Saturday, October 9, 2010

Influences that Moulded Hemingway’s Genius

Cultural and Literary Influences
There are two types of influences that shaped Hemingway’s genius: cultural and literary in their broadest sense. The cultural influences are the same for practically every contemporary writer in a country but it is the way he interprets them in his own personal life that they become significant. It is rather unfortunate that critics talk of literary influences on a writer because when a writer does borrow from his predecessors he has to so completely absorb the material and remould it, almost give it a new birth, that whatever he has borrowed becomes entirely his own and bears the stamp of the author so deep that it is unmistakable.

Cultural Influences
Because Hemingway was born in America he could not escape the political, cultural and social bias of that country. The pursuit of happiness, which for a disillusioned generation came to be interpreted as pursuit of pleasure, is present in Hemingway’s mental make-up and is reflected throughout his works. The influence of his family, by which I mean his father and mother, has left a deep mark on his writings. His mother who was a domineering type of woman had reduced his father to a hen-pecked husband. However hard he might have tried to assert his authority in the family, Hemingway’s books do not reflect any success that his father might have achieved in this direction. Therefore, Hemingway’s portrayal of woman is either a wish-fulfilment or an open condemnation of the aggressive, domineering type of women in the American set-up. He found the wish-fulfilments not in America but abroad. The American woman’s concept had been so vitiated in his mind that he could not think of a single lovable American woman to be introduced into his works. Their role seems to be confined to unmanning the Man and thus humiliating him to a degree that to accept family life in such conditions is a terror for him or he decides to disrupt this union and set out alone on his journey of life. There are instances where the husband has become indifferent to the pleadings of his wife, as in Cat in the Rain, or where the wife has accepted her fate and become passively resistant to the husband’s expectations of her, as in Out of Season.
From his father, Hemingway inherited his love for outdoor life. His most lovable movements are when he is lost in the beauty of the African terrain, in trout fishing or grouse shooting or in deep-sea fishing. His males are sportsmen who have imbibed the benevolent influence of nature in their character so much so that Santiago does not feel lonely even on the high waters off the coast of Cuba. Some of his stories are actually descriptions of trout fishing. Big Two-Hearted River is an account of Nick’s fishing trip and he uses this for therapeutic purposes. If the city and war represent insanity, outdoor life for Hemingway is a road to sanity.
Hemingway in Northern Michigan
Hemingway’s acquaintance with Northern Michigan is also reflected in the early stories, included in the collection called In Our Time. The Indian Camp is Hemingway’s first contact’ with the Indians and perhaps realises at that early age that disparity exists between the life of the Indians and that of the white settlers in America. It is in the Michigan woods that Hemingway had his first experience of sex and he cannot forget the Indian girl Trudie or Prudy. And the yearly escapades that Hemingway enjoyed during his school days produced such classic stories as The Battler or The Mother of a Queen. In Fathers and Sons it is an older Hemingway thinking reminiscently of his early youth.
Dr. Hemingway’s Suicide
One of the incidents that left an indelible impression on Hemingway’s life and writings is the suicide committed by his father, Dr. Clarence Edmonds Hemingway. He recalls it in a number of stories but most prominently in For Whom the Bell Tolls and Fathers and Sons. It is a shame that he had to live with all his life and the only way to cure it was to write about it. He could not write about it in Fathers and Sons but after For Whom the Bell Tolls this incidence was partly obliterated from his mind. In spite of this partial obliteration there was a lurking fear in Hemingway’s mind that he might fall a prey to it himself, a misfortune which unfortunately did happen when Hemingway killed himself in 1961.
The Role of the War
America’s participation in the First World War produced the most classic novel of the war because in the opinion of Orville Prescott A Farewell to Arms is the American novel about the First World War. But for American’s participation in the war there would have been perhaps no The Sun Also Rises or A Farewell to Arms. In Our Time is Hemingway’s reaction to the crass brutality that Hemingway witnessed in the war.
The Depression
It is difficult to enumerate all the influences that operate significantly in the life of an author. The Thirties, which are marked in American history as a period of economic depression, produced To Have and Have Not. It is not a significant novel artistically or aesthetically but it marks an important step in the growth of Hemingway’s personality. It is the beginning of Hemingway’s .awareness of the social dilemmas that faced the American society. It marks a significant step because Hemingway who had withdrawn into individualism during the Twenties emerged out of this shell to have a look at the social problems. It also sets a stage for two subsequent books: The Fifth Column and For Whom the Bell Tolls. Hemingway’s “separate peace” had ended.
