Saturday, October 9, 2010

What Is Hemingway’s special contribution to the art of the novel?

A Spokesman of the Age
Hemingway, by writing of the condition of the modern man and his agonized and futile responses to the calamities that befell him, carved a niche for himself in the temple of immortality. The Swedish Committee set the stamp of approval on him by awarding him the Nobel Prize in 1954, even though he did not come up to the ideals of the philanthropist. Primarily the learned committee commended his contribution to the style of modern narration especially in The Old Man and the Sea yet they had in their minds Hemingway’s writings of the last thirty years. The literature of the Twenties would be poorer for the loss of The Sun Also Rises and A Farewell to Arms. For Whom the Bell Tolls remains a landmark in American fiction of the Forties.

Revitalises the Novel
The nineteenth-century fiction with its overwhelming emphasis on realism had more or less come to a dead end. It needed revitalisation. And some fresh blood had already been injected into its veins by powerful writers like Henry James, D. H. Lawrence, Joseph Conrad and others but it remained for Hemingway to revive the dying art of the novel and give it a new lease of life.
A New Style
Hemingway in his apprenticeship as a journalist had learnt to be sceptical of decoration, embellishment, flowery language and metaphorical fat. He brought to fiction the colloquial style of speech to serve literary ends. His sentences were short and crisp. They were usually not qualified because when they are qualified the reader’s attention is diverted from the main clause. Therefore, in Hemingway’s early style in the Twenties one finds a sort of machine gun burst of short sentences, sometimes linked by a conjunction “and” or “but” going directly to its target. This style, in part imitation of the Bible, is an excellent medium for expressing an exact but limited truth. The language may be bleak and bane but there is poetry in it. His prose rhythms have transformed the staccato rattle into the liquid, cadenced ripple of his later works. Compare the following two paragraphs :
                He liked the girls that were walking along the other side of the street. He liked the look of them’ much better than the French girl or the German girls. But the world they were in was not the world he was in. He would like to have one of them. But it was not worth it. They were such a nice pattern. He liked the pattern. It was exciting. But he would not go through all the talking. He did not want one badly enough. He liked to look at them although. It was not worth it. Not now when things were getting good again.
(Soldier’s Home)
                        Walking carefully, downhill, Anselmo in the lead, Agustin next, Robert Jordan placing his feet carefully so that he would not slip, feeling the dead pine needles under his rope-soled shoes, bumping a tree root with one foot and putting a hand forward and feeling the cold metal jut of the automatic rifle barrel and the folded legs of the tripod. then working sideways down the hill, his shoes sliding and grooving the forest floor, putting his left hand out again and touching the rough bark of a tree trunk, then as he braced himself, his hand feeling a smooth place, the base of the palm of his hand coming away sticky from the resinous sap where a blaze had been cut, they dropped down the steep wooded hill side to the point above the bridge where Robert Jordan had Anselmo watched the first day.
(For Whom the Bell Tolls)
Two Styles Compared
If the first passage reflects the newly forged medium to express an intense emotional response to a brutal, animalistic and chilly world the second is a specimen of grace and poise in which the author seems to have acquired a peculiar vision of the world but a vision nonetheless. His preoccupation with action is reflected in his earlier style as well as in his later style. It moves in a rhythmic pattern in which the reader’s attention is focused on the action all the time but he can afford to relax occasionally.
Unique Ability to Transmit Experience
Whether he was writing in the Twenties or in the Fifties he reflects a youthful response to light, colour, form, and atmosphere of particular places that he has visited and which he is utilizing in his novels and short stories. He remains one of the supreme masters who have the unique ability to transfer on paper what they have felt and experienced. In the last period of his life when he wrote The Old Man and the Sea he brought about a synthesis of the controlled style of the early Twenties and the relaxed style of the Thirties. In The Old Man and the Sea one can sense the austerity of the biblical style and at the same time the beauty of the world that has charmed him :
                He no longer dreamed of storms, nor of women, nor of great fish, nor fights, nor contests of strength, nor of his wife. He only dreamed of places now and of the lions on the beach. They played like young cats in the (tusk and he loved them as he loved the boy. He never dreamed about the boy. He simply woke, looked out the open door at the moon and unrolled his trousers and put them on. He urinated outside the shack and then went up the road to wake the boy. He was shivering with the morning cold. But he knew he would shiver himself warm and that soon he would be rowing.
