Violence in Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises and Indian Camp, and West’s Miss Lonelyhearts
In the late 19th and early 20th and after World War I, violence of various kinds has set as one of the major themes of literary modernist’s novels/short stories. Each modernist author has his own way of how he handles this theme of violence, and how his own formal properties of his work helps us conceive the theme of violence. This essay will compare and contrast the way violence is portrayed in both of the authors, Ernest Hemingway and Nathanael West’s works. It will depict the differences and similarities between them. This essay will also take a small step and explain how and why modernist author take this theme of violence so seriously in their narratives.
In the one hand, the successful American novelist and the Noble prize winner, Hemingway, has establishes himself a writing style. What makes it special is that he writes and then he avoids direct statements and descriptions of emotion. He tells only the surface leaving the deep meaning hidden from us to conceive. In both of his works The Sun Also Rises and In Our Times, the “Indian Camp,” he recruits one protagonist in each story; Jake Barnes in The Sun Also Rises and Nick Adams in the “Indian Camp”. And through these protagonists’ acts, Hemingway shows us the hidden theme of violence. In Hemingway’s novels, the world of violence are impossible to escape. Thus, the heroes’ notions are formed by their view of violence. Hemingway suggests that violence of various kinds such as war, pain, illness, death, masculinity or emasculation, unsuccessful relationships and the ‘lost generation,” are the way one cannot but just accepts and lives to survive.
Violence theme emerges strongly in Hemingway’s novels and short stories; from killing in bullfights to haunting, fishing, boxing and war. In Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, violent masculinity is portrayed through the hero Jake Barnes. He is a World War I veteran who has suffered an injury in his genitals; this injury makes him emasculated. He becomes impotent and is unable to intercourse. This injury makes it impossible for him to have a sexual relationship with Brett, the woman who he loves. Jake’s injury made him feel “less masculine” and that he has to accept Brett’s refusal of entering a relationship with him. Jake’s wound left him destroyed emotionally and anxious over his masculine performance. Jake is also a member of the lost generations where people after War World I have lost their faith, values and morality; life for them now seems to be meaningless. However, Jake does not care about all these seemingly lost values: “I did not care what it was all about. All I wanted to know was how to live in it” (152). He is only interested in how to live with it now, in a place where the war has left him damaged both physically and psychologically.
Another kind of violence Hemingway holds in this story is unsuccessful relationships. Brett is a woman that Hemingway chooses to portray as the independent mature woman. Brett is a target for every male in this novel to achieve and have a relationship with. However, each male fails to win Brett’s love and as soon as they manage to succeed, a problem steps on their way, and Brett is no longer their own. For Jake as we know he is impotent and Brett’s love for him cannot win the fact that she can never have any sexual relationship with Jake; Brett cannot stand a platonic affair with Jake. And for Pedro Romero, Brett choses to leave him because she cannot ruin his life. And finally, for Bill, Mike and Robert Cohn they could not find Brett’s love strong.
Seek of masculinity which every male in life needs lead male characters in the novel participate in violence. Hemingway does not state this directly but he portrays it through the act of the characters in his novel. Such violence can be depicted in Robert Cohn’s boxing fights engaged with fighting Jake, Mike and Romero and thus violating his ethics in order to gain his masculinity back after he has lost it in following Brett around; moreover, Pedro Romero’s bullfights engaged in killing the bulls in a bloody violent unmerciful battle in order that he can portray his masculinity to the audience. And as for the rest they seek masculinity in targeting Cohn as he behaves unmanly by following Brett around. It is sarcastic to note that while Hemingway reveals the characters appear to be uncertain about their masculinity, he portrays Brett as manlier than the men. Brett acts like men and refers to herself as a chap, plus her hair is short and her name is masculine. This portray of gander disorder also violates the harmony and order in the novel, shaping it as violent to gender rules.
In Our Times “Indian Camp”, Nick Adams the hero watches his father delivering a baby to a woman. The woman seems having a strong pain. Meanwhile her husband is in the top bunk, slits his throat and bleeds to death. Having Nick watching all these extremely bloody painful birth is linked with the suicidal violent death of the husband who could not stand seeing his wife giving birth. This story depicts birth and death (the circle of human’s life) as bloody, painful and violent. Similarly how Hemingway portrays life as violent in The Sun Also Rises for the hero, he portrays it again in the “Indian Camp”. And as he grows up in the next chapters of In Our Time, we see him becoming violent to his girls, society and girlfriend by acting careless towards them.
