Saturday, October 9, 2010

Critical Appreciation of For Whom the Bell Tolls

A New Developments Hemingway
Hemingway’ had signed “a separate peace” in A Farewell to Arms and his writings in the Thirties are a sort of narcotic which kept him from thinking about society and a writer’s social obligation. The period was devoted to writing a treatise on bull-fighting, a safari in Africa from which resulted Green Hills of Africa, and some admirable short stories like “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” and “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber”. But the Thirties were a time of self-analysis for all thinking men in America ; and Hemingway broke fresh ground in To Have and Have Not, whose hero, Harry Morgan, in his dying moments gives the new message for his age : “A man alone ain’t got no bloody chance.”

Separate Peace Ends
It is a far cry from what Henry, the protagonist in A Farewell to Arms, had thought about man’s role in society. According to Henry : “I’ was always embarrassed by the words sacred, glorious, and, sacrifice and the expression in vain……and now for a long time ...I had seen nothing sacred, and the things that were glorious had no glory and the sacrifices were like the stockyards at Chicago if nothing was done with the meat except to bury it. There were many words that you could not stand to hear and finally only the names of placers had dignity ... Abstract words such as glory, honour, courage, or hallow were obscene beside the concrete names of villages, the numbers of roads, the names of rivers, the numbers of regiments and the darts” Henry liked a boy named Gino but his patriotism separated him from Henry who was completely disillusioned with slogans, and The causes that they stood for.
A Commitment to Mankind
In the play, The Fifth Column, the hero who like Jordan is fighting for the Loyalist cause in Spain declares that he has left love behind, for his love of mankind and his love for his beloved cannot go together. And where I go now I go alone, or with others who go there for the. same reason I go.” He also shares Jordan’s ambivalence : “I don’t know where it (his destination) is.” What is of paramount importance is his devotion to the cause, he has chosen to espouse. Jordan likewise is fighting for a cause : “Liberty and dignity and the rights of all men to work and not be hungry.” Jordan has been very pure in his ambitions because he had no thought of anything except the movement and the winning of this war.
Mixed Motives For Participation
The depression in America and the Spanish Civil War woke his social conscience-and in his capacity as a human being he helped the Loyalists in Spain as far as he could. For Whom the Bell Tolls is a product of a tumult of experience and emotions ; the overthrow of the author’s non-political attitude in the face of a pressing need for action, the hate of. Fascism and sympathy for the Loyalist Republic, a romantic love of old Spain, and the enthusiasm and anxiety for the future of the world which flung many artists into the international brigades as if to fight a decisive crusade for human liberty.
A Deep Commitment
All these themes are present in the novel. The compact structure of the novel, the heightened eloquence of the language, the poignant heart-searching in the novel, the desperate search for new moorings, the seriousness of the intent of the novelist are ample proof of the author’s intense involvement in the movement. He has deeply felt what he has written’ in this book, for it embodies a brusque tenderness and compassion of the author for the suffering Spanish masses who became involved in this human crisis.
An Individual Commitment
As mentioned earlier Hemingway had broken loose of the aestheticism of the Thirties and entered a new phase of development as a novelist. Jordan is a lost young man who has staked his life for the sake of a people he has come to love. He is doomed to die according to the logic of Hemingway’s vision of the world but this time there is a major difference. “The only difference”, according to Nemi D’ Agostino, “is that now the individual failure is overtly seen as part of a collective failure, a common drama in which the new ideals and hopes one by one prove fruitless, and in the end only this which remains is the unbroken chain of pessimism and despair.” Jordan lying on the floor of the pine forest and waiting for the Fascist cavalry reflects : “And if you wait and hold them up even a little while or just get the officer that may make all the difference. One thing well done can make.”
Is this all that one pins one’s hopes on ? Why is he so dependent on the approval of his grandfather or Karkov for his actions ? It is a fatalistic universe, centering round the drama of the individual. It is an elegy sung in praise of the “lonely rebel”.
Contradictions in Jordan’s Ideology