(The Old Man and the Sea)
Maintains High Standards
Throughout his life he did not let his standards for the exact word, the concrete statement and his concentration on the physical world of things relax. He makes a scene so real, that we can almost smell the pine-covered slopes or the surf on a sea-beach. In A Farewell to Arms the fall is vividly depicted in Chapter 1, and the famous Caporetto retreat remains a landmark in realistic technique. Similarly, El Sardo’s last stand on the hill-top creates on the mind of the reader an impression not very different from that of a coloured movie.
A Mastery on Dialogue
To this admirable gift of his he brought another talent : the art of writing dialogue. His ear, because of its somewhat erratic training in music that he might have received from his mother, was a very sensitive device to catch the peculiarities of accents of various speakers. He also captured their speech rhythms. They are not literally transferred on to the paper but they are transformed into brilliant dialogue by the unique process of artistic transformation. He shunned all authorial comments and let the conversation convey to the reader what it stands for by itself. If an authorial comment, in Hemingway’s opinion, is needed then the writer has not visualised the scene or listened attentively to the conversation that he is putting on paper. He applied to prose the kinaesthetic test that Robert Jordan felt when he heard Maria’s story.
Pilar Among Memorable Characters
Hemingway has created some of the most memorable characters of our time. Beginning with Prick Adams who is a symbol of the twentieth-century shocked sensibility, to Santiago in The Old Man .and the Sea his characters are individuals and at the same time representative of a whole generation of men and women whom they portray. Orville Prescott thinks : “It is the guerrilla chieftain’s wife, the super-woman Pilar, who alone survives in memory and who will continue to do so as long as the bitter courage and heroic defiance of the Spanish, people in the civil war are not forgotten. Pilar is Mr. Hemingway’s only triumphant feat of characterization” On My Opinion, p. 67).
Many Memorable Characters
One cannot agree with Orville Prescott entirely because in Leslie Fiedler’s opinion Brett Ashley (in The Sun Also Rises) is the only al female character in Hemingway’s fiction. Again, Carlos Baker thinks that Margot Macomber is a perfect representative of the predatory Anglo-American bitches and at the same time an individual. Whatever be her morality and her code of ethic she is certainly a living character and will last as long as Hemingway’s stories are read. Similarly, Manuel in “The undefeated”, not only exists as a symbol of the undefeated human spirit but also as an individual whom we see charging at the bull with a sword in his hand forgetting all the pain of a broken wrist. Even characters like Count Greffi or Dr. Valentini in A Farewell to Arms make much deeper impact upon us than what their brief appearance, in the novel warrants.
Cyclic Plots
Hemingway’s plots are extremely simple. With the exception of For Whom the Bell Tolls in which social and political forces are introduced and_ they play very important roles in the lives of the main characters, the rest of the novels have very simple plots. They depict one or two major characters, their ordeals, their disappointments and their failures and their vain or successful struggle to achieve a measure of dignity. The novels end usually at a point where they begin. Jake Barnes love for Brett Ashley cannot be consummated because of his physical injury. At the end of the novel he has gained a measure of maturity and learnt to live without love but the love still remains unconsummated. Similarly, in A Farewell to Arms one crazy lover (Catherine Barkley) at the beginning of the novel is replaced by another shocked lover (Frederic Henry). In For Whom the Bell Tolls, Maria carries the wound of having loved and lost which is as deep as the shock of rape committed by the Fascists. Robert Jordan’s attempt to blowup the bridge, in spite of his success, is an exercise in futility because the Fascists have already known of the Republicans’ plan of launching an offensive and they have already carried their reinforcements across the bridge which Robert Jordan is supposed to destroy just before the offensive. In his last novel, The Old Man and the Sea, Santiago returns as empty-handed after three days of his ordeal on the sea as when he set out hopefully on the eighty­fifth day.