Literary Influences
Philip Young has traced the literary influences that have shaped the famous Hemingway style. Hemingway himself has acknowledged that one single book from which all American literature has emerged is Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884). From Huckleberry Finn Hemingway borrowed the language that .an American boy would speak. In that book he found the poetry of the open spaces and freshness of the American speech. The typically American style first appeared in Huckleberry Finn. There is a parallel development in Hemingway’s Nick and Mark Twain’s Huck. They trace the influence of violence, corruption and death on the life of two young American boys : Huck and Nick. The intensity, terseness, unliterary tone, vivid dialogue in Hemingway’s style can also be found in Stephen Crane. Hemingway has also acknowledged this debt in Green Hills of Africa.
Stay in Paris
Gertrude Stein’s influence on Hemingway’s style has already been mentioned. In Paris, Hemingway met such important literary figures as F Scott Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound, Ford Madox Ford, D. H. Lawrence, James Joyce and even T. S. Eliot. They helped him to free his style from cliches and superficially decorative metaphor. He learnt to, use the simplest possible words and to produce the effect that he wanted with their help. Ring Lardner was a popular writer when Hemingway was still at school. Hemingway’s earlier attempts are in the imitation of Ring Lardner. Hemingway has also stated that he learnt considerably from Joseph Conrad. In Hemingway’s words, he would resurrect Conrad by sprinking the powdered T. S. Eliot on the former’s grave. There is a remarkable parallel between My Old Man and Sherwood Anderson’s I Want to Know Why. Hemingway has denied that he borrowed from I Want to Know Why, but if Hemingway is speaking .the truth it is a strange coincidence indeed !
Scott Fitzgerald was a celebrated writer in the early Twenties. And when he came to Paris, Hemingway met him as if he were meeting a great celebrity. The meeting described in A Moveable Feast without any reverence and he shows Fitzgerald to be a pathetic figure. In his A Moveable Feast, Zelda Fitzgerald is shown to be a. neurotic woman who was out to destroy her husband’s genius. In The Snows of Kilimanjaro the protagonist reflects certain aspects of Fitzgerald and his private life. The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber is Hemingway’s version of The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane. In Green Hills of Africa three names mentioned most prominently as great American authors are : Henry James, Stephen Crane and Mark Twain. A little later he mentions Kipling as a man with talent, and Flaubert with discipline. The tragic aspect of Hemingway’s writing reflects the strong influence of the Russian writers Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. Dostoevsky’s pre-occupations with sin is faintly recalled, in Santiago’s reflections upon the nature of sin. Philip Young mentions the parallel between Dante’s use of the leopard as a symbol and Hemingway’s use of it in The Snows of Kilimanjaro. Ambrose Bierce’s An Occurrence at Owl’ Creek Bridge might lave influenced Hemingway in imagining the situation where a writer faces his own death and the realisation that he has not used his talent productively. Philip Young observes “Both stories open with the situation of impending death, then flash. back to explain how the situation came about and then flash “forward” with the imaginary escape, only to conclude with the objective information that the death has indeed occurred.”
Smell of the Museums
In the words of Gertrude Stein, Hemingway looked like a modern but smelt of the museums. Perhaps she meant that Hemingway had read widely before he began practising his craft. Edmund Wilson and Alfred Kazin disagree with Gertrude Stein on this point because according to Alfred Kazin, Hemingway “had no basic relation to any pre-war culture.” Whatever may be the debt that Hemingway owed to any of the earlier novelists and writers, it is certain that whatever he borrowed has become undeniably his own. The Hemingway style has very few parallels in the pre-war writing and if there are resemblances. they are coincidental. One must accept that Hemingway forged a new style and a new medium to convey the post-war sensibility and experiences. The past, wherever borrowed, becomes significant in the light of Hemingway’s own experiences. As said earlier no writer is free from the cultural, social and literary influences of the period in which he lives. And if present history is a result of the past events, then the past is bound to relive in the writings of the present. It is only in this sense that. Hemingway borrowed from earlier writers.

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