Saturday, October 9, 2010

“Despite Hemingway’s preoccupation with physical contests, his heroes are almost always defeated physically, nervously, practically : their victories are moral ones.” How far would you accept this statement as valid about For Whom the Bell Tolls ?

Life Seen As Struggle
Hemingway achieved maturity as a man during the First World War in which he had been wounded seriously. As a result of this unfortunate occurrence his vision of life became coloured because in - those impressionable years he had seen life from very close quarters and he had discovered that violence was one of the real and rude facts of life, the most important, in fact. He saw life as a struggle in which man has no choice except to fight––sometimes literally and quite often metaphorically. Paolini, an Italian critic, commenting on this aspect of Hemingway’s art says :

                Here (in Hemingway’s works) the inner Leitmotive is precisely that antithesis between professionalism and dilettantism, interpreting these two opposing concepts in their broadest and universal sense. For the Hemingway man (homo hemingwaianus) to belong to the category’ of ‘professionals’ implies a choice––either by instinct or as a result of a series of experiences ; it means he has taken up a solid strategic position in life-war which by its very nature can no longer be stormed by the enemy or engulfed in the abyss of nada. The choice determines whether life is worth living and fighting for or is ‘a nothing and then nothing and then nothing’. Hence the dilettante is a failure : he has failed in his duty, in the true categorical imperative of the conscience ; he has wasted his talents and energies. The other category is that of the undefeated ; the winner, even when they win nothing, even when they seem to be routed. It is in these that Hemingway solves the dilemma of ‘to be or not to be’, in which the ‘nonbeing’, probably deriving from the mysticism of the Slav writers, is both an obstacle and a calamity to being.
Jordan is Ideologically Confused
Jordan in For Whom the Bell Tolls is a typical Hemingway hero and he suffers from some of the same nightmares as Nick Adams. In his early childhood he had seen a negro being lynched and this human degradation haunts him even now. In Spain, he sees similar atrocities committed by man, whether it be Maria’s tale or Pablo’s exploits. He has made his choice to fight for the Republic in order to safeguard the interests of man, anywhere in the world. In his opinion Fascism constitutes a potential danger to the rights of man and he does not mind laying down his life for the Republic. But as has been made obvious beyond doubt he is not sure of his commitment : he is perhaps still trying to justify his choice. In his moments of doubt he prefers to either dull his senses by liquor, or escape from the necessity of thinking in the arms of Maria. He confesses that he has kept thinking in abeyance for the duration of the war. After the war has been won he will, he thinks, form his judgements. He is as confused as Henry in A Farewell to Arms with the only difference that he has accepted the illusion of a cause which Henry had rejected. At the end of the novel he is merely an individual fighting to protect his beloved whom he has raised to the level of a symbol for Spain.
Life is Defeated
However, this should not blind us to the realities of life as they are presented in the novel. Due to the treachery of Pablo and Pilar’s lack of vigilance he loses his vital equipment, a fact which makes human sacrifices a necessity. He loses a true Christian like Anselmo whose life could have been saved. On his instructions El Sardo goes to steal horses and due to the unseasonal snow he is traced to his hide-out and eventually wiped out by the Fascist planes. The gypsies who do not understand the causes of the war and the motives of Jordan’s sacrifice escape. Jordan also is eventually overtaken by death; and he lies on the floor of the forest waiting for his end. All this bloodshed is rendered, unless for the Fascists have learnt of the attack and they have made the necessary preparations to meet the attack. Jordan’s attempt to get in touch with General Golz reveals on the one hand inefficiency in the Loyalist ranks and on the other the futility of the attempt. Andres Marty thinks that by being given the task of delivering the despatch he has been given a reprieve because all the guerrillas are so depressed by what they have seen of the war that they are convinced that their cause is lost for ever. They are symbol of the desperation that has eaten into their entrails. Pablo is not an exception because El Sardo knows equally well how dangerous Jordan’s plan is : and Pablo tries to oppose him because he is more than ever convinced that the time to make a move from the Guadarrama mountains has not come as yet. Agustin is bored with his stay in the hills and he wants action for the sake of action. He lacks the education which is necessary for a cause to succeed. Pilar knows from the moment she has seen Jordan’s hand that Jordan is bound to die. With the smell of death being so strong in the air, it is quite clear that the forces of life are defeated.
Ideologies Translated Into Physical Combat
