permission of the author), in The New York Herald Tribune Book Review, September 7, 1952 (and reprinted in Ernest Hemingway: The Critical Reception, edited by Robert O. Stephens, Burt Franklin & Co., 1977, pp. 344-46).
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What has not been noticed about "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" is how it is designed. Scenes of external reality alternate with juxtaposed scenes of internal monologue, reminiscences of Harry's past life that Harry failed to utilize as writer. These cutbacks—they are set into italics—are not dreams, but rather they are recollected reality; the point is that they relate thematically. They are not irresponsible reminiscences. They are relevant in that they elicit, albeit obliquely, one motif or another relating to the plight of the protagonist. The narrative progression moves now forward in present reality and now backward to recollected reality.
The story is about an artist—or potential artist—who died spiritually the day he traded his integrity for security, and here he is dying now with a gangrenous leg…. His gangrenous leg is token symbol of his moral gangrene as creative writer. Obversely put, writing is a struggle, an act of labor and pain…. But Harry never exerted himself, never tried because he feared he might fail…. That he recollects his fragmented past, experiences he failed to recreate into formed literary works, that he recollects all that he has missed out on as potential artist, evokes the ironical poignancy of Harry's situation. What's painful about his present plight is just that. "Now he would never write the things that he had saved to write until he knew enough to write them well. Well, he would not have to fail at trying to write them either."… (pp. 193-94)
It is the characteristic Hemingway division and conflict between internal code or conscience and an external and meretricious code of manners or social front…. (p. 194)
[The construction of "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" depends on] … the various parts being related not logically but psychologically:
That was one story he had saved to write. He knew at least twenty good stories from out there and he had never written one. Why?
'You tell them why,' he said.
'Why what, dear?'
The narrative shifts from recollections, from the mind of Harry, back to reality; here the transposition is clearly managed by the linked "Why?" Harry's memoried experiences furnish a kind of scrapbook of images which Harry had intended to recast into stories; they are all fragments, disjointed episodes, not yet organized into dramatic wholes because Harry never converted them into works of art. They are the unformed life he failed to form. Harry has not organized them, but Hemingway has.
While their sequence is seemingly haphazard, these internal monologues progress toward the climactic and final image of Williamson who was hit by a German bomb as he crawled through the trench's protective wire, "with a flare lighting him up and his bowels spilled out into the wire, so when they brought him in, alive, they had to cut him loose. Shoot me, Harry. For Christ sake shoot me." It is as though Williamson's plea were Harry's own death-wish, and almost immediately subsequent to this image of death-by-agony Harry himself dies—in contrast to Williamson, however, Harry does not die in agony. When "the weight went from his chest,"… Harry dies in his sleep. "It was morning and had been morning for some time and he heard the plane." Harry at the moment of his dying dreams that Compton comes to take him away by plane. "It was difficult getting him in, but once in he lay back in the leather seat, and the leg was stuck straight out to one side of the seat where Compton sat." All of this dream episode is set in Roman type so as to distinguish it from the italicized passages of Harry's recollections of the past; they are not dreams. The transition from reality to dream is as adroitly managed here as in Bierce's "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge," Hemingway's device deriving from Bierce's famous story. In both stories the ending returns us to that point in the narrative where the death-dream began. (pp. 195-96)
Caroline Gordon in the textbook anthology The House of Fiction (1950) opines that Hemingway "has made no provision for the climax of his symbolic action. Our attention is not called to the snow-covered peaks of Kilimanjaro until the end of the story; as a result we do not feel that sense of recognition and inevitability which help to make a katharsis." At the end of Harry's dream, during which the perspective is from the airplane with images evoking a sense of Harry's belated nostalgic love for life, "all he could see, as wide as all the world, great, high, and unbelievably white in the sun, was the square top of Kilimanjaro. And then he knew that that was where he was going."… But he isn't going there, not at all; because he has not earned admission to the heights, admission to "the House of God," as the western summit of Kilimanjaro is called.
Kilimanjaro is a snow covered mountain 19,710 feet high, and it is said to be the highest mountain in Africa. Its western summit is called the Masai 'Ngàje Ngài,' the House of God. Close to the western summit there is the dried and frozen carcass of a leopard. No one has explained what the leopard was seeking at that altitude.
The story opens with this italicized passage, which I presume is one of Harry's recollections since all his other recollections are likewise italicized passages. So, then, the symbol is not "something the writer has tacked on" (contra Caroline Gordon); but rather it is an integral part of the story. "He uses the snow-covered mountain of Kilimanjaro as the symbol of death, but the symbolism … is not part of the action and therefore does not operate as a controlling image…." She damns the story as a magnificent failure, whereas I see it as a magnificent success.
Harry's "vision" of Kilimanjaro in his death-dream returns us at the end to the opening passage and shapes the whole in circular form. Immediately following that italicized image of the Kilimanjaro summit, which in effect is a riddle to be unriddled, Harry says: "The marvellous thing is that it is painless." But it wasn't painless for that leopard to ascend the summit, an ascent which Harry never attempted; he has attained an immortality which Harry never earned. The symbol is far more than simply a symbol of death. That leopard exceeded the nature and aspirations of his kind: "No one has explained what the leopard was seeking at that altitude." Well, he wasn't seeking immortality, being only a dumb beast; but he got just that in attaining the heights, admission to "the House of God."
In contrast to the noble leopard is the hyena which Harry imagines as death. Death "like a hyena"—but now suddenly shapeless, crouches and weighs down on his chest. "'You've got a hell of a breath,' he told it. 'You stinking bastard'."… In addressing the stinking hyena Harry is addressing himself; Hyena Harry—a cowardly and carnivorous beast. (pp. 196-97)
"The Snows of Kilimanjaro," says our biased critic, "lacks tonal and symbolic unity," but a close reading disproves that claim. "Its three planes of action, the man's intercourse with his wife, his communings with his soul, and the background of Enveloping Action, the mysterious Dark Continent, are never integrated." Well, let us examine what's what. (p. 198)
All six sections of italicized recollections present a death scene and link thus with the plight of the protagonist. Again, actions of betrayal are recurrent—in monologues number 2, 3, 4, and 5. To say that "Our attention is not called to the snow-covered peaks of Kilimanjaro until the end of the story" is to ignore these multiple interrelationships of recollected scenes with their recurrent motifs of death, deception, betrayal, and flight. The final death-dream is itself a scene of flight, flight from the Dark Continent to the House of God. The leopard made it there, but not Harry. To say that the leopard symbolism "is not part of the action and therefore does not operate as a controlling image" is to ignore the whole substance of Harry's recollected incidents; they furnish obliquely linked analogies with Harry himself and thematically they are counterpointed against the opening image of the leopard dead in the snows of Kilimanjaro's summit. Man betrays man; only the leopard is true. That opening image of the miraculous leopard operates, by my reading, as controlling and focal symbol. Don't underrate Hemingway! (p. 199)
Robert W. Stallman, "A New Reading of 'The Snows of Kilimanjaro'," in his The House That James Built and Other Literary Studies (copyright © 1961 by R. W. Stallman; reprinted by permission of Ohio University Press, Athens), Ohio University Press, 1961, pp. 193-99.
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The best of [Hemingway's] critics recognized that though he dealt with a limited range of characters, placed them in quite similar circumstances, measured them against an unvarying code, and rendered them in a style that epitomized these other limitations, it was precisely this ruthless economy that gave his writing its power. And when Hemingway himself commented on his aims, it was clear that he knew what he was doing. He knowingly restricted himself in order to strip down, compress, and energize his writing. Prose, he once said, is not interior decoration but architecture, and the Baroque is over. His best work stands as a striking application to writing of Mies van der Rohe's architectural maxim: "Less is more."
On the other hand, Hemingway's detractors, many of whom are well-qualified, have doggedly insisted—and sometimes with a certain logic—that less is simply less: Hemingway is too limited, they say. His characters are mute, insensitive, uncomplicated men; his "action" circles narrowly about the ordeals, triumphs, and defeats of the bull ring, the battlefield, the trout stream, and similar male proving grounds; his style (some deny Hemingway's writing the benefit of this term) has stripped so much away that little is left but "a group of clevernesses"; and his "code" is at best a crudely simple outlook, in no sense comparable to the richer, more profound Stoicism which it is sometimes thought to resemble. (pp. 1-2)
The critics who disparage Hemingway's characters because they lack inwardness are probably outnumbered by those who disparage his fictional situations for the narrowness of their range…. This is not only a world of men without women, but of men without jobs, men without parents or children, men without homes or even communities. It is a world in which the soldiers desert or else operate as guerillas, for there are no lasting affiliations in this world of isolates. (pp. 2-3)
His characters go into battle, but never to the ballot box; they are constantly being tested but never in a social context. According to this view, raw physical courage is not only the supreme value in his fictive world but practically the only one.
