Ernest Hemingway: Bourdon Gauge of Morale
HEMINGWAY’S In Our Time was an odd and original book. It had the appearance of a miscellany of stories and fragments; but actually the parts hung together and produced a definite effect. There were two distinct series of pieces which alternated with one another:one a set of brief and brutal sketches of police shootings, bullfight crises, hangings of criminals, and incidents of the war; and the other a set of short stories dealing in its principal sequence with the growingup of an American boy against a landscape of idyllic Michigan, but also with the return home of American soldiers. But it seems to have been Hemingway’s intention — In Our Time — that the war should set the key for the whole. The cold-bloodedness of the battles and executions strikes a discord with the sensitiveness and candor of the boy at home in the States; and presently the boy turns up in Europe in one of the intermediate vignettes as a soldier in the Italian army, hit in the spine by machinegun fire and trying to talk to a dying Italian: ‘Senta, Rinaldi. Senta,' he says, ‘you and me, we’ve made a separate peace.’
But there is a more fundamental relationship between the pieces of the two series. The shooting of Nick in the war does not really connect two different worlds: has he not found in the butchery abroad the same world that he knew back in Michigan? Was not life in the Michigan woods equally destructive and cruel? He went once with his father, the doctor, when he performed a Cæsarean operation on an Indian squaw with a jackknife and no anæsthetic and sewed her up with fishing leaders, while the Indian wasn’t able to bear it and cut his throat in his bunk. Another time, when the doctor saved the life of a squaw, her Indian picked a quarrel with him rather than pay him in work. And Nick himself sent his girl about her business when he found out how terrible her mother was. Even fishing in Big Two-Hearted River — away and free in the woods — he was conscious in a curious way of the cruelty inflicted on the fish, even of the silent agonies endured by the live bait, the grasshoppers kicking on the hook.
Not that life isn’t enjoyable. Talking and drinking with one’s friends is great fun; fishing in Big Two-Hearted River is a tranquil exhilaration. But the brutality of life is always there, and it is somehow bound up with the enjoyment. Bullfights are especially enjoyable. It is even exhilarating to build a simply priceless barricade and pot the enemy as they are trying to get over it. The condition of life is pain; and the joys of the most innocent surface are somehow tied to its stifled pangs.
The resolution of this discord in art made the beauty of Hemingway’s stories. He had in the process tuned a marvelous prose. Out of the colloquial American speech, with its simple declarative sentences and its strings of Nordic monosyllables, he got effects of the utmost subtlety. F. M. Ford has found the perfect simile for the impression produced by this writing: ‘Hemingway’s words strike you, each one, as if they were pebbles fetched fresh from a brook. They live and shine, each in its place. So one of his pages has the effect of a brook-bottom into which you look down through the flowing water. The words form a tessellation, each in order beside the other.'
Looking back, we can see how this style was already being refined and developed at a time — fifty years before
— when it was regarded in most literary quarters as hopelessly non-literary and vulgar. There had been the nineteenth chapter of Huckleberry Finn: ‘Two or three nights went by; I reckon I might say they swum by; they slid along so quick and smooth and lovely. Here is the way we put in the time. It was a monstrous big river down there — sometimes a mile and a half wide,’ and so forth. These pages, when we happen to meet them in Carl Van Doren’s anthology of world literature, stand up in a striking way beside a passage of description from Turgenev; and the pages which Hemingway was later to write about American wood and water are equivalents to the transcriptions by Turgenev
— the Sportsman’s Notebook is much admired by Hemingway — of Russian forests and fields. Each has brought to an immense and wild country the freshness of a new speech and a sensibility not yet conventionalized by literary associations. Yet it is the European sensibility which has come to Big TwoHearted River, where the Indians are now obsolescent; in those solitudes it feels for the first time the cold current, the hot morning sun, sees the pine stumps, smells the sweet fern. And along with the mottled trout, with its ‘clear water-over-gravel color,’ the boy from the American Middle West brings up a fat little masterpiece.
In the meantime there had been also Ring Lardner, Sherwood Anderson, Gertrude Stein, using this American language for irony, lyric poetry, psychological insight. Hemingway seems to have learned from them all. But he is now able to charge this naive accent with a new complexity of emotion, a malaise. The wholesale shattering of human beings in which he has taken part has given the boy a touch of panic.
