Literary Analysis of Ernest Hemingway Free Essay Example

April 13, 2022 by Essay Writer

Stewart, Matthew C (2000) quite rightly points out that: If literary quality is a register of how deeply an author has felt the subject matter about which he writes, then Hemingway felt very deeply about his war experiences, for these are some of his finest stories. They are “In Another Country,” “Now I Lay Me,” and “A Way You’ll Never Be. ” The first story very clearly anticipates A Farewell to Arms in its opening paragraph, its setting and the themes it raises.

It depicts the ruined lives of wounded soldiers in a hospital, in particular the physical therapy of the American narrator and an Italian major.

It is clear that the physical therapy is useless and that some sort of metaphysical, perhaps spiritual, therapy would be more fundamentally valuable for the psychically battered men. The second story, as stated above, depicts Nick and an Italian soldier lying awake at night near the front, unable to sleep. The American narrator dreads sleeping because he fears that his soul will leave his body.

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The final story depicts Nick Adams returning to the Italian front as a would-be morale booster, but he has been shot, receiving a head-wound that has rendered him barely able to control himself at the front.

Indeed, his principal task is to hold onto his sanity. These three war stories are remarkable for their literary quality, for their high degree of autobiographical resonance, and for the way they illuminate A Farewell to Arms and each other. Most to the immediate purpose, however, is to assert that they constitute additional early evidence that Nick Adams was severely traumatized by the war.

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Lynn and Crews build a version of Hemingway as a world-renowned, middle-aged author pulling the wool over the eyes of friends and critics during the forties and fifties.

Twenty-five years after the fact, they maintain, Hemingway fabricates the idea that the war affected him. Yet “In Another Country” and “Now I Lay Me” were composed only two years after “Big Two-Hearted River,” and “A Way You’ll Never Be” was composed in mid-1932. These are Nick Adams stories; they are set at the war; they show Nick as physically and psychically wounded. The opening pages of “Now I Lay Me” even echo many particulars of “Big Two-Hearted River,” including the central action of trout fishing as psychic restoration.

Hemingway’s finest explorations of the human consequences of war. Hemingway discussed his war nightmares with his first wife in the 1920s for the same reason? Hemingway as both young and middle-aged man undoubtedly kidded, exaggerated, misled, pulled legs, manipulated, hoaxed, and lied. But the existence of these early war stories argues strongly against the idea that Hemingway decided to lay claim to the importance of the war in his work belatedly and factitiously.

The incapacity to find his way through questions he cannot solve, his reticence the admission of his own weakness, those familiar steps on the path of the individualist–bring Hemingway’s contemporary to desertion on principle. The theme of desertion is not new to Hemingway. Long ago Nick Adams fled from his home town, then he fled to the front. But here too the brave arditti decorated with all sorts of medals is a potential deserter at heart. For example, that if all the stories about Nick Adams were collected and entitled “In Our Time” they would not have the structure which In Our Time does have.

“The Killers” and “Now I Lay Me” might fit, but “Fathers and Sons” and “A Way You’ll Never Be” would not. Hemingway’s favorite hero-ever the same under his changing names–and you begin to realize that what had seemed the writer’s face is but a mask, and by degrees you begin to discern a different face, that of Nick Adams, Tenente Henry, Jake Barnes, Mr. Johnson, Mr. Frazer. Hemingway shows us how complicated he is by his very attempts to be simple.

A tangle of conflicting strains and inconsistencies, a subtle clumsiness, a feeling of doubt and unrest are to be seen even in Hemingway’s earlier books as early as his presentation of Nick Adams’s cloudless young days, but as he proceeds on the way of artistic development these features show increasingly clear and the split between Hemingway and reality widens. Closely following the evolution of his main hero you can see how at first Nick Adams is but a photo film fixing the whole of life in its simplest tangible details.

Then you begin to discern Nick’s ever growing instinct of blind protest, at which the manifestations of his will practically stop. The well trained athletic body is full of strength, it seeks for moments of tension that would justify this sort of life and finds them in boxing and skiing, in bull fighting and lion hunting, in wine and women. He makes a fetish of action for action, he revels in “all that threatens to destroy. ” But the mind shocked by the war, undermined by doubt, exhausted by a squandered life, the poor cheated, hopelessly mixed up mind fails him.

