Saturday, October 9, 2010

Hemingway’s World and the Themes in His Writings

Hemingway Stays in the Limelight
With the advantage of hind-sight, one can look at Hemingway’s: writing dispassionately and see its significance but during his life time when Hemingway himself was a legend it was difficult to have the perspective that we can gain now. For about four decades that he dominated the literary scene he aroused highest admiration as well as great animosities. But he was seldom neglected. So exuberant was his personality that he would not let the critics ignore him.

Obsessed By Violence
Beginning with the earliest stories that appeared in little magazines in the Twenties one can see that he was fascinated with violence whether it be in the woods of Michigan or on the battle-front in Europe. In the words of Philip Young : “Hemingway’s world is one in which things do not grow and bear fruit, but explode, break, decompose, or are eaten away.” In Up in Michigan he describes the disillusionment suffered by a virgin in her first sexual intercourse. In Indian Camp a Caesarean operation is performed on a young Indian wife without administering anaesthesia. The invalid husband who watched the whole operation could bear it no longer and therefore cut his throat from ear to ear with a sharp razor. In The End of Something a boy-and-girl affair comes to an end. In The Battler he narrates the experiences of a young boy who has been knocked off a moving freight-car and then he meets a professional prize-fighter and his negro companion who have decided to withdraw from society because they are outcasts. Nick meets evil in its nakedness and is shocked. In A Very Short Story an American soldier after being frustrated in love goes for a taxi ride with a sales girl and becomes a victim of the dreaded disease gonorrhea. In Soldier’s Home Krebs returns home to find that life is too complicated. He wants to live a life without any consequences. He finds that he is no longer in “God’s Kingdom”. His war experiences have given him a glimpse of reality and there is a danger of this vision being lost in the smooth, cultured life of his native town. His dominant experience is that of nausea. And so on and so forth. What one can make out of this is that the American. adolescent has come face to face with the brutality of life and in this corrupt world, he realizes, it is no longer possible to have a decent, self-respecting and dignified life. It is this vision that Hemingway portrays in most of the early stories. It is the end of love, end of human dignity, end of personal relationships and a realisation that man is all alone in the world and he has to fend for himself. It is the realisation that the ultimate reality is nothing but nada, a Spanish word which means “nothingness”.
Meaninglessness of Life
The solution to this vision of nada is not easy to come by The Sun Also Rises portrays a few American and British youngmen whose experiences of the war are qualitatively not different from those of Nick Adams and Jake Barnes and they are lost in a world which they do not understand. They seek solace in drink and sex and in a n endless round of merry-making. Their meaningless wanderings in “Paris and later in Pamplona are the equivalents of their confused minds which have failed to find any guiding principles in life. Bull-fighting for them becomes a symbol of life in which the matador demonstrates how a man facing death can retain dignity. As a matter of fact, it is in the face of danger and confrontation with death that they show courage, so that they can lead a life in which they can respect themselves. There is a vague realisation on the part of these expatriates that they cannot implement the matador’s code in their lives because the wounds inflicted by the war will take quite some time to heal.
Confrontation With Death
In A Farewell to Arms Henry realises that his idealism which had guided him to the front is meaningless in the face of total destruction symbolized by the war. Whether he performs his duty or not ; it does not make any material difference to the unit to which he belongs. The, endless round of drinking and brothels is equally futile because he cannot find any object to which he could align himself and seek some sort of satisfaction that could give some meaning to his life. His love affair with Catherine Barkley is a temporary relief from the inner disquiet and finally with the death of Catherine he is no better off than the dog nosing in the dust-bin for something to eat but where there is nothing for him to find. His own wound had almost but killed him. But in his survival he carried the vision of death and this debt he paid later on in Across the River and Into the Trees.
Separate Peace Ends
To Have and Have Not is Hemingway’s account of his social awareness, his becoming alive to the problems of the common man in America. The rich deprive the poor of their rightful earnings and) set them on to the road to crime and delinquency. The final lesson that no man alone has any chance against the economic and political forces that mould his life may be a valid insight theoretically but artistically the novel is a failure. Hemingway’s condemnation of the rich borders on propaganda and sloganeering. In a wider perspective the book makes a valuable contribution to the evolution of Hemingway’s thought. He began to realise that “separate peace` is no solution to human problems.
Social Criticism
The Fifth Column and For Whom the Bell Tolls reveal Hemingway’s incapacity to deal with complex social end political problems. He reverts back to man’s isolation and the code of endurance, courage and a life of senses once again. It is a. retrogressive step on the one hand and on the other it reveals Hemingway’s limitations as a social critic. If literature is a criticism of society and life, and if a writer fails to portray the life and society around him truthfully it reveals a basic weakness in the writer’s perception.
Death : The Final Reality
In Across the River and Into the Trees and The Old Man and Sea Sat Hemingway confirms this assessment. He is pre-occupied with the problem of old age and how one can still be a man when the physical powers that he had idealised decline. Colonel Cantwell is Henry A Farewell to Arms grown old. His old scars and obsessions are still there but to them has been added the bitterness of another war. He is still addicted to drink, sex and shooting. In the Old Man and the Sea Santiago, a heroic figure, refuses to yield, to the omnipotent forces of nature but he retains his dignity. He is still undefeated even though his prize has been snatched from him.
In this brief summary one can hardly be expected to bring out all the delicate and fine shades of effects that Hemingway can produce but what is most obvious is, according to Orville Prescott : “Most of its inhabitants lead a life of sensation only, usually mistaking sexual desire for love, devoting themselves to excitement rather than positive achievement. Uninterested in ideas or, ideals,, they value courage above all other virtues and admire physical skill more than any other accomplishment, particularly when skill and courage can be combined in one activity such as in bull-fighting or lion-hunting.”
A Narrow Vision
It is a narrow vision which focuses on a small segment of the twentieth-century world. One wonders whether there are no emotions. besides love-making and bull-fighting Or big-game hunting. Again, one cannot understand why in his world the type of character that is admired the most is a solitary figure pitched against superior forces whatever they be, and the winner carries nothing with him except dignity and the consolation that he faught well. Why is the cult of violence being elevated to a religion ? According to Philip Young “Nowhere in this writer (Hemingway) can you find the mature brooding intelligence, the sense of the pad, the grown-up relationships of adult people, and many other things we normally ask of a first-rate novelist. Only battles, or their preludes or aftermaths, and Hemingway hypnotized by the one note he sounds.”
A Representative World
Whatever one may say of this narrow, vision, and small, cast of characters one must admit that the world that Hemingway has portrayed is unrecognizably a part of the modern world. The violence of war is still with us. And added to it is the anxiety and fear of the ‘cold war’ that seems to have become part and parcel of the twentieth-century life. His pre-occupation with violence, death and decay may be neurotic but it is undeniably a part of the twentieth century temper. The lack of morality and the growth of solipsism are with us to stay. There are no religious values that can provide balm to the troubled mind. Philip Young and Orville Prescott agree that Hemingway had a prophetic vision that predicted the twentieth century world and life for us so poignantly. In the words of Philip Young : “It is a hell of a world, and we should protest it. But on the other hand we should be hard-pressed to prove that it is not the one we inhabit. While other writers were watching the side acts, Hemingway’s eyes were from the start riveted on the main show.” The devout ask for peace in our time but-ironically there is no peace in our time. This is the vision that Hemingway has presented in his novels and short stories and it will be difficult to refute its authenticity so long as our world is going to be haunted by the fear of a thermo-nuclear war.

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