As a direct consequence of limiting his characters to certain types and severely limiting the situations in which he places them, Hemingway works with a relatively narrow group of ethical problems. On this account, some deny that his writing has any moral sense whatever. (p. 3)
The objections to Hemingway's style, like those to his characters and situations, rest ultimately on the belief that it, too, is sterile. Too much has been stripped away, leaving the diction pale, the syntax weak, the verbs without energy, the adjectives colorless. (p. 4)
But the … characteristic response [of critics defending Hemingway] has been to maintain that this world—like Homer's—is less limited than it appears to be; that Hemingway has succeeded in making war—and the other forms of violence that interest him—a moral equivalent of life. The soldiers, boxers, and bullfighters are tested and found to behave under stress not as Republicans, intellectuals, Spaniards, or expatriates behave, but as men do. Seen in this light, Hemingway is a classicist. His achievement is not merely that he has rendered the here and now with the authority of a candid photograph; he has also given us a glimpse of eternal and universal truth. (p. 5)
In much the same way that the limited world of Hemingway's fiction can be shown to imply a much broader one, his spare, economical style can be revealed as a precise instrument of implication. "The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water." So Hemingway himself has written, effectively characterizing the immense power of the unsaid. (p. 6)
[The] power and distinctiveness of Hemingway's fiction derive from the combination of his various limitations. Considered singly, any one of them is crippling. How could one hope to write serious literature about characters and situations so bare, in a style that is quite inflexible and spare, only designed, it would seem, to celebrate the virtue of the stiff upper lip? The effect of the "less is more" principle can be experienced only when one looks at the whole façade or some large feature of a building, for only then can the absence of ornamentation be apprehended as a value in itself.
The power of this effect can be demonstrated if we look at a scene in which his various limitations all work together. An ideal scene is one which Hemingway evokes again and again. It appears in … [many] of his finest stories, and he uses it to end five of his six novels. It is the scene in which the hero has finally been cornered, but as he gallantly suffers his defeat he is not alone; he is in the presence of others who either do not even notice him, or if they do are unaware of his ordeal and of the gallantry with which he endures it. Here, in short compass, Hemingway brings to bear his most powerful and distinctive skills…. (pp. 11-12)
Hemingway's fishermen, soldiers, waiters, and other limited and seemingly unpromising characters are generally elevated by this strategy to persons deserving our attention. They are not dumb oxen chewing their cuds at the door of the slaughterhouse, but gallant men enduring their suffering with grace in a cold, empty universe. Occasionally they have one companion who recognizes and values their admirable stoicism, but this only emphasizes the rarity of such recognition in this world. And, anyway, it is made clear that the hero is beyond such help. (p. 12)
Hemingway understood suffering, like the Old Masters in Auden's poem "Musée des Beaux Arts"—that it occurs "while someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along"—or watching carts hurrying down a slope. (p. 15)
With consummate art in these works and stories—art so unobtrusive as to elicit the charge of not being art at all—Hemingway confers on a seemingly routine experience affecting ordinary people a cosmic significance. And his style, far from being a series of surface mannerisms, reveals itself to be a way of looking at the world and expressing an attitude of tense resignation in the face of inevitable suffering and defeat. In the characters that do not share the secret, either because they are insensitive …, or have no way of knowing it …, Hemingway mirrors man's fate as he sees it and shows us that suffering and death, even when heroically endured, are a lonely and personal affair. (pp. 15-16)
Hemingway's art does lack a broad base. He has won his reputation as an artist of the first rank by operating within limits that would have stifled a lesser writer. But within and because of these limits, he has in his best work uttered a lyric cry that—although it may not resemble the full orchestra of Tolstoy or the organ tones of Melville—is nonetheless a moving and finely wrought response to our times. (p. 16)
Robert P. Weeks, in his introduction to Hemingway: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Robert P. Weeks (copyright © 1962 by Prentice-Hall, Inc.; reprinted by permission of Prentice-Hall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey), Prentice-Hall, 1962, pp. 1-16.
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In 1972, Ezra Pound made one of his rare comments, that "Hem did not disappoint." Craftsman that Pound had consistently been, his admiration for Hemingway grew at least partly from the younger writer's accomplishments in his writing. Forty-two years earlier, in 1930, Pound had himself classified Hemingway's writing style as "Imagist," describing the younger man as
accepting the principles of good writing that had been contained in the earliest imagist document, and applying the stricture against superfluous words to his prose, polishing, repolishing, and eliminating, as can be seen in the clean hard paragraphs of the first brief In Our Time, in They All Made Peace, in The Torrents of Spring, and in the best pages of his later novels.
Of all Hemingway's critical statements, the most adamant do relate to this "stricture against superfluous words."… Hemingway preaches concision…. The good writer, according to Hemingway, is seldom satisfied; surrounded by the myriad details of life, only the great writer can choose the unerring detail—and the single, usually simple word to convey that detail. (p. 35)
Pound's prolegomena were riddled with his admonitions that the artist be in control at all times. "I believe in technique as the test of a man's sincerity," he wrote in 1917; and technique included the selection of single words as well as the arrangement of the whole, and the construction of thematic motifs as surely as technical devices…. Talent and craft as inseparable, as two halves of the creative impulse—this too is a reflection of Pound's insistence on the artist's education. The whole man must be creator, and whether he is choosing a detail or a moral alternative, he must bring all his skills into play…. "A good writer is a conscientious craftsman," Hemingway [stated]—and, further, "A characteristic of great writers is their intense earnestness. Their lives are often sad or cheerless, but they are never idle."
As Hemingway in [his] statements moves from writing as craft of words to writing as craft of life, we can perhaps better understand the near-obsession with the process of writing that figures throughout his own life. The right way to do a thing—whether it be bullfighting, fishing, making love, or writing—is frequently Hemingway's objective correlative, his means of characterization. We know a man better from the way he ties a fly or drinks from a wine skin than we do from what he says or from the things others say about him. (pp. 36-7)
Of all the tenets of Pound and/or Imagism, it is likely that the most influential to Hemingway were those regarding the language suitable for contemporary writing and those describing the fluid forms modern art utilized. Pound wrote often about boiling away the "perdamnable rhetoric" of English, getting to a pliable simplicity, "a speech without inversions."…
Hemingway was usually somewhat defensive about this area of his art, since his simplicity had been turned against him more often than he liked; but he did make pronouncements along these lines also: "The indispensable characteristic of a good writer is … lucidity." "Writing plain English is hard work"; "writing with straightforward simplicity is more difficult than writing with deliberate complexity…. A writer's style should be direct and personal, his imagery rich and earthy, and his words simple and vigorous. The greatest writers have the gift of brilliant brevity." (p. 38)
Hemingway's "one true sentence" maxim is often quoted, but it was not long after he had begun writing fiction that he qualified that insistence. As he wrote in A Moveable Feast,
I was learning something from the painting of Cézanne that made writing simple true sentences far from enough to make the stories have the dimensions that I was trying to put in them.
This multi-dimensional effect of the seemingly clear and simple writing was a structural matter as well as a verbal one. Hemingway's interest in counterpoint and harmony, like his interest in the techniques of graphic art, reflects his concern with the shape of writing. Given words as his medium, his skill in arranging those words lay at the heart of his craft. Such an interest can be seen to stem logically from Pound's own fascination with the "absolute rhythm" which every piece of writing must have, "a rhythm which corresponds exactly to the emotion or shade of emotion to be expressed." (pp. 38-9)
Pound has often mentioned juxtaposition, the impinging of separate images with no apparent verbal transition, and the sharp, hard effects gained from that sudden, almost visual relationship among the words (he sometimes referred to this as the "ideogrammic method"). And Hemingway's echoes of "counterpoint" and "harmony" show as clearly as his practice both in poetry … and fiction that he too was convinced of the significance of the writer's arrangement. (pp. 39-40)
There is much intrinsic evidence, I think, that Hemingway was influenced a great deal by Joyce. Although most critics do not apply the word epiphany to Hemingway's fiction, his reliance on letting a concrete object, act, or gesture signify much more than its physical limitations would suggest is clearly in the same tradition. Hemingway's own mistrust of the "philosophical" is not unlike the pose of Stephen Daedalus in places…. Joyce's own intricate use of balance and juxtaposition would also give Hemingway actual patterns for his writing, whereas Pound's poems would have provided more oblique examples. And Joyce's attitude about non-essentials in prose was surely compatible with Pound's and Hemingway's…. (p. 40)
More important than any single principle, however, was the total effect: "the aim of technique is that it establish the totality of the whole." The best illustration of Hemingway's prose as product of the theories of Imagism/Vorticism would appear to be his actual writing….