Jordan came to Spain to learn the Spanish language better so that he could teach it more effectively. Here he becomes involved in the Civil War because he feels for this country a strong liking and sentiment. He develops an illusion that there is a cause to fight for. He acknowledges that he has learnt much in this war and he would perhaps write a book about it but the truth of the matter is that he has not learnt much in this war. He still believes in Equality, Liberty and Fraternity and man’s right to pursue happiness but he has accepted Communist discipline for the duration of this war. He is ignorant of the inherent contradiction in these two positions that he has taken. ‘He has experienced love, a fact which challenges the red assertion that in a purely materialistic conception of society there is no such thing, as Love. He is overwhelmed by the dilemma of his position and consequently he has decided to put his thinking and power of judgement in abeyance. Actually each new faith frightens and unsettles the writer, and Jordan-Hemingway is the old tormented individualist divided between his need for the community and the scorn and fear it excites in him. And the novel is not so much imbued with history as impregnated by the confused attitude of that no-man’s party to which Hemingway belongs.
Only Death Triumphs
The book in spite of the heroic stand and the fight of its hero is an elegy on a dying man. It celebrates a triumph of death, dissolution and destruction of all that is good in man. Death hovers over this book from the very opening scene in which Jordan is seen lying on the floor of the pine forest. If the reader is in any doubt Pilar’s prophecy seals Jordan’s fate. The guerrillas are disillusioned despite the bravado shown by some of them. Pablo is a mockery of his former self, and Pilar affirms it. El Sardo, a heroic figure, is, destroyed by the Fascists’ planes and he embodies the utter helplessness of man in a mechanised war. Even Anselmo who is reluctant to kill Fascists meets a fate no different from that of Eladio, or Fernando, or El Sardo. The theme of dissolution is interwoven, in fact in the very texture of the book.
A New Prose-Style Evolved
This gloom connected with the theme of dissolution is relieved by “the breath of poetry”. Hemingway in this novel broke away from his earlier bleak and bare prose which critics had admired and amateur writers tried to imitate, but seldom successfully. He attempted a freer and broader rhythm which has immense potentiality and power. It touches at times moments of true intensity and genuine dramatic power. Pilar’s account of Pablo’s exploits at the commencement of the movement, Maria’s account of the death of her parents and Fascists’ atrocities, El Sardo’s last stand on the hill-top, and Andres Marty’s journey from the first Loyalist out-post to the head-quarters of General Golz are classic examples to show Hemingway’s power as a story teller. The last scene in which Jordan awaits the arrival of the Fascist troops lingers long in the memory of readers for here Jordan becomes a solitary figure who symbolises all human loneliness in the hour of death which is unrelieved by hope.
A New Range of Characters
More than the new prose rhythms the novel is valued for its range of human characters that Hemingway has created. Maria and Jordan are almost types in Hemingway’s fiction but Pilar––a larger than life and mysterious character, and Anselmo––a true Christian, something very unusual in Catholic countries, and Pablo––a sort off debased Ajax, and El Sardo––an inveterate fighter, and many others reveal a new development in Hemingway’s art. According to Nemi D’ Agostino : “He has tried to create varied and trenchant characters, succeeding in setting besides the somewhat inadequate protagonist and the conventionally picturesque portraits of Pilar and Maria such fierce and poetic figures as El Sardo, Joaquin and Anselmo.”
Some Flaws
The novel is one of Hemingway’s most ambitious works and to this fact one can trace some of its strength and weakness. Its language was intended to be in part the intimate expression of the intellectual protagonist, and in part to shape itself around the simple heroes of the guerrilla, and to throw a new light on the epic events. It is dim and turgid in the long meditations of the hero ; and in the passages of dialogue, where Hemingway tried to create a platonic language composed of the Spanish idiom, the Bible, and the Elizabethans, it is overloaded with dialectical quotations (which is a critical transfer and not an artisitic solution), weighed down with over much local colour, and often forced into melodramatic effects.
Elements of Melodrama
The elements of melodrama are also present in the plot as well and they have weakened the tension of the plot. Pilar’s long description of the smell of death is a case in point. It may be very interesting in itself but it does not contribute to the development of the story nor does it throw any fresh light on any character. Similarly, Jordan’s love-making, and Pilar’s inquiry whether the earth moved, weaken the plot to a great extent. In the long meditations of Jordan, similarly, critics have found flaw for, though they throw light on the hero’s motivation, these is a repetitive quality about them. “There are a good many passages”, according to Philip Young, “in which Jordan appears to be struggling for the faith on which he acts than to have achieved it.” Young also points out that the love story is highly idealized and very romantic, if not sentimental.
In the final analysis the novel demonstrates that Hemingway’s talent was once again intact and formidable, despite the flaws pointed out above. It remains one of his masterpieces. Whatever the ideologically committed critics may say, the reader if he is unbiased, feels a sense of life, which is an achievement by any standard.

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