The next fishing trip is strikingly different. Perhaps the first was an idealization. Is it possible to attain such sensuous bliss simply through being alone in the woods, smoking, fishing, and eating, with no thought about anyone else or about anything one has ever done or will ever be obliged to do? At any rate, today, in The Sun Also Rises, all the things that are wrong with human life are there on the holiday, too — though one tries to keep them back out of the foreground and occupy one’s mind only with the trout, caught now in a stream of the Pyrenees, with the kidding of the good friend from the States. The feeling of insecurity has deepened. The young American now appears in a seriously damaged condition: he has somehow been incapacitated sexually through wounds received in the war. He is in love with one of those international sirens who flourished in the cafés of the post-war period and whose ruthless and uncontrollable infidelities, in such a circle as that depicted by Hemingway, have made any sort of security impossible for the relations between women and men. The lovers of such a woman turn upon and rend one another because they are powerless to make themselves felt by her.
The casualties of the bullfight at Pamplona, to which these young people have gone for the fiesta, only reflect the bitings, bashings, betrayals, of demoralized human beings out of hand. What is the tiresome lover with whom the lady has just been off on a casual escapade, and who is unable to understand he has been discarded, but the man who, on his way to the bull ring, has been accidentally gored by the bull? The young American who tells the story is the only character who keeps up standards of conduct, and he is prevented by his disability from dominating and directing the woman, who otherwise, it is intimated, might love him. Here the membrane of the style has been stretched taut to convey the vibrations of these qualms. The dry sunlight and the green summer landscapes have been invested with a sinister quality which must be new in literature. One enjoys the sun and the green as one enjoys suckling pigs and Spanish wine, but the apprehension and uneasiness are undruggable.
Yet one can catch hold of a code in all the drunkenness and social chaos. ‘Perhaps as you went along you did learn something,’ Jake, the hero, reflects at one point. ‘I did not care what it was all about. All I wanted to know was how to live in it. Maybe if you found out how to live in it you learned from that what it was all about.’ ‘ Everybody behaves badly. Give them the proper chance,’ he says later to Lady Brett. '“You wouldn’t behave badly.” Brett looked at me.’ In the end, she sends for Jake, who finds her alone in a hotel. She has left her regular lover for a young bullfighter, and this boy has for the first time inspired her with a respect which has restrained her from ‘ruining’ him: ‘You know it makes one feel rather good deciding not to be a bitch.’ We suffer and we make suffer, and everybody loses out in the long run; but in the meantime we can lose with honor.
This code still markedly figures, still supplies a dependable moral backbone, in Hemingway’s next book of short stories, Men Without Women. Here Hemingway has mastered his method of economy in apparent casualness and relevance in apparent indirection, and has turned his sense of what happens and the way in which it happens into something as hard and clear as a crystal but as disturbing as a great lyric. Yet it is usually some principle of courage, of honor, of pity — that is, some principle of sportsmanship in its largest human sense —upon which the drama hinges. The old bullfighter in ‘The Undefeated’ is defeated in everything except the spirit which will not accept defeat. You get the bull or he gets you: if you die, you can die game; there are certain things you cannot do. The burlesque show manager in ‘A Pursuit Race’ refrains from waking his advance publicity agent when he overtakes him and realizes that the man has just lost a long struggle against whatever it is which has driven him to drink and dope. ‘They got a cure for that,’ the manager had said to him before he went to sleep; '“No,” William Campbell said, “they haven’t got a cure for anything.”’
The burned major in ‘A Simple Enquiry’ — that strange picture of the bedrock stoicism compatible with the abasement of war — has the decency not to dismiss the orderly who has rejected his proposition. The brutalized Alpine peasant who has been in the habit of hanging a lantern in the jaws of the stiffened corpse of his wife, stood in the corner of the woodshed till the spring makes it possible to bury her, is ashamed to drink with the sexton after the latter has found out what he has done.