The satiated man with neither meaning nor purpose in life is no longer capable of a prolonged consecutive effort. “You oughtn’t to ever do anything too long” and we see the anecdote of the lantern in the teeth of the frozen corpse grow into a tragedy of satiety when nothing is taken in earnest any longer, when “there is no fun anymore. ” Action turns into its reverse, into the passive pose of a stoic, into the courage of despair, into the capacity of keeping oneself in check at any cost, no longer to conquer, but to give away, and that smilingly.

The figure of Jake mutilated in the war grows into a type. It is the type of a man who has lost the faculty of accepting all of life with the spontaneous case of his earlier days. For example the wounded Nick says to Rinaldi”You and me we’ve made a separate peace. We’re not patriots. ” Tenente Henry kills the Italian sergeant when the latter, refusing to fulfill his order, renounces his part in the war, but inwardly he is a deserter as well and on the following day we actually see him desert. “In the fall the war was always there, but we did not go to it any more” ( “In Another Country”).

This theme of sanctioned treason, or desertion in every form, so typical of the “extreme individualist, recurs throughout Hemingway’s work. But to learn to do it is no easy job, especially for one whose sight is limited by the blinders of sceptical individualism. Life is too complicated and full of deceit. The romance of war had been deceit, it is on deceit that the renown of most writers rests. The felicity of the Eliot couple is but self-deceit; Jake is cruelly deceived by life; for Mr. Frazer everything is deceit or self-deceit, everything is dope–religion, radio, patriotism, even bread.

There is despair in the feeling of impending doom, and morbidity in the foretaste of the imminent loss of all that was dear. All stories if continued far enough end in death, and he is no true-story teller who would keep that from you. Especially do all stories of monogamy end in death, and your man who is monogamous while he often lives most happily, dies in the most lonesome fashion. There is no lonelier man in death except the suicide, than that man who has lived many years with a good wife and then outlives her. If two people love each other there can be no happy end to it.

” A variety of later stories– ‘The Revolutionist,”In Another Country,”A Simple Enquiry,”Now I Lay Me,”A Way You’ll Never Be’–affirm the various phases of Hemingway’s thesis: the suffering of the war, the resistances and defenses of his people, their ways of ignoring the scene around them which apparently they cannot control. The depression of the nineteen-thirties was thus a sort of shock to our writers, rather like the insulin treatment in modern therapy, which brought them back from the shadows of apathy to American life at best, and active hostility at worst.

This much of the expression of the thirties Hemingway anticipates in his own withdrawal and return to our common life, though the pattern will vary with our other literary figures, and with John Dos Passos and William Faulkner we have both an apparent exception to the rule and a real one. But we cannot deny that if the return to social sanity through shock is better than no return, it is in the end a method of desperation rather than a counsel of perfection.

Our Americans are also to show its effect in their work of the decade, as Hemingway has already. The crisis of the new age has caught him well along in his career. Can he discover, who has discovered so much and left much unsaid, the genuine method of unifying his work and his times, the fusion of the ‘I’ and the ‘we’ which will further illuminate the tragic impulses he has made his own? We recall the phrase which summarized Hemingway’s solitary position: ‘a way you’ll never be.’

With such native capacities, the inheritance of wisdom and eloquence, the sense of bottomless intuitions we often have with Hemingway, the prophetic texture which marks his talent, will Hemingway now find a way to be? For what a marvelous teacher Hemingway is, with all the restrictions of temperament and environment which so far define his work! What could he not show us of living as well as dying, of the positives in our being as well as our destroying forces, of ‘grace under pressure’ and the grace we need with no pressures, of ordinary life-giving actions along with those superb last gestures of doomed exiles!

Tenente Henry enjoys the definite, clear-cut relations between people, the good comradeship “We felt held together by there being something that had happened, that they did not understand,” and the feeling of risk while it lasts. But soon along with the debacle at Caporetto he finds himself faced by the cruelty of the rear, choked by its lies and filth, hurt by the hatred of the working people to gli ufficiali. And as his shellshock had lost him his sleep so does the stronger shock of war make him a different man.