[Perhaps] the most sustained example of the Imagist method transferred to prose is that maligned Hemingway novel, The Sun Also Rises, 1926. In transferring the methods of suggestion, compression, and speed to the novel form, Hemingway achieved a lyric evocation of one segment of life in the twenties. (p. 41)
The Sun Also Rises is not, of course, a picture of the "lost generation." Hemingway's poetic method of telling the reader that, however, has caused some confusion…. By choosing the affirmative phrase from Ecclesiastes as title, Hemingway further reinforces his view, that these characters are not "lost," but merely "beat up." More important, they still have the strength to act against wornout social forms and find truth for themselves. Jake does, when he gives Brett to Romero in order to make her happy; and Brett does when she sends Romero away. But, because society's arbitrary evaluations of these acts would be unsympathetic, Hemingway has to create the organic whole of the novel so that the acts in themselves convey the proper nobility. It is a difficult task, bucking conventional morality; but Hemingway made it even more difficult by using techniques that could easily be called "poetic," at least in relation to Pound's terminology.
One of the most troublesome of Hemingway's techniques was his use of the strict first person narration, a practice certainly in keeping with Pound's view of the author as one who renders or presents rather than reporting. Jake Barnes, with his self-effacing terseness, gives us only skeletal action and characterization. We know very little about Bill and Mike, for example, though everything Hemingway tells us about Bill is positive. But interpreting Mike's dialogue is sometimes hard; we seldom know enough. The same kind of ambivalence surrounds both Brett and Jake. Obviously they are the protagonists, but some of the circumstances surrounding them could stand a more sympathetic explanation—or at least a fuller one—than Jake with his assumed stoicism can realistically give them…. This turning loose a character on an audience, reminiscent as it was of Pirandello, was also a manifestation of Pound's principle, "Direct treatment of the 'thing' concerned," with little ostensible interference from the author. (pp. 41-2)
When Pound directed writers to "Use absolutely no word that does not contribute to the presentation," he is implying a sharp selection of detail. Because Hemingway's selection of detail was so accurate, even skeletal presentations are usually convincing. Brett's bowed head as Mike and Robert argue shows well her tired submission to the present situation, just as Jake's drinking too much after Brett leaves with Romero tells us clearly his emotional state. The repetition of mealtime and drinking scenes in the novel is particularly good for showing the slight but telling changes in a few recurring details. It is these changes in the existing relationships that are the real center of the novel, rather than any linear plot.
Hemingway also used somewhat oblique characterization of his protagonists. Jake and Brett are not always present. Jake as narrator usually speaks about others rather than himself, and when he does think about his own dilemma, it is again in the laconic phrases that leave much to the reader's own empathy. Even though Hemingway introduces Jake in the opening chapter, his focus seemingly falls on Robert Cohn. He tells us innocently enough that Cohn was a college boxing champ, although "he cared nothing for boxing, in fact he disliked it." Then Hemingway begins to accumulate related details: later we see that Romero loves his bullfighting, just as Bill and Jake love fishing. We must then, in retrospect, suspect a man who devotes himself to something he dislikes. Subsequent chapters continue the parallel descriptions of Jake and Cohn, and less apparently of Frances Clyne and Brett. It is a stroke of genius that Hemingway waits until we have clearly seen what Jake and Brett are not in order to present them for what they are—sad but honest people—together, in a would-be love scene.
The Sun Also Rises is also filled with passages that could easily be considered images if they were isolated from their context. An image to Pound was to be more than just a picture: "an image presents an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time." The brief moment when Brett enters the cafe in the company of homosexuals combines a good set of graphic details with the evocation of Jake's sad excitement and anger as he sees her. (pp. 42-3)
Not only does Hemingway use concentrated descriptive passages, he also employs juxtaposition, an arrangement of images and scenes that lets him move quickly from one passage to another, sometimes without logical transition. Near the end of the novel, when the reader's attention should be on Brett and Romero as lovers, or on Jake's anguish, Hemingway instead gives us the account of a young man killed in the morning bull run. "A big horn wound. All for fun. Just for fun," says the surly bartender, picking up one of the repeated key words in the book—fun, luck, values. The bartender's emphasis on the unreasoning fun ends with Hemingway's objective report of the younger man's death, his funeral, and the subsequent death of the bull…. Hemingway follows this already wide-reaching image with the suggestion of Cohn's "death" as Brett leaves with Romero. This brief descriptive sequence, then, has established the deaths of man, bull, man—all at the whim of the fiesta and its larger-than-life hero, the matador.
Another device used frequently in the book is Hemingway's re-creation of natural idiom—in both dialogue and introspective passages—and perhaps more importantly his use of prose rhythms appropriate to the effect of the writing desired. Although the Imagist axiom, "Compose in the sequence of the musical phrase, not that of the metronome," was more liberating to poetry than it was to prose, it also spoke for a kind of freedom in prose—sentences unrestricted in tone, diction, or length because of formal English standards. In passages like [the] opening to Part III [describing Jake's observations the morning after the fiesta], Hemingway arranges sentences of varying lengths and compositions to create the tone he wants (here, a melancholic nostalgia), a tone which may be at odds with the ostensible facts of such a passage. (pp. 44-5)
[Hemingway's use of] observable details are significant to the story (here and usually throughout the novel) primarily because they help identify an emotional state. Even the movement within this passage, building from the short rhythms of the opening to the longer phrases of the penultimate sentence, and coming back to the restrained "refrain," suggests a crescendo in Jake's feeling.
"The fiesta was over," repeated as it is in varying contexts, is an example of Pound's organ base, which term he described as "a sort of residue of sound which remains in the ear" and acts to establish mood. That Hemingway was cognizant of the effects single repeated words or phrases might have is evident. (p. 46)
The passage describing the fiesta also provides a good example of Hemingway's failure to use overt symbols (a failure which troubled many critics enough that they began inventing parallels between bulls, steers, and men). In repeating "The fiesta was over," Hemingway suggests broader implications for "fiesta"—a natural expectation of gaiety and freedom, here ironically doomed because of the circumstances of the characters. Through the description, we easily feel Jake's nostalgia, but not because fiesta is a true symbol; it never assumes any existence other than its apparent one. As Pound, again, had phrased the definition, "the natural object is always the adequate symbol … if a man use 'symbols' he must use them that their symbolic function does not obtrude." In one sense, in The Sun Also Rises, the amount of liquor a person drinks is symbolic—of both the kind of person he is, and the emotional condition he is in. So too is anger, and various stages of it. But the purely literary symbol—which the unsuccessful fireworks exhibition might suggest—is rare. Even the fireworks sequence is used more to show 'various characters' reaction to the failure than it is to represent another object or state of being perse. That Brett does not want to watch the failure is as significant for her character as the fact that she enjoys the artistry of the bullfights.