This Hemingway of the middle twenties — The Sun Also Rises came out in 1926 — expressed the romantic disillusion and set the favorite pose for the period. It was the moment of gallantry in heartbreak, grim and nonchalant banter, and heroic dissipation. The great watchword was ‘Have a drink’; and in the bars of New York and Paris the young people were getting to talk like Hemingway.
The novel, A Farewell to Arms, which followed Men Without Women, is in a sense not so serious an affair. Beautifully written and very moving of course it is. Probably no other book has caught so well the strangeness of life in the army for an American in Europe during the war. The new places to which one was sent of which one had never heard, and the things that turned out to be in them; the ordinary people of foreign countries as one saw them when one was quartered among them or obliged to perform some common work with them; the pleasures of which one managed to cheat the war, intensified by the uncertainty and horror — and the uncertainty yet almost become a constant, the horror almost taken for granted; the love affairs, always subject to being poignantly broken up and yet carried on while they lasted in a spirit of irresponsible freedom which derived from having forfeited control of all one’s other actions — this Hemingway got into his book, written long enough after the events for them to present themselves under an aspect fully idyllic.
But A Farewell to Arms is a tragedy, and the lovers are shown as innocent victims with no relation to the forces that torment them. They themselves are not tormented within by that dissonance between personal satisfaction and the suffering one shares with others which it has been Hemingway’s triumph to handle. A Farewell to Arms, as the author has said, is a Romeo and Juliet. And when Catherine and her lover emerge from the stream of action — the account of the Caporetto retreat is Hemingway’s best sustained piece of narrative — when they escape from the alien necessities of which their romance has been merely an accident, which have been writing their story for them, then we see that they are not in themselves convincing as human personalities. And we are confronted with the paradox that Hemingway, who
possesses so remarkable a mimetic gift in getting the sense of social and national types and in making his people talk appropriately, has not shown any very solid sense of character, or, indeed, any real interest in it. The people in his short stories are satisfactory because he has only to hit them off: the point of the story does not lie in personalities, but in the emotion to which a situation gives rise. This is true even in The Sun Also Rises, where the characters are hit off with wonderful cleverness. But in A Farewell to Arms, as soon as we are brought into real intimacy with the lovers, as soon as the author is obliged to see them through a searching personal experience, we find merely an idealized relationship, the abstractions of a lyric emotion.
With Death in the Afternoon, three years later, a new development for Hemingway commences. He writes a book not merely in the first person, but in the first person in his own character as Hemingway, and the results are unexpected and disconcerting. Death in the Afternoon has its value as an exposition of bullfighting; and Hemingway is able to use the subject as a text for an explicit statement of his conception of man eternally pitting himself— he thinks the bullfight a ritual of this — against animal force and the odds of death. But the book is partly infected by a queer kind of maudlin emotion, which sounds at once neurotic and drunken. He overdoes his glorification of the bravery and martyrdom of the bullfighter. No doubt the professional expert at risking his life single-handed is impressive in contrast to the flatness, the timidity, and the unreality of much of the business of the modern world; but this admirable miniaturist in prose has already made the point perhaps more tellingly in the little prose poem called ‘ Banal Story.’ Now he offsets the virility of the bullfighters by anecdotes of the male homosexuals that frequent the Paris cafés, at the same time that he puts his chief justification of the voluptuous excitement of the spectacle into the mouth of an imaginary old lady. The whole thing becomes a little hysterical.
The master of that precise and clean style now indulges in purple patches which go on spreading for pages on end. I am not one who much admires the last chapter of Death in the Afternoon, with its rich, all too rich, unrollings of memories of fine times in Spain, and with its what seem to me irrelevant reminiscences of the soliloquy of Mrs. Bloom in Ulysses. Also, there are interludes of kidding of a kind which Hemingway handles with skill when he assigns them to characters in his stories, but in connection with which he seems to become incapable of exercising good sense or taste as soon as he undertakes them in his own person (the burlesque Torrents of Spring was an early omen of this). In short, we are compelled to recognize that, as soon as Hemingway drops the burning glass of the disciplined and objective art with which he has learned to concentrate in a story the light of the emotions that flood in on him, he straightway becomes befuddled, slops over.