Having reduced the opposing forces to a physical combat Hemingway gives the hero enough courage and daring and resolution to enable him to last somehow until the end. Jordan avoids carefully any conflict with Pablo so as not to endanger the success of his mission. Even during the period when the Fascist cavalry are almost knocking at the door of Pablo’s hide-out, Jordan thinks of escaping from there with his explosives. He does not want to fight. He does not let anybody go to help El Sardo in his last fight. He prepares himself for the final effort to blow up the bridge which, as we come to know, does not remain such a necessity. He does it out of a false sense of duty to the Republic and against his better judgement.
Mere Action Replaces a Clear Vision
Hemingway poses the problem of politics but sees no way out. Not that a novelist is compelled to give solutions of the problems that he has posed but in terms of the characters in the story he is under obligation to delineate clearly what their thinking implies. Hemingway at the crucial moment brusquely brushes the vital issues aside and makes the hero take part in action which is breath-taking of course, but it is a literature of evasion. Action must lead to some ‘results, inevitably, but in Hemingway action becomes a substitute for a clear vision of life. It is here, the charge levelled by some critics that the Hemingway hero is incapable of thinking, finds its support.
Jordan Does His Part Well
As Paolini points out the hero in For Whom the Bell Tolls belongs to the category of “Professionals”. He is like Manuel in “The Undefeated” who must perform his duty and whether he lives or dies becomes immaterial. Similarly other values also lose their glamour and charm. He is not after gains, for the real satisfaction must come, in the last analysis, from within. Man must overcome pessimism and find “his own unit of measurement”. Jordan finds his measurement in his satisfaction that he has done his little bit as this is all be could do.
Action Solves No Ethical Problems
As a matter of fact, war solves no ethical problems which Hemingway’s work invariably raises. For the Hemingway hero death becomes an easy solution of the intricate problem of living. Kashkin, a Russian critic, argues that For Whom the Bell Tolls champions “the invigorating and inspring role of work”, but he forgets due to his cultural background and political commitment that work, or action in itself cannot be justified. Work in order to be psychologically satisfying must be a result of inner motivation and not a necessity to deaden one’s inner questioning.
Contradictions in Jordan’s Thinking
Jordan has tried to submerge his individuality in the Loyalist cause but it is very doubtful whether he succeeded, for the Hemingway “hero is usually a great individualist. He has learnt from Karkov, the, Russian journalist, that political conviction is. essential for any meaningful partisan activity ; he has accepted communist discipline for the duration of the war because it is the best, and the communists alone offer the programme that he can accept, and yet he upholds the guiding principles of the American constitution, like equality, liberty, fraternity, and the pursuit of happiness. The Red ideology tells him that there is no such thing as love, and Jordan has experienced genuine love. He has seen what the Loyalist discipline is like and still he fights for these people.
A Sense of Futility Haunts
It is true that in For Whom the Bell Tolls the irresponsibility of the “Lost Generation” is superseded by heroism and a sense of duty and a commitment to the human race yet if this were so in any real sense the futility that overwhelms the hero and the reader would not have been there. The final gloom is absolutely unrelieved ; the human cause is lost for ever on the Spanish soil. Franco’s rule in Spain was a testimony to the author’s vision of the Loyalist cause having been lost for practically all times to come. Even such a strong supporter as Kashkin of the philosophy of action and the solidarity of the human race cannot but admit the futility of the hero’s action :
                He dies not only for Spain, not only to save the girt Maria whom he loves, but also for his own sake and in fulfilment of a moral duty...Jordan knows that to live properly is impossible without ‘going where you have to go and doing what you have to do.’ So his only reward is the consciousness of duty done. And again ‘Winner Takes Nothing’.
At Best Wins Moral Victories
It seems Hemingway had found something to die for and he seems to imply that if you die as Anselmo or Jordan died, then physical death means nothing. You may ask as you breathe your last : “Death, where is thy sting ?”. But this vision faded in the next decade because this commitment to mankind is absent from the next two novels he wrote. They deal with individual problems of the heroes and Hemingway seems to have retreated from his social commitment if it meant the solidarity of all the working people of the world. However, the artist’s role remains to understand and present, which he did admirably. That is what makes his hero a limited achievement because his victories, at last, remain moral ones.

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