A corollary to the principle about symbolism is Pound's warning that the writer "Go in fear of abstractions." Love, hate, grief, religion, death, fear—these are the prime movers of the novel, yet the words scarcely appear. The Sun Also Rises is essentially a study of various kinds of love, yet no character ever discusses that passion. (pp. 46-7)
Perhaps more than being a study of kinds of love, The Sun Also Rises is the paradigm of Jake's initiation into the fullest kind of that emotion. Jake's self-abnegation is not martyrdom; he knows he can not benefit from Brett's affair with Romero. But his education throughout the book consists in learning just how much his love—and hers—can bear. In Part I, it is Jake who wishes they could marry. By Part III he has learned that any fulfillment of their relationship is impossible. There is no question that he still loves Brett, perhaps even more in her new-found and convincing nobility. (pp. 47-8)
The chief danger in reading Hemingway is, I think, to overlook the rather apparent origin of many of his stylistic traits. Simplicity has too often become simple-mindedness, just as Williams' "No ideas but in things" became "No ideas."…. We cannot read Hemingway with any sense of complacence because we are thrown too much on our own, and the old patterns of expectation do not work. (pp. 49-50)
[The] kind of idiom Hemingway uses is terse and cryptic, primarily because the emotions are too big to handle in abstract words, not because no emotions exist, or because there is no desire to communicate. The Sun Also Rises gives evidence, in its various set scenes, of a great deal of communication. Jake understands perfectly what he must do for Brett, and Brett knows how little she has to say to reach him…. (p. 50)
The tacit understanding that exists here is better evidence of the author's interest in love, it seems to me, than of his obsession with death…. [The prevalent mood of the novel seems to be] one of sorrow, of sorrow growing from the unfulfilled love of Jake and Brett which acts in turn as a graphic image for the loves of the many other characters—men with men as well as men with women—which comes so seldom to fruition. For those few relationships that had the warmth of the sun in his title, Hemingway was only too grateful. In fact, most of his fiction stands in tribute to just such slight moments.
In his eagerness to present rather than to tell, Hemingway erred only in following the Imagist doctrines perhaps too closely. The Sun Also Rises is a difficult book to read correctly, until the reader understands the way it works; then it becomes a masterpiece of concentration, with every detail conveying multiple impressions, and every speech creating both single character and complex interrelationships. (pp. 50-1)
Linda Welshimer Wagner, "Hemingway As Imagist," in her Hemingway and Faulkner: Inventors/Masters (copyright © 1975 by Linda Welshimer Wagner), The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1975, pp. 35-49.
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Ernest Hemingway's early years as a writer constituted an apprenticeship, during which he emulated a number of his elder contemporaries. Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, Sherwood Anderson, and James Joyce are among those who, it often has been asserted, contributed certain qualities to Hemingway's technique. His relationship to T. S. Eliot, however, is of a different order. At one time or another, Hemingway was a friend and an admirer of Stein, Pound, Anderson, and Joyce, but his attitude toward Eliot was consistently that of outspoken antagonism.
Despite Hemingway's generally negative personal opinion of Eliot, certain resemblances between his work and Eliot's make it clear that the novelist was nonetheless aware of Eliot's value as a poet. Even though Hemingway had said in 1923 that he could not stand The Waste Land, he revealed his ambivalence toward it and, more significantly, his artistic indebtedness as to it, in his own works. His compulsion to rework after the model of Eliot's writing his own language, themes, and structure (not solely the architecture or design but the reiterative patterns of his work) ensured the precocious achievement of his fiction and indeed the style displayed in all his writing. To a later eye, such revisions also emphasize the irony of Hemingway's reluctance to admit Eliot's excellences. The myths, themes, images, pervasive allusions and quotations—and especially, the structural effects that Eliot so brilliantly mastered not only in The Waste Land but in the other poems he published before the end of 1930—exerted a lifelong attraction for Hemingway. (pp. 425-26)
At the beginning of his career, when Hemingway was learning certain imagist devices that had been exploited by Pound and Eliot and was adapting these to his own writing, he was rejecting others of them as well…. Hemingway's satirical poem, "They All Made Peace—What Is Peace?,"… not only follows fairly close in time of composition the writing of The Waste Land but obviously parallels Eliot's cinematic "montage" effects in the "mosaic" effect that Hemingway achieves through setting down the disjunctive bits of chatter "overheard" from various conversations…. Hemingway deliberately imitates Eliot's way of reporting the disjointed chatter of bar, bistro, or pub. His criticism of another of Eliot's devices becomes apparent in a short poem entitled "The Lady Poets with Foot Notes." Although the poem is essentially a literary satire of six unnamed women writers, it is also a parodic expression of Hemingway's distaste for the type of literary ostentation that he felt was displayed in the notorious footnotes to The Waste Land…. Hemingway here contrasts his concern with the immediacy of one's actual experience to the "bookish," Alexandrian concern of Eliot. Hemingway was, to put the matter differently, concerned with putting down in words the actual data that produced the emotions he experienced rather than with exhibiting the scholarly range of his learning. The whole performance is of course unfair to T. S. Eliot…. (pp. 426-27)
To a significant extent, nevertheless, Hemingway's own theory of writing reflects the imagist technique of T. S. Eliot…. Although it would be too much to suggest that Hemingway learned how to capture emotion in prose from Eliot, Eliot's neat formulation of the "objective correlative" furnishes an excellent definition of one of Hemingway's major devices. Hemingway's action-formula … attempts to demonstrate in the genre of the narrative the fundamental literary method of T. S. Eliot…. (pp. 427-28)
Hemingway's putting down "what the actual things were that produced the emotion you experienced" has much in common with Eliot's "objective correlative." Hemingway uses language as a camera so that the reader may see the exact sequence of fact and action that creates the emotion without being told what the emotion is. Eliot elicits a controlled response through the use of complex literary symbols, but Hemingway often shocks his readers into emotional awareness by referring to things actually seen and known through one's direct experience of the world. As Carlos Baker points out, the major advantage Hemingway's technique has over Eliot's is that one's emotional response does not depend on the factor of "literary" experience. The structural design, the patterning of action and of oppositions in Hemingway's art, is intrinsic to experience as a whole.
Hemingway's use of quotations is, by his own admission, partially indebted to Eliot's example in The Waste Land and other poems. In Death in the Afternoon Eliot is credited with "teaching" Hemingway to use Marvell in his writing, but the younger man simultaneously turns the technique against Eliot in an indictment of the "Humanists": the "Old lady" who is Hemingway's interrogator says, "That's a very nice line about lust," with reference to a wisecrack just uttered by the "Author" against the humanists; and he replies, "I know it. It came from Andrew Marvell. I learned how to do that by reading T. S. Eliot."… (pp. 428-29)
Hemingway's use of allusion and quotation also offers a clue to the pervasive influence of The Waste Land upon A Farewell to Arms, This clue, not surprisingly, is precisely the poem by Marvell referred to by the "Author" in his dialogue with the "Old lady" interrogating him in Death in the Afternoon…. Eliot had paraphrased the same lines in The Waste Land. (pp. 434-35)
That Hemingway shared Eliot's admiration for Baudelaire is … evidenced by those constant references in Hemingway's writing in which Baudelaire figures. Before the fog turns to rain, in both Waste Lands [Eliot's poem and Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms], it envelops the entire city, including a bridge and a cathedral. The lovers in The Waste Land and A Farewell to Arms hold their rendezvous at similar times and in similar places. (p. 435)
Although reacting against an influence may not be as obvious as responding to one, the implications are just as important. Besides satirizing Eliot's techniques, and beyond breaking away from Eliot's characterizations and situational patterns, Hemingway also rebelled against the poet's use of traditional modes as a means of counteracting the attraction of such work. Because Eliot so often and so effectively used rain as a symbol of renewal in his poetry, in A Farewell to Arms Hemingway's reversal of Eliot's symbol reflects a rejection of Eliot's theories on the overt, superficial level.
Eliot first established rain as a fructifying element in "Gerontion": "Here I am, an old man in a dry month, / Being read to by a boy, waiting for rain."… Rain is life-renewing and is preceded by prophetic signs, for those who can read them. The dryness of the old man's spiritual life is reiterated in The Hollow Men…. The people of the modern Waste Land fear the falling of the rain because water restores feeling and, consequently, the pain of their unbearable situation. They prefer the barrenness of winter or the dead season. In every case in which water appears desirable in Eliot's poetry, it is only in recognition of a terrible need.
In A Farewell to Arms Hemingway expresses his antangonism toward Eliot by reversing the symbolic meaning of rain, embedding it in gloom, dampness, mud, and the chill of war. Strictly speaking, however, Hemingway's use of rain is not so much symbolic as it is portentous: he exploits it to create a mood…. Rain in Hemingway's novel … is not the foretaste of hope and, even, of tidings of joy, as it is in Eliot's work, but rather is a signal of disaster.