This befuddlement is later to go further, but in the meantime he publishes another volume of stories — Winner Take Nothing — which is almost up to its predecessor. In this collection he deals much more effectively than in Death in the Afternoon with that theme of contemporary decadence which is implied in his panegyric of the bullfighter. The first of the stories, ‘After the Storm,’ is another of his variations — and one of the finest — on the theme of keeping up a code of decency among the hazards and pains of life. A fisherman goes out to plunder a wreck: he dives down to break in through a porthole, but inside he sees a woman with rings on her hands and her hair floating loose in the water, and he thinks about the passengers and crew being suddenly plunged to their deaths (he was almost killed himself in a drunken fight the night before), he sees the cloud of sea birds screaming around, and he finds that he is unable to crack the glass with his wrench and that he loses an anchor grapple with which he next tries to attack it; so he goes away and leaves the job to the Greeks, who blow the boat open and clean her out.
But in general the emotions of insecurity here obtrude themselves and dominate the book. Two of the stories deal with the hysteria of soldiers falling off the brink of their nerves under the strain of the experiences of the war, which here no longer presents an idyllic aspect; another deals with a group of patients in a hospital, at the same time crippled and hopeless, still another (a five-page masterpiece) with an old man who has tried to commit suicide although he is known to have plenty of money and who now creeps into a café in search of ‘a clean well-lighted place’: ‘After all, he said to himself, it is probably only insomnia. Many must have it.’ Another story, like The Sun Also Rises, centres around a castration; and four of the fourteen are concerned more or less with male or female homosexuality. In the last story, ‘Fathers and Sons,’ Hemingway reverts to the Michigan woods, as if to take the curse off the rest: young Nick had once made love to a nice Indian girl with plump legs and hard little breasts on the needles of the hemlock woods.
These stories and the interludes in Death in the Afternoon must have been written during the years which followed the stock-market crash. They are full of the apprehension of losing control of oneself which is aroused by the getting out of control of a social-economic system, as well as of the fear of impotence which seems to accompany the loss of social mastery. And there is in such a story as ‘A Clean Well-Lighted Place’ the feeling of having got to the end of everything, of having given up heroic attitudes, of wanting only the illusion of peace.
And now, in proportion as the characters in his stories run out of fortitude and bravado, he passes into a phase where he is occupied with building up his public personality. He has already now become a legend, as Mencken was in the twenties; he is the Hemingway of the handsome photographs with the open neck and the outdoor grin, with the ominous resemblance to Clark Gable, who poses with giant marlin which he has just hauled in off Key West. And unluckily — but for an American inevitably — the opportunity soon presents itself to exploit this personality for profit: he is soon turning out regular articles for wellpaying and trashy magazines.
This department of Hemingway’s writing there is no point in discussing in detail. The most favorable thing one can say about it is that he made an extremely bad job of it, where a less authentic artist would probably have done somewhat better. The ordinary writer, when he projects himself, usually produces something which, though unlikely, is sympathetic; but Hemingway has created a Hemingway who is not only incredible but obnoxious. He is certainly his own worst-invented character.
But this journalism does seem to have contributed to the writing of some unsatisfactory books. Green Hills of Africa (1935) owes its failure to falling between the two genres of personal exhibitionism and fiction. ‘The writer has attempted,’ says Hemingway, ‘to write an absolutely true book to see whether the shape of a country and the pattern of a month’s action can, if truly presented, compete with a work of the imagination.’ He does try to present his own rôle objectively, and there is a genuine Hemingway theme — the connection between success at big-game hunting and sexual self-respect — involved in his adventures as he presents them. But the sophisticated technique of the fiction writer comes to look artificial when it is applied to a series of real happenings; and the necessity of sticking to what really happened makes impossible the typical characters and incidents which give point to a work of fiction. The monologues of the false — the publicity — Hemingway are almost as bad as his magazine articles. He inveighs with much scorn against the literary life and against the professional literary man of the cities; and then manages to give the impression that he himself is a professional literary man of the touchiest and most self-conscious kind. He delivers a self-confident lecture on the high possibilities of prose writing; and then produces such a sentence as the following: ‘Going down-hill steeply made these Spanish shooting boots too short in the toe and there was an old argument, about this length of boot and whether the bootmaker, whose part I had taken, unwittingly first, only as interpreter, and finally embraced his theory patriotically as a whole and, I believed, by logic, had overcome it by adding onto the heel.’ As soon as Hemingway begins speaking in the first person, he seems to lose his bearings, not merely as a critic of life, but even as a craftsman.