By the time the war is over he has learned to discern “liars that lie to nations” and to value their honeyed talk at what it is worth. Year after year Hemingway steadily elaborated his main lyrical theme, creating the peculiar indirectly personal form of his narrative (Soldier’s Home, Now I Lay Me), sober on the surface, yet so agitated; and as the years went by, the reader began to perceive the tragic side of his books.

It became more and more apparent that his health was a sham, that he and his heroes were wasting it away. Hemingway’s pages were now reflecting all that is ugly and ghastly in human nature, it became increasingly clear that his activity was the purposeless activity of a man vainly attempting not to think, that his courage was the aimless courage of despair, that the obsession of death was taking hold of him, that again and again he was writing of the end–the end of love, the end of life, the end of hope, the end of all.

The bourgeois patrons and the middle-class readers tamed by prosperity, were gradually losing interest in Hemingway. To follow him through the concentric circles of his individualistic hell was becoming a bit frightening and a bit tedious. He was taking things too seriously. In early days both critics and readers had highly admired the “romantic” strength, the “exotic” bull-fights, “the masculine athletic style;” but now Hemingway’s moments of meditation, his too intent gazing at what is horrible,

According Hannum (1992) the trial of courage Nick so often faced had begun at least by the time of the Boulton episode. The doctor’s backing down before Boulton no doubt spurred Nick’s long fascination with boxing (his immediate recognition of Stanley Ketchel, Ad Francis, and Ole Andreson in the road stories) and his own concern with fistfights (the brakeman and Ad) and other challenges to his own courage.

In “The Light of the World” he flinched and put up money when the bartender threatened Tom and him (292); in “The Battler” he smarted under the brakeman’s trick punch, then found himself briefly overmatched in the near-fight with Ad (101-02), but in “The Killers” he risked his life to warn Ole Andreson. In “In Another Country” Nick considered himself a dove in contrast to his “hunting-hawk” (208) comrades in Milan, though he learned a new courage from the Italian major whose wife died of pneumonia, and in “A Way You’ll Never Be” puked and fell back in his first infantry attack (314), but thereafter found courage in grappa.

(Hannum 92) Conclusion If on closing Hemingway’s books you recall and assort the disjoined pieces of the biography of his main hero you will be able to trace the decisive points of his life. Nick–first a tabula rasa, then turning away from too cruel a reality; Henry struggling for his life and trying to assert its joys, Jake and Mr. Johnson–already more than half broken and Mr. Frazer–a martyr to reflection and growing passivity.

So we witness both the awakening and the ossification of the hero whose psychology is so intimately known to Hemingway himself, and as opposed to it a file of brave and stoic people–the Negro in “Battler,” the imposing figures of Belmonte and Manola, the broken giant Ole Andreson; in a word–those people for whom Hemingway’s double has so strong an instinctive liking, first worshipped as heroes and then brought down to earth.

Works Cited

  1. Hannum, Howard L.””Scared Sick Looking at It”: A Reading of Nick Adams in the Published Stories. ” Twentieth Century Literature 47. 1 (2001)
  2. Hemingway, Ernest. “The Art of the Short Story. ” Ernest Hemingway: A Study of the Short Fiction. Ed. Joseph M. Flora. Boston: Twayne, 1989. 129-44. Nolan, Charles J. Jr. “Hemingway’s Complicated “Enquiry” in ‘Men without Women. ‘. ” Studies in Short Fiction 32. 2 (1995) Nolan, Charles J. Jr. “Hemingway’s Puzzling Pursuit Race. ” Studies in Short Fiction 34. 4 (1997) Paul, Steve.
  3. “”‘Drive,’ He Said”: How Ted Brumback Helped Steer Ernest Hemingway into War and Writing. ” The Hemingway Review 27. 1 (2007)
  4. Paul, Steve. “Preparing for War and Writing What the Young Hemingway Read in the Kansas City Star, 1917-1918. ” The Hemingway Review 23. 2 (2004)
  5. tewart, Matthew C. “Ernest Hemingway and World War I: Combatting Recent Psychobiographical Reassessments, Restoring the War. ” Papers on Language & Literature 36. 2 (2000)
  6. Tyler, Lisa. “Hemingway’s Italy: New Perspectives. ” The Hemingway Review 26. 2 (2007)


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