One scene, however, owes an obvious debt to Eliot's water imagery in The Waste Land in part 4, "Death by Water," which impressionistically summarizes the death by drowning at sea of the sailor Phlebas the Phoenician; Hemingway had already glanced at these few verses … in The Sun Also Rises and would return to them many years later in Across the River and Into the Trees. The depth and intensity of their impression upon Hemingway are indicated by the fact that he employed "death by water" as the climactic scene of A Farewell to Arms…. The rain that falls constantly over the Italian retreat is, as usual in Hemingway's novel, the background to despair and grimness; but the baptismal dive into the river is the dramatizing act of release to a hopeful new life and thus differs from Eliot's death by water, which more ambiguously allows alternative readings: either the entry into oblivion of a man without redeeming faith; or Phlebas's redemption by the god and consequent metamorphosis to a higher stage of being. (pp. 437-39)
Ironically, Hemingway abandoned his role as the self-proclaimed opponent of tradition to imbue "Cat in the Rain" and other stories with the motifs of the Grail legends. But the fact that he reversed important aspects of the legends suggests that he had not entirely given up his struggle against the traditions of his Congregationalist forebears. Indeed, the themes of castration that Hemingway and Eliot dwell on in some of their exemplary work have particular relevance to the sexual traumas both men experienced in their lives.
Sexual imagery, in short, is integral to the writings of Eliot and Hemingway. The impulse to self-destruction, for example, is revealed by castration imagery in both Hemingway and Eliot, although Hemingway's differs from Eliot's. Whereas Sweeney's acts of simulated self-castration are expressive of "the necessary breakdown before the revival," Hemingway's earlier characters know no similar self-resur-rection. But their fears of castration actually constitute an outward manifestation of an even more deeply imbedded fear: the fear of the opposite sex…. Since his work affords few hints that love can ever bring lasting pleasure, Eros for Hemingway is more often than not the intimate accomplice to pain and destruction. (pp. 441-42)
In Hemingway's "God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen," the same yearning which finally strengthens the penitent [in Eliot's Ash Wednesday], and delivers him to reconciliation with God is responsible for the destruction of the boy whose sexual feelings are inconsistent with the dictates of his church: "I pray all night and I pray in the daytime. It is a sin against purity."… Thus the same Victorian feeling of guilt that Hemingway rejected because it conflicted with his natural desires occupies a position of major importance in Eliot's poetry, expressed as a determination to transcend his sexual nature.
Certain expressions of sex, such as androgyny and homosexuality, recur in the writings of Eliot and Hemingway. In his short story, "The Sea Change," Hemingway exploits the theme of homosexual transformation also present in The Waste Land. Since "The Sea Change" was written after his reading of The Waste Land, it is arguable that Hemingway owes not only the theme but the title of his story as well to Eliot's poem. (pp. 443-44)
Because the couple in Hemingway's story "The Sea Change" has failed to experience the perfect union in love between male and female, they are forced to look for fusion through deviant means. (p. 445)
Like the Tiresias of Eliot's poem and classical mythology, the male in "The Sea Change" throbs between two lives."… According to the myth, Tiresias had hit two copulating snakes with a stick and was turned into a woman. When he hit the same two snakes with his cane later on, he was changed back into a man. Thus, having lived as both a man and a woman, Tiresias was eminently qualified as a judge…. Even though Hemingway is repelled by the deviant aspects of homosexuality, he is aware of the enormous advantage the author would have in terms of being able to analyze and eventually speak for both sexes. In a cracked analogy with Tiresias's blindness, the young man admires the change in his concept of himself that he feels is reflected by the mirror, even while he ignores the fact that he has not really changed in a physical sense: "As he looked in the glass, he saw he was really quite a different man."… In The Waste Land, the mirror is also a means by which lovers can alter their view of themselves. Just as the typist in "The Fire Sermon" gazes into the mirror in order to primp and go compose her features, so does the young woman in "A Game of Chess" attempt to achieve an air of elegance by primping in front of a gilt mirror…. (pp. 446-47)
Hemingway's fascination with the hermaphrodite may have awakened those primordial fears of female dominance that had been fostered in him by his relationship with his mother. Even in his writing of the 1930s, the loathing he expressed for the hyena in The Green Hills of Africa and "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" gives a clearer picture of Hemingway's psyche than it does of the animal itself…. [One] receives the impression that his use of the word hermaphroditic in his description of the shooting of a hyena in The Green Hills of Africa points to a deeper reason for his hatred of the beast. (p. 447)
Several of the shaping devices that Eliot employed in the poems before 1930 recur in altered guise in Hemingway's works. In one sense, Eliot filled the role of a tutor from whom Hemingway learned many valuable lessons. Hemingway's ability to choose quotations that function as relevant and illuminating in the context of a given work is one of the products of Hemingway's "education." Moreover, the myth that informs The Sun Also Rises owes its origin either to The Waste Land or to Frazer's Golden Bough, which Eliot cited in the notes appended to his poem…. Even the concept of the androgyne, which has an ancient literary tradition, was, arguably, first made known to Hemingway through Eliot's Tiresias. Eliot's attitude toward sex approximated Hemingway's so closely that he imitated Eliot's depiction of sexual relationships in his novels and short stories. Finally, their respective religious odysseys, even to their devotion to the Gospels and the Book of Common Prayer, reflect a common interest in traditional Christianity and the Church that they fused with a deep love the platonizing aspect of their faith, in itself an uncommon trait among literati today. (pp. 448-49)
Nicholas Joost and Alan Brown, "T. S. Eliot and Ernest Hemingway: A Literary Relationship," in Papers on Language and Literature (copyright © 1978 by the Board of Trustees, Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville), Vol. 14, No. 4, Fall, 1978, pp. 425-58.∗
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[Hemingway's collected poems, 88 Poems,] show the thin, hard stream of his contempt even more clearly than his prose. Among the people and things that he subjected to his nostrilwincing amonia were blank verse, "clean" sports, Martel cognac, highbrows, gabby Jews, clergymen, wedding gifts, gung-ho soldiers, Teddy Roosevelt, Democracy, expatriates, liberals….
And yet—it sounds unbelievable after this catalogue of peeve—Hemingway was an endearing writer as well as a courageous one. The strange word "endearing" comes to mind because he was so wholehearted in his motives: when he hated he hated, when he had contempt it was not disguised. Even though Hemingway was a dirty fighter with words, and probably in a brawl as well, there is never any doubt that they were wrenched out of him; in fact, you can say that the dirty fighting was symbolic of the lengths he would go to to avenge his obsessions. It gives us pause.
When a writer is so seriously bugged, hurt, paranoid, offended by what others brush off, it directs us more to the helpless intensity of his reactions than his targets. Put it this way: A case can be made that Hemingway was an almost maidenly virtuous man eroded by the world, and his distortions evoke the dual reactions of pity and admiration. Pity for what one feels is his compulsive, thin-skinned, reckless need for self-justification at any cost—bloodying people and their reputations—and admiration for the shape and form and voice that this driving curse took with him as it did for no contemporary.
But all of this, much as I believe it, is a couple of jiggers too heavy for the tone of most of these poems. At least half of them are playful, shrewd and telling as always, but in the middle register where Hemingway can use that perfect deadpan style of his…. (p. 52)
[The] power of Hemingway's early sketches and short stories derives very much, especially when looked at in hindsight, from the sharp clarity and concreteness that the Imagists brought to our poetry. To the best of my knowledge, Hemingway was the first great American prose writer to make use of the Imagists' legacy…. It was no accident that Ezra Pound, chief tub-thumper for the Imagists, touted the young Hem to Ford Madox Ford this way: "He writes very good verse and he's the finest prose stylist in the world."
Pound was a terrific enthusiast, of course, but even if you undercut what he says about Hemingway's poems—and the editor of this book sanely says it would be a "mistake" to overrate them—the connection with his prose is practically a sibling one. The poems show the same terseness, muscle, proud independence; but whereas the early sketches and stories were crafted with a cat burglar's control and pacing, the poems "were written quickly to satisfy some immediate purpose," as Gerogiannis tells us. It's interesting to note that a good 70 of these quickies were written before Hemingway was 30. After that, he petered out; and the last ones, except for a little couplet at the very end, reflect the growing garrulousness and self-pity that finally destroyed the man and rotted up the spartan prose as well….
Vintage Hemingway was never in the phony bombast. It was always in the lean, sudden right hand to the button. There are enough gorgeous shots in these after-hours poems to pull your mouth into wry Bogart smiles and make you slowly, sadly shake your hand. What a piece of work was this tormented jock of the American word. (p. 53)
Seymour Krim, "Hemingway after Hours," in The Village Voice (reprinted by permission of The Village Voice; copyright © News Group Publications, Inc., 1979), Vol. XXIV, No. 47, November 19, 1979, pp. 52-3.
