Ernest Hemingway's Outlook: World of Violence & Code Hero

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A World of Violence

      The world that Hemingway created through his works of art is a world that is uniquely his. It is a small segment of 20th century world that he lived in. Because it was an era of disillusionment, full of death, despair, and destruction, it had just been released from the grip of the world wars. Spiritual and intellectual disillusionment was the order of the day and the people of this new world were a confused lot who led a life with mistaken attitude. They confused lust for love and led a life devoted to sensual and material pleasures. They wanted a sense of excitement in life even if actual achievement was lacking, they felt courage was necessary even if ideals were absent. Physical skills were put above all other virtues and admired. The physical skill and courage of a man were put over all other accomplishments because when they were combined in activities such as bullfighting and big-game hunting they became all the more important. In Hemingway’s world of violence, men are haunted by death at every step and so they are pre-occupied by the sensual pleasures of food, drink, sport, and sex. Hemingway’s world is a result of his emotional response and is not due to a conscious reflection of life. However his world is too brutal and animalistic and this in a way is shocking to the readers and repelling and the reader wishes that Hemingway had devoted his skill to a more pleasant subject.

Violent Situation

      However, Hemingway has dealt largely with violent situations and characters in all his novels and short stories from the very beginning of his career, and the publication of his collection of short-stories. Hemingway has displayed this predilection. In the Nick Adams stories, Nick is residing in the world of violence and death, and sexual matters, in The Sun Also Rises a sexually depraved world filled with hard-drinking men has been portrayed. In A Farewell to Arms, the chaos, disorder, and brutal horrors of war are depicted, war and its brutal atmosphere is dealt with again and again in For Whom the Bell Tolls, The Fifth Column, etc. The world of crime and its repercussions are dealt with in To Have and Have Not. Hemingway’s novels and stories are always concerned with some kind of desperate risk that men and women take even if the situation has nothing to do with war or crime, and the shadow of ruins whether physical, emotional, or spiritual always links behind these men and the risk they take. These men— Frederic Henry, Rinaldi, Robert Jordan, Harry Morgan, the hunter, fisherman, matadors, etc. are all tough men, experienced and unsentimental, in emotional. The exception to these men is Nick Adams, in the sense that he is just a boy or a young man but the difference ends there because he is soon initiated into the world of violence.

The Hemingway Hero

      The men listed above, these typical characters in Hemingway usually face death and defeat. Hemingway is interested in such a portrayal because his interest is in showing how this man gains something positive out of their encounter with death and defeat. His heroes are therefore strong men who do not compromise or betray. They are courageous men who in the face of defeat do not hesitate but confront it with stoic endurance achieving a kind of victory in itself. And even if they are defeated, they are defeated on their terms. The court defeat and even in actual defeat they maintain an ideal — an ideal of human behavior, which forms the code according to which man should live in life. This code is a notion of honor that makes a true man and the man who closely follows it is the Hemingway hero.

The Hemingway Hero and the Code

      A strict adherence to the code and its discipline makes a real man. This discipline imparts meaning to life and so is considered important, more so since life would otherwise be meaningless and devoid of justification of any kind. The modern world is a God-forsaken world and man can find meaning by adhering to the code of conduct and continuing doing so and man’s effort to do so, provides the tragic human story because the effort is limited and imperfect and the human effort is negligible in contrast to the hostile forces of the world. And thus this code, which Edmund Wilson has called the principle of sportsmanship is the pivotal point around which the novel develops. For example in For Whom the Bell Tolls, Robert Jordan, severely wounded during his mission, lays with his machine gun to cover his comrades during their escape. He cannot join them as his wounds shall impede their fast movement and he knows death is near. But in his position he is happy. In the Undefeated, the matador is hooted at and jeered by the crowd yet he continues fighting the bull as incompetent as he is until the bull dies and he himself is mortally injured. In The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber, Francis is initially a coward, he injures a lion and then feels scared to go into the high grass to hunt him down and kill him but by the end of the story he learns the hunter’s code which demands that the hunter should go after a wounded animal and kill it. In The Old Man and the Sea, the old fisherman Santiago struggles against the marlin for three days and nights and then struggles for the marlin against the sharks. He knows that he is fighting a losing battle but he doesn’t give up. He returns with the skeleton of the marlin but as he lays exhausted and bruised, his thoughts are about the next day and his further plans to catch fish.

The Man of Violence Facing Despair

      The man of violence is a symbol in Hemingway’s novels and is therefore constantly recurring in his works. For example, we can take the story The Clean, Well-Lighted Place which is the story of an old man who tries to commit suicide because he is in despair. There doesn’t seem to be enough reason but his reason for being in despair is that despairs of nothing, he despairs being rich. There are other men tormented by despair and obsessed by nothingness or Nada and suffers from sleeplessness due to it. Now, this sleepless man is obsessed with death by the notion of the meaninglessness of the world. The despair despite being rich that results in his suffering from insomnia, is despair brought on by man’s inability to find faith and yet hungers for a sense of order, some kind of assurance that other men find in religious faith. However, these two men the violent man and the sleepless man are contradictory but complementary symbols. Both are looking for the same answer to the quest for meaning. The man of violence is making attempts towards the realization of the fact of Nada whereas the man of sleeplessness is thinking and caught up with Nada itself. The man of violence is making efforts towards discovering and realizing the human values in a world that follows a naturalistic order. The concept of Nada is important and according to him presenting Nada and the search for Nada necessarily involves violence because the ultimate realization of Nada is death. As the Hemingway hero is in the process of realizing Nada and therefore death his ideals must stand up to the requirements posed by death. And as death involves violence Hemingway is of the opinion that empirical experience is an absolute necessity. This marks the presentation of violence appropriate as Nada and death are turned equivalent.