In another and significant way, Green Hills of Africa is disappointing. Death in the Afternoon did provide a lot of data on bullfighting and build up for us the bullfighting world; but its successor tells us little about Africa. Hemingway keeps affirming — as if in accents of defiance against those who would engage his attention for social problems — his passionate enthusiasm for the African country and his perfect satisfaction with the hunter’s life; but he has produced what must be one of the only books ever written which make Africa and its animals seem dull. Almost the only thing we learn about the animals is that Hemingway wants to kill them. And as for the natives, though there is one fine description of a tribe of marvelously trained runners, the principal impression we get of them is that they were simple and inferior people who enormously admired Hemingway.
It is not only that, as his critics of the Left had been complaining, he shows no interest in political issues, but that his interest in his fellow beings seems actually to be drying up. It is as if he were throwing himself on African hunting as something to live for and believe in, as something through which to realize himself; and as if, expecting of it too much, he had got out of it abnormally little, less than he is willing to admit. The disquiet of the Hemingway of the twenties had been, as I have said, undruggable — that is, in his books themselves, he had tried to express it, not drug it, had given it an appeasement in art; but now there sets in, in the Hemingway of the thirties, what seems to be a deliberate selfdrugging. The situation is indicated objectively in ‘The Gambler, the Nun, and the Radio,’ among the short stories of 1933, in which everything from daily bread to ‘a belief in any new form of government’ is characterized as ‘the opium of the people’ by an emptyhearted cripple in a hospital.
But at last there does rush into this vacuum the blast of the social issue, which has been roaring in the wind like a forest fire.
Out of a series of short stories he had written about a Florida waterside character he decided to make a little epic. The result was To Have and Have Not, which seems to me the poorest of all his stories. Certainly some deep agitation is working upon Hemingway the artist. Craftsmanship and style, taste and sense, have all alike gone by the board. The negative attitude toward human beings has here become definitely malignant: the hero is like a wooden-headed Punch, always knocking people on the head (inferiors — Chinamen or Cubans); or, rather, he combines the characteristics of Punch with those of Popeye the Sailor in the animated cartoon in the movies. As the climax to a series of prodigies, this stupendous pirate-smuggler named
Harry Morgan succeeds, alone, unarmed, and with only a hook for one hand, — though at the cost of a mortal wound, — in outwitting and destroying with their own weapons four men with revolvers and a machine gun, by whom he has been shanghaied in a launch.
The impotence of a decadent society has here been exploited deliberately, but less successfully than in the earlier short stories. Against a background of homosexuality, impotence, and masturbation among the wealthy holiday-makers in Florida, Popeye-Morgan is shown gratifying his wife with the same indefatigable dexterity which he has displayed in his other feats; and there is a choral refrain of praise of his virility — which wells up in the last pages of the book when the abandoned Mrs. Popeye regurgitates Mrs. Bloom’s soliloquy.
To be a man in such a world of maggots is noble, but it is not enough. Besides the maggots, there are double-crossing rats, who will get you if they are given the smallest chance. What is most valid in To Have and Have Not is the idea — conveyed better, perhaps, in the first of the series of episodes than in the final scenes of massacre and agony — that in an atmosphere (here revolutionary Cuba) in which man has been set against man, in which it is always a question whether your companion is not preparing to cut your throat, the most sturdy and straightforward American will turn suspicious and cruel. Harry Morgan is made to realize as he dies that to fight this bad world alone is hopeless. Again Hemingway, with his barometric accuracy, has seized the real moral feeling of the moment — a moment when social relations were subjected to severe tension, seemed already disintegrating. But the heroic Hemingway legend has at this point invaded his fiction and, inflaming and inflating his symbols, has produced an uncomfortable hybrid, half Hemingway-character, half nature myth.