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Critical attention to language in For Whom the Bell Tolls usually focuses on the Spanish quality of the dialogue. Written in English, the novel imitates the vocabulary and sentence structure of Spanish, creating a highly stylized prose. Edward Fenimore has commented on the "Elizabethan" tone of the language, and concludes that it contributes to the epic quality of the work. In a similar vein, Earl Rovit maintains that the language distances the reader from the novel, and that this distance adds to the timelessness and universality of the characters and events being described. Hemingway's preoccupation with language is not merely stylistic, however, but it constitutes a major sub-theme in the novel: the limitations of language. As a political tool, as a means of communication, and as an art form, language again and again fails to describe reality adequately, even though many characters express idealistic views about the potential of language.
Pilar's garrulity stems from her belief in the ability of language to bring men together and offer the solace which religion once supplied…. Her ideas about language are … revealed in her conversation with Joaquin at El Sordo's refuge. Joaquin apologizes for having spoken of his sorrow over the deaths of several members of his family at Fascist hands, but Pilar believes that men should speak and share their sorrows with one another…. Similarly, she insists on resting and talking on the way to El Sordo's camp, even though Robert Jordan is anxíous to continue their journey, because she believes that talk "is the only civilized thing we have." (pp. 215-16)
Yet Pilar's idealistic conception of language is undermined in the very scenes just cited. Her attempts to comfort Joaquin are abortive: they embarrass him, and his rejection angers her. Similarly, although she says that language is the only civilized thing left in the world, she then proceeds to tell a story about the beginning of the war which is so barbarous that she must break it off in the middle…. In spite of Pilar's belief in the goodness of speech, it is apparent that in Hemingway's world language simply mirrors the cruelty of external reality.
The same thematic ambivalence toward language that is revealed in Pilar's speech is also apparent in that of the other characters. Taciturnity is usually a sign of hostility, and Pablo's refusal to exchange pleasantries with Jordan when they first meet reveals his hatred and suspicion. Similarly, El Sordo only ceases to speak broken Spanish to Jordan when he begins to trust him…. Language may have the potential for bringing men together, but in the politically divided world of the novel excessive trust among men is dangerous. Robert Jordan describes Valentin Gonzales, El Campesino, as
… a brave, tough man; no braver in the world. But God, how he talked too much. And when he was excited he would say anything no matter what the consequences of his indiscretion. And those consequences had been many already….
Similarly, his description of Kleber focuses on his excessive garrulity…. We even see language used to construct protective barriers between men. When Agustin forgets the password, Anselmo comments ironically, "That is called guerilla discipline."… The fact that language is employed to distinguish friends from enemies reveals the potentially dangerous nature of language.
In fact, the novel not only suggests that men can use language to create barriers, but that language is naturally divisive. This idea is perhaps best exemplified by the speech of Robert Jordan, an American who speaks Spanish fluently. While it may first seem that Jordan illustrates the way a man from one culture can assimilate another, there are faint but very real suggestions that Jordan can never completely adopt the Spanish language. There are several instances, for example, in which Hemingway goes out of his way to point out that Jordan is thinking in Spanish…. Far from indicating Jordan's complete fluency in Spanish, these passages emphasize the fact that his thought processes are usually in English. (pp. 216-17)
If Jordan exemplifies the difficulty of ever adopting a foreign culture completely, the reactions of the Spanish to Jordan help to explain this problem. Once again, language is a divisive force….
The idea that language separates people is reinforced by the many references to the peculiarities of Spanish which are not duplicated in any other language. Thus, the reader of For Whom the Bell Tolls is constantly reminded that Spanish is a unique language, with modes of thought not found elsewhere. (p. 218)
Language cannot describe reality adequately…. There may be no organic relationship between language and experience. Furthermore,… [Jordan implies] that experience cannot be contained by language. This idea is repeated at the end of the novel when Anselmo has difficulty following Jordan's instructions because the words are elusive and do not fully describe the reality they are supposed to symbolize. (p. 219)
Like Anselmo, Jordan also comments on the limits of language during wartime in his reflections about the feeling of political commitment that he experienced at … the head-quarters of the Fifth Regiment. He compares these emotions to a religious experience that cannot be verbalized:
At either of those places you felt that you were taking part in a crusade. That was the only word for it although it was a word that had been so worn and abused that it no longer gave its true meaning. You felt, in spite of all bureaucracy and inefficiency and party strife something that was like the feeling you expected to have and did not have when you made your first communion. It was a feeling of consecration to a duty toward all of the oppressed of the world which would be as difficult and embarrassing to speak about as religious experience….
This passage summarizes the scepticism about language that the novel as a whole conveys. First of all, it suggests that the most meaningful experiences are emotional and cannot be articulated at all: it would be "difficult and embarrassing" to try to describe these feelings in words. Furthermore, Jordan's inability to describe his experience as a "crusade" because "it was a word that had been so worn and abused that it no longer gave its true meaning" illustrates the ephemeral nature of language: experience endures but language constantly changes and is therefore incapable of describing reality. (pp. 219-20)
The wartime setting provides a special context in which to examine these ideas about language, since throughout the novel it is evident that the deceptive qualities of language are heightened during war…. If language is used to deceive other men, it is also used by men to deceive themselves about the brutality of war. (pp. 220-21)
Political slogans are yet another wartime abuse of language. During the purge of a town, Pilar comes across two drunkards shouting "Viva la Anarquia!" and "Viva la Libertad!" A peasant comments on the shallowness of these slogans: "They should shout, 'Long live drunkenness.' That's all they believe in." (p. 221)
Yet Pilar's narration of the town's purge seems to show the way language can transform raw experience, no matter how ugly, into a work of art…. Yet the novel as a whole even implies the limitations of language in the realm of art: it can create beauty out of chaos, but cannot eliminate or alleviate the chaotic nature of reality…. Indeed, he later admits that the heroism of war which Pilar turns into literature may be false; at one point he justifies killing by calling it a sacramental act, but later realizes that he is simply disguising its true meaning. (p. 222)
[To the perception of the malleability and imprecision of language] Hemingway adds the existence of impenetrable national barriers, which isolate people still further, and man's fallen nature, which perverts the function of language as a means of communication. So it becomes clear why Hemingway's carefully crafted novel imitates, in English, Spanish idiom. The "Elizabethan" quality of the writing thus achieved reminds the reader that he is reading a transliteration of a foreign language. Commenting on this distancing effect, Edward Fenimore has said that the reader is always aware of the "'view from without,' the non-Spanish looking upon the Spanish world." As part of this "view from without," the reader is presented with a consistently pessimistic sub-theme concerning the limits of language: in For Whom the Bell Tolls all men are outsiders because of their failures to communicate, failures based on the inherent limitations of language. (p. 223)
Carole Moses, "Language As Theme in 'For Whom the Bell Tolls'," in Fitzgerald/Hemingway Annual 1978, edited by Matthew J. Bruccoli and Richard Layman (copyright © 1979 by The Gale Research Company), Gale, 1979, pp. 215-23.
Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2483
Until recently, most interpretations of Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises have been based on the assumption that the plot reveals no linear progression, but is circular in form. Although critics such as Philip Young have tried to transform this seeming defect into a virtue by suggesting the inseparability of form from content, the recent trend in Hemingway criticism is to reject (as Hemingway himself did) the necessary corollary to this view—that Jake Barnes and his "lost generation" are static characters, incapable of learning and profiting from experience. (p. 321)
Such interpretations still miss Hemingway's subtle development of an ordered and logical sequence of action based on essential and positive changes in Jake's character during the central scenes at Pamplona. In fact, the development of tensions which leads up to [the] central scenes of self-examination and change of thought results in an almost classically Aristotelian "discovery and reversal" of attitudes and goals. Jake demonstrates this change in a series of actions in the latter half of the novel, and the tensions developed throughout are resolved in the final scenes.
Jake's progress from romantic to realist in personal relationships gives the plot its dynamic form, but this pattern of development has been missed because of uncritical acceptance of Jake's initial mis-evaluation of himself as a realist. However, a detailed comparison of Jake to Robert Cohn, the romantic whom Jake severely criticizes, will show that their attitudes toward Brett are similar. The first half of the plot develops the conflict between Jake's attempts to escape emotional involvement and awareness and to avoid the increasing tensions provoked by Cohn's challenges to his covert romantic illusions. In the central scenes, the self-pity, frustration, and disgust which result from Jake's unrealistic and selfish demands for "what could have been" finally force upon him the unavoidable realization that romanticizing past physical passion and fulfillment falsifies relationships in the present. The final sections show the results of Jake's conscious acceptance of the ascetic morality that is the key, in Jake's fictional world, to maintaining enduring relationships which affirm the individual's sense of integrity and meaning.
