Short Summary of the Novels of Ernest Hemingway

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CRITICAL COMMENTS ON THE NOVELS OF ERNEST HEMINGWAY

The Sun Also Rises (1926)

      This novel opens with an epigraph taken from Ecclesiastes “one generation passeth away and another generation cometh; but the earth abideth forever”, clearly indicating that he had written the novel for his contemporaries. This is further emphasized by the both epigraphs “you are all a lost generation” as Gerteude Stein called them. Hemingway was therefore writing about a group of people who were desperate, unhappy in their pursuit of happiness and intended it to be a ‘dawn tragedy with the earth abiding forever as the hero’.

A Lost Generation

      A number of young people of this lost generation, American Expatriates are leading a depraved life in Paris after the war. It is a group of wounded people, wounded either physically or psychologically as a result of the war. In the world after the war, they are completely lost and bewildered because the values which served adequately before the war were now redundant, they cannot guide them towards the goals they have. They are lost souls leading lives of quiet desperation. They are into heavy drinking in an attempt to quieten their inner voice. They indulge in free and casual sex and sex has ultimately cost its appeal. It has no more appeal than drinking a glass of beer. One of the characters who plays a major role being the one who tells the story is Jake Barnes. He is a casualty from the First World War. He is another lost soul who has been hit in his genitals during the war and so cannot ever expect to lead a normal sexual life as he has been rendered impotent. Lady Brett Ashley is a modern day version of Don Inan. She goes around reducing all the men who came in contact with her. She falls in love with Jake Barnes but because of his impotency cannot consummate their love. She has casual affairs with almost everyone she comes into contact with. She has an affair with a Jew named Robert Cohn and then discards him like a used tissue. Cohn thinks highly of her and he couldn’t be careless as far as she is concerned, but he has become a non-entity for her. He is on the other hand a sensitive Jew. He cannot forget that he is Jew and cannot stop beating his friends for hunting his sentiments. The dissolute gang moves to Pamplona in Spain to watch the fiesta in which there are bull-fights everyday. Here they have a wild time, endlessly drinking and being merry. A new matador named Pedro Romero has arrived an
instant by Lady Brett who has had many lovers, falls in love with him and together they run away to Madrid without informing anyone. Robert Cohn had beaten up Romero for sleeping with Brett and now he feels as though he has been defeated by the invisible courage of the young bull fighter. He then slowly fades away from the picture. The farther development in the story is that Romero proposes marriage but Lady Brett is much older than him and she therefore came to the conclusion that she cannot destroy the chances of a young and promising bull-fighter. She entangles herself from all kind of relationship with him. Jake Barnes feels guilty because he had introduced Lady Brett to Romero and comes to get her. In the end he comes to even with his sexual impotency and without love. The novel ends with the way it began. They are still an expatriate group, depressed and damned. Lady Brett expresses how good it would have been if she and Jake could have been lovers. And Jake answers, ‘Yes’, Isn’t it pretty to think so!’

A Tragedy

      The novel therefore is tragic in the effect. The group it discusses is completely alienated from society They had a life distanced from normal experience. They could only glimpse and catch fleetingly what they term as having a good time. But never actually get it.

A Farewell to Arms (1929)

      This novel, published in 1929 when the First World War had started and it epitomizes the American response to the war and its horror. An American, Lieutenant Frederic Henry is in the Italian ambulance unit. He falls in love with a British nurse Catherine Barkley. Henry who was quite casual both in his attitude to war and Catherine changes after he is wounded on the Italian front.

      He falls truly in love with Catherine and he becomes quite responsible and committed towards the war too. Catherine is devoted to Henry to the extent that Henry cannot help falling deeply and passionately in love with her. They spend a summer full of love and passion in Milan where Henry is recuperating and ultimately Catherine becomes pregnant.

      Henry soon has to go back to the front. He leaves a pregnant Catherine who having refused to marry him, assures him that all shall be well. At the front he finds everyone depressed by the long drawn war and the Italians are eventually forced to retreat. During this retreat Henry closely comes face to face with the brutal realities of war and his disgust and disappointment with war is complete as the Military police accost him and he faces execution at their hands. He escapes by jumping into the Tagliamento river and comes to Catherine.

      He comes searching for her and finally finds her in Streesa. There the lovers are united and become happy again. However, again faced with the danger of arrest the lovers flee to Switzerland where they set up an isolated idyll in the mountains. But then as Catherine’s time for delivery comes near they come down to consume where Catherine dies in child birth. Henry is left alone.

      Hemingway presents the alienation of man through Henry and the struggles that man haunted by inadequacies have to go through in a hostile world.

Death in the Afternoon (1932)

      Hemingway was a typical outdoor man. He was greatly interested in bull-fighting, big game hunting, fishing etc. His interest in bull-fighting dates to the time when he was in Paris. He therefore had access to all the details related to bull fighting. Death m the Afternoon chronicles bull-fighting. It contains episodes describing the art of bull-fighting and the ethics of the bullring and the dangers to which the bull-fighter are constantly exposed. Hemingway depicts how death is the ultimate reality and how man realizes his potential only in the face of death. He shows this in the life of the bull-fighter who is similar to a modern hero who could give meaning to his existence by the manner in which he constantly faced death in the bullring.