In the other hand, we have Nathanael West and his way of handling the theme of violence. In one of his works in Miss Lonelyhearts, the descriptions are constantly scripted in violence; for example, in the “Deadpan” chapter: “He entered the park at the North Gate and swallowed mouthfuls of the heavy shade that curtained its arch. He walked into the shadow of a lamp-post that lay on the path like a spear. It pierced him like a spear. (4)” West clearly covers the lines with violent words, and when we read this, we cannot help but instantly see these violent images in our heads.
Moreover, it is not just the surface of his work or the descriptions of images are covered with signs of violence, but it is also the realistic events or elements in the novel are literally violent. In “Miss Lonelyhearts and the Lamb” Miss Lonelyhearts decides to put the lamb out of its misery but when he finds the lamb, “He crushed its head with a stone and left the carcass to the flies that swarmed around the bloody altar flowers” (10). Similarly, in “Miss Lonelyhears and the Clean Old Man,” when Miss Lonelyhearts twists the old man’s arm the old man “began to scream. Somebody hit Miss Lonelyhearts from behind with a chair” (18). Every episode in Miss Lonelyhears almost erupts in violence and chaos. And if we cannot escape the deep world of violence in Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises and “Indian Camp,” we cannot also escape the surface world of violence in Nathanael West’s Miss Lonelyhearts. West just like Hemingway, also suggests a world of violence, chaos disorder and disruption in Miss Lonelyhears. It is clearly that we cannot escape disorder even in the letters that Miss Lonelyhearts receives, they are run-on ungrammatical letters. They are images of disorder and chaos, just like the world they live in.
The letters Miss Lonelyhearts receives, that his function are simply to “help” the people who wrote them, are a description of violent acts and events. We encounter the first letter of a woman demanding on killing herself. Despite of her kidney disorder that makes her pregnancy unbearably painful, her Catholic husbands insists on her to keep having children for twelve years constantly. In the second letter, we encounter a girl who is also demanding a suicide because of her disfiguring birth defect. And the third letter is from a boy on behalf of his deaf dumb sister who was raped, mocked and viciously beaten. The letters thus, suggest violence and cruel images involving physical force resulting in hurting, damaging and killing. As far as Miss Lonelyhears encounters all these letters he is namely sent to help these victims from violence, but as far as he wants to help he falls as a target for violence. Thus, Miss Lonelyhearts’s life is shaped by his view of violence.
But why does violence loom so large in the modernist imagination? The modern world has brought with it a new images; some of these images were war, disorder and violence. The horror and brutal reality and experiences of the war had a huge terrifying impacts on the people of that time. Modernist indeed seem to be deeply interested in the theme of war and violence and explore the damaging impact of violence through their characters. And that because they write as they rebel against social, moral, cultural and traditional conventions that they have seen in the modern world, especially after World War I. The concern of the natural existence of the individual in the modern world makes each modernist writer take his novel’s hero as alienated from life; thus, they fight a battle that they will eventually lose and the question of how they can end it, is just by violence. Meanwhile, the hero lives a struggle to accept the norms in which modern life gives him and he chooses to survive.
To conclude, this essay works on the compare and contrast between Earnest Hemingway and Nathanael West on how each of them handle the theme of violence in their novels. Both suggest a protagonist in each of their novels, and the hero copes with life through violence of different kinds. But the difference here, is that each novelist holds a different style in recruiting violence theme in his work. For Nathanael West’s Miss Lonelyheart, violence is conceived in its verbal form, its way of being on the surface of the work. It is not only a subjective basis. It has set above the surface of the work. Violent events and descriptions can be depicted clearly and constantly in almost every episode of the novel. However, for Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises and the “Indian Camp,” violence theme is inscribed beneath the surface of the work. Because, Hemingway has his own style of the iceberg theory. I hope I succeed in bringing analysis by making compare and contrast, and further research might be done.
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