In terms of structure, the main question proposed in the novel is "how to live in it," with "it" referring to the world of emotional relationships. This theme is introduced in the opening pages through the narrator-protagonist's long discussion of Robert Cohn's various failures in personal relationships, and Jake seems to imply that he, in contrast to Cohn, has a well-adjusted attitude toward the present and realistic expectations about the nature and meaning of relationships with others…. Yet an alert reader will be struck in these opening scenes by the emotional void in which Jake exists. Not only are his relationships with others, particularly with Cohn and his fellow reporters, superficial, but when he follows his own advice to Cohn on how to enjoy life in the present, all that happens to Jake is that he spends the first part of the evening bored with a prostitute and the last part miserable with Brett Ashley.
Brett is the force that sets Jake's inner conflict in motion. The intense frustration experienced by Jake when Brett invades his predominately male world clearly shows that Jake, despite the image he tries to project, has not successfully learned "how to live in it." It soon becomes obvious that Jake initially appears well-adjusted because he avoids personal relationships and the emotional consequences which inevitably follow. Throughout a good portion of the novel, his usual method of avoiding "the maximum of exposure," a trait he later identifies strongly with Romero's integrity and "purity of line,"… is to retreat to the all-male world, particularly the world of the celibate sportsman. Yet this protective escapism also cuts Jake off from the desirable consequences that maximum exposure can bring. As Jake will further note in the bullfighting scenes, Romero's willingness to confront the very real dangers involved in bullfighting also enables him to function close enough to the bull to control the creature. As a result, Romero's method benefits himself and gives the audience a "real" emotion. By contrast, the "simulated" appearance of danger which the other bullfighters use to insure minimum exposure gives a "fake emotional feeling" or an "unpleasant feeling" which ruins the performance for the audience as well as for the performer, who sacrifices his integrity when he loses his ability to "dominate" the bull. In this novel, integrity—maintaining the pure and natural form which allows one to control a threatening situation—is measured by the "real emotions" or absence of "unpleasant feelings" which follow tests of self-exposure and self-discipline.
In the earlier scenes, Jake has not yet realized that his life of minimum exposure has handicapped him and given him little control over intensely personal feelings and relationships. The movement of the first half of the novel is toward Jake's admission that despite his "realistic" advice to Cohn and his celebration of celibate sports values, he does not yet know "how to live in it." The fact that Brett, who awakens his emotional needs, keeps reappearing in his life, and, even more significantly, that Jake continues to allow her to reappear suggests that existing in a near-emotional void is an inadequate solution to the problem of "how to live in it." Jake needs emotional ties, but his response to Brett in the beginning of the novel simply increases his misery because their relationship is characterized not by how much they do have (namely, a closer attachment and understanding than anyone else in their world), but rather by how much they could have had in an imaginary past. Like Cohn at the beginning of the novel, Jake prefers "splendid imaginary amorous adventures" which exist only in bad fiction or in the minds of romantics.
Jake and Brett are biologically trapped, but Jake still wishes to ignore reality by living a version of his romantic fantasies in the country. Realizing and accepting her own limitations, Brett points out Jake's selfishness; implicitly he is asking her to change her sexual nature to conform to his fantasy. (pp. 321-24)
The plot complications which develop these tensions come when Cohn and Brett join Mike, Bill, and Jake in Spain. The movement from France to Spain becomes symbolic in that, as Jake later points out, France represents the emotional void where one can literally buy simple but shallow relationships. Spain, however, represents the world of complicated emotional relationships, the "it" in which Jake must learn to live. At Pamplona, Cohn acts as a catalyst by causing hidden attitudes to surface, creating feelings so intense that Jake can no longer evade a realization of the implications and consequences of his failure to face reality. The unbearable tensions erupt not so much because Jake knows that Cohn and Brett have had an affair, but because of the way Cohn conducts himself in the wake of that affair. Cohn's misrepresentation of his relationship with Brett and the lack of grace he exhibits when she throws him over disgust the group….
But Jake, in his view of what could have been between Brett and himself, is also pretending, and Cohn's attitude forces Jake to examine the significance of his own relationship with Brett. The only difference between the two is that Jake has not alienated the group by a display of his private illusions and wounded emotions….
The disgust and jealousy which Jake experiences in these central scenes become so intense that he can no longer avoid his failure at learning "how to live in it." (p. 324)
[Jake confronts himself in] a crucial self-examination which completes the plot movement toward self-awareness and a reordering of values. Jake makes two important admissions which change the direction of the plot. The first one is selfishness: "I had been having Brett for a friend. I had not been thinking about her side of it. I had been getting something for nothing." (pp. 324-25)
Even more significant, however, is Jake's new perspective on his life. He realizes that his selfishness has kept him from successfully coping with his emotional needs. Escaping to the all-male world has not provided a solution to the problem, because evasions merely postpone the moment of confrontation with the realities of emotional needs…. Jake's admission that he does not know what it is all about or how to live in it forces the reader to reevaluate the earlier image projected by Jake and to realize that up to this point Jake has been an unreliable narrator in some respects because he has failed to understand his own inadequacies and self-defeating methods of minimal exposure. But by learning and articulating his true needs, Jake has now established the groundwork for a reordering of values and attitudes which will enable him to regain his sense of balance and restore his integrity.
The resolution of the conflict arises directly out of the antiromantic role chosen actively and consciously by Jake when he introduces Brett to Romero…. As he is only too painfully aware, allowing Romero to fulfill Brett's emotional and sexual needs is about as unromantic a solution as can be imagined, but therein lies the validity of this test of his progress from romantic to realist. By accepting her misery as valid proof of her need to experience a realizable and authentic passion, Jake makes the crucial decision to confront and accept the reality of Brett's nature and his own inability to fulfill her needs…. Through this choice, involving selflessness and maximum exposure, Jake is attempting to pave the way for a new relationship with Brett which will be mutually supportive and beneficial.
Although Jake's affirmation of unselfish relationships marks the beginning of his progress toward mature acceptance of reality, tension develops from the alternation of moods as Jake contends with the ego-deflating effects of his decision…. When he strikes out at Cohn, his disgust is a reaction against Cohn's self-delusion and pride, qualities the new Jake rejects.
With Cohn's disorienting return blow—the romantic's rejection of the new realist—and departure from the novel, the elimination of overt and covert romanticism is accomplished. After Cohn's violent action which symbolically signals the completion of Jake's movement toward reality, Jake is literally viewing the world around him differently. From his new perspective, the world also looks new. After the fight, Jake is surprised at the "new and changed" appearance of the familiar scenes which he has never before closely observed…. The blow to his head is one of the consequences of Jake's new mode of maximum exposure and vulnerability, and it has caused him to see his world more fully and accurately by releasing him from the bonds of his romantic ego. His aggressive rejection of and by Cohn and all that Cohn represents is a positive stage in Jake's progress towards learning "how to live in it." (pp. 325-27)
The central Pamplona scenes of emotional tension are framed by two peaceful scenes—the mountain fishing idyll before the festival and the San Sebastian swimming scene after the festival. A comparison of these two scenes shows that Jake is not a victim of self-defeating circular patterns of action, but that he has progressed to another stage in his development. Although superficially the motivation behind both journeys is similar—an escape from his problems—the fishing trip is an annual retreat, at which physical activity and male camaraderie provide a pleasant change to the daily routines of his Parisian life as a reporter. In contrast, the San Sebastian trip comes out of a direct response to the Pamplona entanglements and indicates his desire to cope with his problems. He could return to France with its simple monetary friendships, which he praises, and continue "fiesta-ing" in Paris with Bill, but after escorting Bill and Mike to the station in Bayonne, Jake chooses instead to return to Spain even though he feels like a "fool" to be going back. This voluntary return to a country where payment is exacted in something other than money is symbolic of Jake's desire to "live in it," despite the uncertain consequences of involvement…. As in Nick Adams' solitary retreat to the Big Two-Hearted River, Jake's retreat and symbolic renewal prepare him for the consequences of involvement—the potentially tragic swamp fishing, as Adams calls it—that will accompany his return to society. As a result, when Brett calls him to Madrid to help her, Jake is ready to confront the unromantic rescue and their new relationship with ironic humor instead of anguish and disgust.