Gratification of the Senses

      The belief in the concept of Nada and the Hemingway hero’s quest for Nada reveals two aspects to the concept of violence. The first instance points to consciousness falling into nature and if at the center there exists only Nada, then in life there can be no other reality apart from the reality of the senses and the physical. This leads us therefore into the question of the gratification of the physical sense. Hemingway was intensely aware of the world of the senses due to the need to gratify his sensual appetite and was, therefore, able to portray the senses of nature ultra vividly. The ultimate is the gratification of the senses which reaches in the gratification of sexual urges and the urge to drink liquor. The drink is a weapon, a grand killer against man’s thought of Nada. Similarly, sex is also a weapon to forget Nada but when a casual relationship develops” or matures into love then instead of rendering one forgetful, one achieves some kind of meaning despite Nada. And so far as these two things are concerned, the Hemingway hero has huge reserves of strength and stamina. He is of unbelievable prowess as regards sex and drink. The atypical scene in Hemingway is love for sex in the foreground with hard-drinking forming the background is the total milieu of Nada. Therefore, the novels of Hemingway draw a general picture of a civilization going into decay civilization ravaged by war and death. Falling into nature is a self-conscious set that occurs even at the level of drinking and here sexuality. This is merely satisfying the physical and sensual appetite. This can however be raised to the status of a discipline if at all the person under consideration is one who is aware that at the center of things there exists nothing, but Nada. To illustrate this let us discuss the difference between the various characters in The Sun Also Rises. Robert Cohn is a man who is merely trying out the world of the senses he does not intend to look for any meaning or such, his only concern is to find pleasure. On the other hand stands the two characters Jake Barnes, rendered impotent by a wound, and Lady Brett Ashley, a bitch, sexually un-satiated, who are however aware that at the center of all things is Nada and therefore their quest for the gratification of the senses becomes a vital point.

From Nada To Meaning in True Love

      The notion of raising the mere gratification of the physical senses to a question of principle can be best seen or best illustrated in discussing the presentation of love. This principle or cult of sensation developing into a cult of love can be seen in A Farewell to Arms. Henry’s love from a casual sexual indulgence grows into passionate, true love. But even in the cult of true love what counts is the moment and the individual. In all his love stories there is never any past or future. The moment of love is what is being focused on. Apart from these the lovers are never placed amid society but are always isolated. They do not follow the conventional obligations that ordinary men and women living in society have to follow. Between them, the notion of a secret principle, a notion of a cult into which only the initiated are inducted is constantly played up. In A Farewell to Arms Henry and Catherine is a world within themselves. They are a world of two against the rest of the world which at this point figuratively speaking is an alien place. The relationship that was shown at the beginning of the book between Henry and the priest takes on a new meaning and new importance in the light of the development of the love affair between Henry and Catherine. The priest advocates divine love and had defined true love. Henry on the other hand had a notion of love and sex that was profane. The two stand at opposite ends in the beginning but with the progress of the novel, Henry also begins to develop in his concept of love towards that of the priest and towards the end of the novel initiates into the Cult of profane love. A similar pattern can be seen in For Whom the Bell Tolls, in the relationship between Robert Jordan and Maria with Pilar the gypsy woman who understands love taking the place of the priest, in the pattern of two isolated lovers against the world with a confidant or interpreter. These couples can be seen as examples of those initiates who are aware of Nada and are now in a quest for some kind of meaning to substitute Nada. And in this attempt, this search for meaning love takes on a religious connotation.

Henry’s Quest for Meaning

      In discussing Frederic Henry and his quest for meaning we cannot overlook his desertion of the Italian army. The charge is that Henry is not maintaining the required discipline when he deserts the army. However, Henry has never been shown as owing any kind of obligation to the war or the army. Henry if under any kind of obligation is then obliged only to those men, the ambulance driver who is under his immediate command. However, Henry and his drivers do not recognize any meaning in the war and they are bound together by a sense of respect for each other, and a sense of togetherness due to belonging to the same squad. When Henry is forced to desert, his anger against the military police negates any sense of obligation he might have had. Any obligation towards Italy, its army, etc is all washed away and all his fidelity and obligation is now directed towards Catherine. The question of discipline is answered in that Henry’s movement towards meaning takes him towards Catherine and then the question of obligation towards the war loses significance.

The Sensitive but Tough Hero

      The typical Hemingway hero is usually a tough guy like Hemingway himself. He looks insensitive but he is insensitive only to that code, discipline, or principle and in relation to his fidelity to it otherwise, this insensitivity can be regarded as a measure of his sensitivity that measures the character in his moment of true plight. In the Hemingway world, it is usually the tough man, who is able to discern pathos or tragedy at the time of stress. That he requires to be tough may come at cross-purposes with when he is confronted with the reactions that is normal in an individual human. The Hemingway hero cannot surrender to the natural human reaction because he knows that the only way to hold on to the definition of himself, to honor or dignity, is to maintain the discipline or the code. Pity can be seen in its minimum manifestation in Hemingway world.

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