To Have and Have Not (1937)

      This novel is about Harry Morgan, a native of Key West, Florida, who has devoted his life to the single-misdeed effort to keep himself, his wife and his children on the upper fringe of the have nots. He makes his living by hiring out his power-boat to wealthy man for fishing trips. But the Depression destroys this source of income. A rich tourist wishes payment for lost fishing tackle. He is compelled by circumstances to turn to illegal activities for money. And he tries to smuggle some Chinese nationals from Cuba into the United States, but this ends in disaster. Then in another episode he is captured while smuggling illegal liquor. He had been involved in a gun-battle where he loses an arm and his boat which is confiscated. Driven by desperation he attempts to help four bank robbers in escaping but realizes that in order to save himself from them, it is necessary to kill them. He is wounded fatally in his attempt to kill them. He is arrested by the coast guard and the novel ends with his stammering statement.

“A man.... ain’t got no hasn’t got any can’t really isn’t any way out...one man alone ain’t got...no chance.”

      This is Hemingway’s comment on the extreme form of alienation and individualism and the view that man is always struggling yet never succeeds in a world full of hostile circumstances.

The Fifth Column (1938)

      This is a play set against the background of the Spanish Civil War. Like his other works, this is also based on his personal experiences and the Hero Philip Rawley has elements connecting him to Hemingway. He is an American war correspondent stationed in Spain. He has left his beloved Dorothy Bridges an upper middle class girl who expects him to marry her and settle into domesticity. But unknown to her, Phillip has become deeply involved in the war. He becomes a spy for the Republicans a Fascist politician who supplies the names of the members of the Fifth column. Phillip has enlisted himself for the ‘next fifty years’ making Dorothy confused for the decision he had taken. He is a man who has left everything behind and shall move only to go alone or with others of the same purpose. He deserts Dorothy to fully engage with the civil war. The story is narrated in a cop and robber style but the underlying message is man’s freedom.

For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940)

      This is Hemingway’s most popular novel. Robert Jordan is an American volunteer assigned to blow up a bridge in the hills to stop Fascist reinforcement during the Spanish Civil War. He is a believer in the theory of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. He is therefore involved in mankind. And the story is about courage and resistance to tyranny. When Jordan is assigned the task and he comes to the core, he finds that the guerillas are rather disorganized. They are reluctant to fight because destruction of bridge, threatened their own security. Jordan gets help in Pilar, a gypsy woman and Anselmo who both are vehement in stating the necessity of blowing up the bridge. Pilar’s husband Pablo is against the scheme and turns out to be treacherous. Amidst all these Robert finds himself falling in love with Maria, who suffers from psychological wounds as she was raped by the Fascists. The manner in which Hemingway has portrayed their intense love is immutable and unrivaled. Their love is rendered with a mystic quality to it.

      After a lot of hassles, Robert Jordan is successful in blowing up the bridge. But falling from a horse Robert is severely wounded. However he has to decide whether to stay and cover the retreat of his companies or else to go with them, risking their security. Robert decides to stay back for the safety of the guerrillas and for his love for Maria. Robert continues his fight yet meets a meaningless death.

      Robert Jordan as a hero is in a number of ways similar to Frederic Henry but he differs as he realizes the truth that ‘No man is an island, entire of itself’.

Across the River and Into the Trees (1950)

      Published after a gap of the years Across the River and Into the Trees is a post-war love-story set in Venice. Colonel Catwell an aging man was suffering from a serious heart troubles, he knows he is on the brink of death and yet with his nineteen years old beloved Renata spends his time in Venice indulging in heavy drinking and heavy sex.

      Many critics regard this novel as a ludicrous attempt. The novel is therefore considered a failure as coming from the pen of Hemingway.

The Old Man and The Sea (1952)

      The Old Man and The Sea is Hemingway’s greatest work. This parable of man’s struggle with the natural world, of his noble courage and endurance, won Hemingway the Pulitzer Prize and was also responsible for his being awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1954. The lashings that Hemingway received for the literary failure of Across the River and Into the Trees, this hevella helped in retrieving his reputation to his earlier growing position.

      The Old Man and the Sea tells the story of Santiago an old Cuban fisherman who has been unlucky for eighty-four days in his attempt to catch fish. He has burrowed his skiff to the gulf stream for so long without any avail. On the eighty-fifth day, he goes far out into the sea. On the sea he thinks and remembers the young boy Manolin who used to accompany him and with whom he used to talk of better days when he was a great fisherman and of the heroes of baseball. In the afternoon that day he hooks a giant marlin. The marlin is eighteen feet long, exactly two feet longer than the Skiff which Santiago was rowing. The marlin is so strong that it tows Santiago and his Skiff. For the day, night, the next day and night it continue to the Skiff Santiago is exhausted but he doesn’t give up either. It is a clash of both wit and strength and Santiago remembers a hand wrestling dual with a champion called El Champion. On the morning of the third day he succeeds in harpooning the fish and pitching all his skill and wailing strength he is able to lash the marlin to the side of the boat and he sets out on the return journey. On the way however, sharks attack and eat away the marlin. He fights with the sharks with all his strength and minimal means—a small knife lashed to the tiller. When he reaches the shore he is completely exhausted and all that is left of the marlin is its skeleton. Santiago is defeated but not really, his victory is his heroic struggle. Story ends with Manolin crying over Santiago’s bruised hands and Santiago waking up the next day and making plans for the future but then again his struggle with the marlin and then the sharks has injured him. He sleeps on and dreams of past experiences.

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