The long-range consequences of Jake's resignation to what has to be instead of what he wishes could have been are shown in the final scene in Spain. For Brett refusing to be a bitch (in other words, "behaving well") is "what we have instead of God" …; but, as Jake points out, "Some people have God…. Quite a lot." Jake emphasizes in his final comment his new ironic outlook which enables him to "behave well." Instead of lamenting how good it could have been, he can now calmly and ironically comment on how "pretty" (surely, a deliberate use of understatement and trite diction) it is to think it would have been so good. Jake has learned how to impose the proper perspective on romantic dreams, and thus is well on his way to learning "how to live in it."
Although Jake is often considered a passive protagonist who mainly observes or lets others dominate and influence his actions, a reevaluation of the opening and middle sequences reveals that Jake, both as narrator and actor, has been engaged in making active choices which affect the development of the action, the nature of the relationships, and the reader's response. His final situation is not overly attractive to many readers, and there is a note of sadness that the price of learning "how to live in it" must be the loss of dreams of romantic fulfillment. But in the process of changing from romantic to realist, Jake has discovered some positive values, fragments from his past, to paraphrase Eliot, to shore against the unromantic twentieth-century ruins. Although no one will ever accuse Jake (or Hemingway) of religious profundities, Jake claims to be somewhat religious, and the solution he finds to his problems might be called a secularized morality based on the Catholic ideal of asceticism. Asceticism, voluntarily chosen as Jake's becomes when he gives Brett to Romero, is associated with discipline (behaving well) and integrity…. As the transitory or inadequate relationships of the past fade from view in the unromantic ending of the novel, the reader's attention is focused on the one relationship which, because of its renunciatory basis, has endured and brought a sense of integrity and self-respect to the participants. (pp. 327-29)
Kathleen L. Nichols, "The Morality of Asceticism in 'The Sun Also Rises': A Structural Reinterpretation," in Fitzgerald/Hemingway Annual 1978, edited by Matthew J. Bruccoli and Richard Layman (copyright © 1979 by The Gale Research Company), Gale, 1979, pp. 321-30.
Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1384
Hemingway at his best is not a maker of metaphors. He resists the notion that anything can overtly be compared to anything else. While his images almost always function on two levels—the literal and the figurative—Hemingway refuses to help his reader bridge the gap between the two realms by in any way suggesting that his language might be two-dimensional. The pervasive sense that an overwhelming symbolic logic lurks just beneath the level of the literal is precisely the sense of the uncanny which Hemingway at once wishes to exploit and deny. From the perspective of rhetorical decorum, the "uncanny" acquires a stylistic as well as a psychological definition, since the tenor of every vehicle is just "that which ought to have remained hidden and secret, and yet comes to light." Once Hemingway begins to take his metaphors as metaphors, his writing collapses the tension between the literal and the figurative which had lent it such an air of suspicious calm. The novels from 1940 on can be read as a debate over the uses of self-consciously metaphoric language. At the heart of this debate is the metaphor of the hand.
The "'thing of the hand'" haunts For Whom the Bell Tolls, where it refers to reading the future from one's palm. Like most of Hemingway's heroes, Robert Jordan spends his time "'looking into the future in English.'" At first he is open to Anselmo's question, "'Can you read in the palm of the hand?'"
"No," Robert Jordan said and he dipped another cup of wine.
"But if thou canst I wish thee would read in the palm of my hand and tell me what is going to pass in the next three days."
Anselmo recommends Pilar, she reads the palm, and, correctly foreseeing Robert's doom, refuses to speak of what she sees. While its ending has effectively been given away, the novel settles into a debate over whether a man trulycarries his fortune in his hand. This debate expands to cover all forms of divination and culminates in Chapter 19. To the question "'Do you believe in the possibility of a man seeing ahead what is to happen to him?'" Robert replies that such forebodings are "'evil visions,'" projections of what one fears, and therefore need not be accepted. (pp. 312-13)
Fortune-telling is a business of the hand. So is suicide. Once Robert Jordan has rehearsed his family history, it becomes imperative for him to renounce as "crap" the business about "Pilar and the hand." Robert's father … has killed himself with a hand gun…. [The] gun had been handed on to the son. Robert threw his Smith and Wesson into the deepest lake he could find…. In disposing of the gun, Robert has a premonition that he will repeat his father's act: "he climbed out on a rock and leaned over and saw his face in the still water, and saw himself holding the gun." It is especially this "evil vision" against which all Robert's resistance to divination is meant to defend. And the novel upholds him in his resolve. Lying wounded at the end, Robert refuses "to do that business that my father did." On the contrary: Robert's last act is to touch "the palm of his hand against the pine needles where he lay." He uses his hand to extend his life. The novel literalizes the metaphor of the hand as fortune in order to reject it.
Writing is also a business of the hand. As we watch Robert sketching the bridge, "glad at last to have the problem in hand," we encounter the sense of relief Hemingway felt in 1939 in finally sitting down to write the novel. (pp. 313-14)
The Old Man and the Sea marks the last complete remission of the debility which had afflicted Hemingway since 1941: writer's cramp. Santiago worries about nothing so much as the "treachery" of a hand. "If he cramps again let the line cut him off." Amputation is a melodramatic extension here of a deeper threat: that this man who brings up things from the depths is losing control of "the working part of his hand." Santiago talks to anything that will listen, but above all to his hands. The struggle in the book is less against the fish than against his hands. "There are three things that are brothers: the fish and my two hands." Santiago and his body stand outside this brotherhood in which the hands cooperate with the very opponent they are meant to master…. Santiago's body has become a function of his hands and he keeps it alive in the hope that they will again return to his control. (p. 316)
Santiago does succeed in landing his fish. He brings the hidden to light with his hands. The book is at once about and evidence of such a triumph. Gregory Hemingway suggests, however, that it was precisely the imminence of failure during the "short period" of The Old Man which made the book a success:
the humility and empathy for man's fate, which the Nobel Prize Committee remarked on and which it interpreted as "growth," was the result of his seeing what it was "truly" like to be without his genius—and the knowledge of what it was like for the rest of the people all of the time and to be uncushioned from the world by the intellectual and material rewards of genius.
So Hemingway's sense of his failing powers gave his book power. Such a vision is necessarily short-lived, depending as it does upon having come to terms with the end of something. What was ending was not potency but creativity. Writing was no longer a response to experience but to the problems of writing itself. This is Hemingway's late great theme, the burden of A Moveable Feast. If Santiago's story is a lament for a dying self, Hemingway's last book pays tribute to a dead one. Like all elegies, it purchases power by burying its speaker along with its subject. Then "I had learned already never to empty the well of my writing, but always to stop when there was still something there in the deep part of the well, and let it refill at night from the springs that fed it." Now my prophetic sense of an ending has been fulfilled: "In those days, though, the spring always came finally but it was frightening that it had nearly failed." In these days, the implication follows, the springs have dried up; the spring never comes. A Moveable Feast is so gracefully parasitic on past creation that it could have been called, as had been "The Circus Animals' Desertion," "On the Lack of a Theme."
Hemingway began to make metaphors as his writing became aware of its impending demise. The Old Man is a book full of similes ("The sail … looked like the flag of permanent defeat"), of things he had previously refused to make with a pen. Metaphors extend human consciousness out into the universe of things. They make a home of ("humanize") the world. This had always been Hemingway's task, the infinite expansion of territory which could be included in "the good place." What had made his writing powerful was the ever-present but unexpressed threat to this project which forced it to remain implicit and which lent to any metaphor the air of a wishful and unconvincing compromise. Reading The Old Man, where even the stars have become "distant friends," Hemingway must have sensed that his project was at once perfected and finished.
The metaphor of the hand was above all one which Hemingway could not afford to leave on the level of the literal. Had he done so, he might have turned it much earlier against himself. The work from 1940 on can be read as a holding action in which Hemingway attempted to convince himself that the "hand of fortune" was just a metaphor. This demanded his acceptance of a metaphorical style which would make explicit the distinction between the literal and the figurative. It could be said that Hemingway increasingly resorts to figurative language in order to defend the province of the literal. (pp. 317-19)
David M. Wyatt, "The Hand of the Master," in Virginia Quarterly Review (copyright, 1980, by the Virginia Quarterly Review, The University of Virginia), Vol. 56, No. 2 (Spring, 1980), pp. 312-19.
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