Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Hemingway Hero

Critics have succeeded in dividing Hemingway’s major characters into two categories : the Hemingway hero, and the Code hero––Earl Rovit calls them “the tyro” and “the tutor”. The Hemingway hero is either a young boy or a young man and is, learning to live in the world where there is chaos, violence, uncertainty and anxiety.

Passive in Nature
The First World War had destroyed the values cherished by the 19th Century. The psychological effect of this moral crash was that the hero felt confused and bewildered in a world that is dominated by violence and death. The increasing beaurocratisation of modern life, industry and government, leaves the individual practically very few choices and he feels more like a pawn to be manipulated and pushed around than an individual who is a free’ being and has the freedom to make significant choices. The possibilities of heroism in a world of this type are few and limited. It goes to Hemingway’s credit that in spite of environmental limitations he created characters who came to grip with the problems as best as they could and asserted themselves in face of big obstacles.
Exposed to Violence
It cannot be denied that these heroes like Nick Adams, Jake Barnes and Frederic Henry are bewildered, frustrated victims of one sort or another but their greatness lies in the fact that they make a sincere effort in order to evolve a hierarchy of values which will guide them in the course of their lives. In the words of Sean O’Faolain : “The only modern writer of real distinction for whom the hero does in some form, still live”, is Hemingway., The Hemingway hero is an honest and virile youngman but very sensitive. He is an outdoor man and he has got a lot of courage but the is very nervous. It is not difficult to understand why he is so nervous and sensitive. He has seen hundreds of people killed or wounded, bloody bodies disfigured beyond recognition and helmets full of oozing-out brains. He has seen Caesarean operations being performed without an anaesthetic, human relations coming to an end, evil in its most brutal and undisguised form. He has seen bulls and matadors gored to death. He has been witness to executions of helpless and innocent men :
                They shot the six cabinet ministers at half past six in the morning against the wall of a hospital. There were pools of water in the courtyard. There were dead leaves on the paving of the courtyard. It rained hard. All the shutters of the hospital were nailed shut. One of the ministers was sick with typhoid. Two soldiers carried him downstairs and out into the rain. They tried to hold him up against the wall but he sat down in a puddle of water. The other five stood very quietly against the wall. Finally the officer told the soldiers it was no good trying to make him stand up. When they fired the first volley lie was sitting down in the water with his head on his knees.
Clash Between the Individual and the Environment
The Hemingway hero has grown up in this world of stark barbarism. He cannot lead the life of a gentleman that was the ideal of the nineteenth-century culture. He has to utilize his own resources and forge a new code of ethics which can give a direction and meaning to his life. It should not be mistaken that he is a primitive because the search for meaning is the privilege of an intellectual. Nick Adams is the son of a doctor, Jake Barnes is a journalist, Lt. Henry is a student of architecture and Robert Jordan is a teacher of Spanish at an American college. Their thinking apparatus is highly developed but it is their environment that does not permit them to function as they would like to, Consequently, they lead a life of the senses : drink, sex, travel and so on.
Confrontation With Nothingness
They all feel there is a certain void within them. They have learnt that to show fear is worse than being afraid. Therefore, they have developed a stiff upper lip in their manner and the art of understatement in their philosophy. They realise that the nature of personal relationship is extremely temporal and to look for permanence in human relations is to meet disappointment. They also rely heavily on a sort of ritual that would exist by and for itself. It is a ritual of the bull-fighter, or of the fisherman, or of the big­-game hunter which they want to imbibe. They have seen nothingness at the centre of the world. They are in despair but they are not desperate. They have learnt to come to some sort of compromise with this nothingness.
Exiled From America
Most of the Hemingway’s heroes are rootless, or in other words they have moved away from their native culture and as they live in an alien world they are homeless. This may be true literally as well as metaphorically. Nick Adams has moved from the security of a sheltered life at home into the war-theatre of Europe. Jake Barnes, an American, is wandering aimlessly in Paris and Spain. Frederic Henry is an American in the Italian Army fighting for a cause that he does not understand. Robert Jordan, although a devoted worker, is not sure of his political affiliations because he finds that the Fascists are not all black and the Loyalists not all white.
Most of these characters have had a sort of common childhood in which they have seen Negroes being lynched, Indians leading a sub-human life, and their fathers have somehow betrayed them by committing suicide. As a matter of fact, the violence they saw in Europe is not much different from the violence they saw at home.
Outdoor Characters
Their interest in outdoor life gives some justification for their existence. The snow-swept slopes where they ski are a symbol of the freedom that they seek in their lives. Their delight in fishing sometimes cures them of the traumatic fears that haunt them. They drink heavily to quieten the anxiety that they feel at heart and also the drink, that is the giant killer, is an antidote to insomnia. They have a mortal fear of loneliness because it forces their thoughts upon them, more forcefully than when they are in company. They seek the company of women sometimes for itself and sometimes as a means to some higher end.
Style of Life
Since these people hive seen the consequences into which the rhetorical and pompous language of the politicians has led them they have developed a distaste for it. They are highly suspicious of the spoken word because as soon as an emotion is expressed in words they believe it is lost. Their sentences are clipped and short. Their conversation seems to have proceeded in a form of shorthand which has characteristically come to be associated with Hemingway’s style. Most of their emotional utterances are understatements. When Henry wishes for the doctor’s return toward the close of A Farewell to Arms, it is simply an understatement for the fear that has clutched his heart regarding Catherine’s survival.
Emergence of New Values
Since all the pre-war values are dead they are looking for a new code in their lives. They have learnt to bear pain ; therefore, to cry in pain would be a violation of the code. Endurance occupies perhaps the top place in the hierarchy of their values. They also give great importance to a code of personal ethics in which they respect fellow sufferers, do not betray them and show heroic courage in the face of dancer or death. In the words of Philip Young, this hero represents “disillusionment and break with respectability”. The Hemingway hero is a defeated victim but in experiencing his defeat: he weaves an invisible armour so that he remains undefeated if and when the catastrophes do actually occur. They are symbols of shocked sensibility of the twentieth-century man. In the words of Earl Rovit : “The tyro, faced with the overwhelming confusion of the heart [NADA] inherent in an attempt to live an active sensual life, admires the deliberate self-containment of the tutor (a much ‘simple man’) who is seemingly not beset with inner uncertainties. Accordingly, the tyro tries to model his behaviour on the pattern he discerns. However, the tyro is not a simple man ; being in fact a very near projection of Hemingway, himself, he is never able to attain the state of serene unselfconsciousness––what Henry James once called nastily ‘the deep intellectual repose’–that seems to come naturally to the tutor. What he can learn, however, is the appearance of that self-containment. He can laboriously train himself in the conventions of the appearance which is ‘the code’ and he can so severely practise those external restraints as to be provided with a pragmatic defense against horrors that never ease to assault him.”
Twentieth-century heroes are either anti-heroes or non-heroes or occasionally victims. Dignity is almost an impossibility in our time. These outsiders, rebels or victims are embodiments of viable attitudes towards life and dignity that still eludes them.

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