Characters Grow Up
Carlos Baker calls the plots of Hemingway’s novels cyclic but if they were cyclic there would be no insight obtained in the course of the action depicted in the novels. It would be far better to say that the plots of his novels are spirallic rather than cyclic, because in a spiral there is a difference of level even when one comes to the starting point and it indicates the maturity of the main character, as a result of the action. The main character grows in stature in the course of the novel.
Now Becomes Eternal
In Green Hills of Africa, Hemingway mentions that an author can. attain fourth and fifth dimensions in prose if he is sincere enough and lucky too. Critics have not reached any definite conclusion as to what he meant by the fourth and fifth dimensions. However, there is some agreement that the fourth or fifth dimension could mean the raising of “now” to the level of eternal now. By concentrating on the present and the intensity of its experience, the “now” becomes “eternal now”. And in this intensity of experience the participants share their experience with people in other times and at other places who have had or will have similar experiences. They share with these people a sort of mystical union and a sort of immortality not very unsimilar to what Robert Jordan has experienced in his love for Maria.
Fragile Affirmation
Hemingway tried to be a realist all his life. But as time went by he moved toward some affirmation from his earlier near-nihilism and this is reflected in the deeper layers of his prose narration. He has utilized the techniques of irony, allusion, extended metaphor, symbolism, and even myth to connote meanings that are not apparent on the surface. Frederic Henry’s experience of the First World War reflects the experience of ‘the whole American nation which was betrayed by the politician. Jake Barnes’ experience as embodied in The Sun Also Rises is the experience of a whole generation––the lost generation, the American expatriates wandering aimlessly in the cities of Europe. Again, his use of rain as a symbol in A Farewell to Arms is highly suggestive. Rain in itself is no evil but the way it is associated with Henry’s misfortunes and finally. Catherine’s death it becomes a symbol of disaster, death, defeat anti decay. His use of the hyena and the vulture as symbols for artistic betrayal in “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” suggests a new dimension in his art. Even a short scene in A Farewell to Arms, in which Frederic Henry empties his glass on a burning log of wood so that he may have his whisky and by this action kill hundreds of ants prematurely, even though they were born to die, becomes a symbol of man’s fate in a deterministic universe. There is “no exist” for any of us but we all try to make our little contributions to the welfare of the, human race. That is why one should not ask for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.­
His Vision of Nada
More than all these, Hemingway is one of the supreme spokesmen of the twentieth-century man. His vision of Nada––nothingness––penetrates to the depth of the existential dilemma that man faces today. Man is lonely, and he has seen that the world is purposeless and that there is no meaning beyond what meaning man gives to his life. Action is to be performed for its own sake and it is its own justification. There are no gods or superhuman agencies that will support man in an hour of crisis. If man is to live meaningfully, he must evolve a code for himself based upon the empirical evidence of his senses. There is no life beyond the grave and therefore one must realise one’s identity in this life on earth. It is the picture of a solitary man in an indifferent universe that Hemingway seems to project in his novels and short stories. Jordan, in the last scene of For Whom the Bell Tolls is a symbol of “the lonely rebel” whose despair is unrelieved by any hope. Love, drink, religion, community life––all are no good. It is a stark and bare statement of a stark and bare truth ; and it is not easy to be reconciled to this vision of nothingness and meaninglessness. One can occasionally seek comfort in fishing or love-making or drinking or the company of friends but man is basically alone. But Hemingway is no nihilist for his is an art of affirmation.
Affirmation in Art
It is his devotion to art that ultimately redeems him from nihilism. It. is his craft that gives him the scope for creativity and his sense of identity. It is an art .that he wants to practise without fakery and without tricks. He wants it to bee the religion of a creative artist and it will give him the justification for his life. Similarly, even, when the winner takes nothing he attains dignity in the manner of his losing like Robert Jordan. This is where the matador, the artist, and the ordinary man become one ; and one can face life as the matador does in the bull-ring.
High Quality Art
Hemingway has not written much and the impact that he has made on the reading public is far too great as compared to the volume of his work. But they are chiselled jewels and in the service of his art he has spared no pains and in spite of the limitations that Earl Rovit mentions he has achieved almost a permanent place in the history of the twentieth-century novel.

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