Hemingway had not himself particularly labored this moral of individualism versus solidarity, but the critics of the Left labored it for him and received his least creditable piece of fiction as the statement of a new revelation. The progress of the Communist faith among the American writers since the beginning of the economic crisis has followed a peculiar course. That the aims and beliefs of Marx and Lenin should have come through to the minds of intellectuals who had been educated in the bourgeois tradition as great awakeners of conscience, a great light, was quite natural and entirely desirable. But the conception of the dynamic Marxist will, the exaltation of the Marxian religion, seized the members of the professional classes like a capricious contagion or hurricane, which shakes one and leaves his neighbor standing, then returns to lay hold on the second after the first has become calm again. In the moment of seizure, each one saw a scroll unrolled from the heavens, on which Marx and Lenin and Stalin, the Bolsheviks of 1917, the Soviets of the Five-Year Plan, and the GPU of the Moscow trials, were all a part of the same great purpose. Later the convert, if he were capable of it, would get over his first phase of snow blindness and learn to see real people and conditions, would study the development of Marxism in terms of peoples, periods, personalities, instead of logical deductions from abstract propositions or — as in the case of the more naïve or dishonest — of simple incantatory slogans. But for many there was at least a moment when the key to all the mysteries of human history seemed suddenly to have been placed in their hands, when the infallible guide to thought and behavior seemed to have been given them in a few easy formulas.
Hemingway was hit pretty late. He was still in Death in the Afternoon telling the ‘world-savers,’ sensibly enough, that they should ‘get to see’ the world ‘clear and as a whole. Then any part you make will represent the whole, if it’s made truly. The thing to do is work and learn to make it.’ Later he jibed at the literary radicals, who talked but couldn’t take it. Then the challenge of the fight itself, — Hemingway never could resist a physical challenge, — the natural impulse to dedicate oneself to something bigger than big-game hunting and bullfighting, and the fact that the class war had broken out in a country to which he was romantically attached, seem to have combined to make him align himself with the Communists as well as the Spanish Loyalists at a time when the Marxist philosophy had been pretty completely shelved by the Kremlin, now reactionary as well as corrupt, when the Russians were lending the Loyalists only help enough to preserve, as they imagined would be possible, the balance of power against Fascism while they acted at the same time as a police force to avert the real social revolution.
Hemingway raised money for the Loyalists, reported the battle fronts. He even went so far as to make a speech at a congress of the League of American Writers, an organization rigged by the supporters of the Stalinist régime in Russia and full of precisely the type of literary revolutionists that he had formerly been ridiculing. Soon the Stalinists had taken him in tow, and he was feverishly denouncing as Fascists other writers who criticized the Kremlin. It has been one of the expedients of the Stalin administration in keeping its power and covering up its crimes to condemn on trumped-up charges of Fascist conspiracy, and even to kidnap and murder, its political opponents of the Left; and, along with the food and munitions, the Russians had brought to the war in Spain what the Austrian journalist Willi Schlamm called that diversion of doubtful value for the working class: ‘Herr Vyshinsky’s Grand Guignol.’
The result of this was a play, The Fifth Column, which, though it is good reading for the way the characters talk, is an exceedingly silly production. The hero, though an Anglo-American, is an agent of the Communist secret police, engaged in catching Fascist spies in Spain; and his principal exploit in the course of the play is clearing out, with the aid of a single Communist, an artillery post manned by seven Fascists. The scene is like a pushover and getaway from one of the cruder Hollywood Westerns.
The tendency on Hemingway’s part to indulge such puerile fantasies appears perhaps first at the end of A Farewell to Arms, where the hero, after many adventures of fighting, escaping, lovemaking, and drinking, rows his lady thirty-five kilometres against the wind on a cold November night; and we have seen what it could do for Harry Morgan. Now, as if with the conviction that the cause and the efficiency of the GPU have added several cubits to his stature, he has let this tendency loose; and he has also found in the GPU’s grim duty a pretext to give rein to the appetite for killing which has always played such a large part in his work. He has progressed from grasshoppers and trout through bulls and lions and kudus to Chinamen and Cubans, and now to Fascists. Hitherto the act of destruction has given rise for him to complex emotions: he has identified himself not merely with the injurer but also with the injured; there has been a masochistic complement to the sadism. But now this paradox which splits our natures, and which has instigated some of Hemingway’s best stories, need no longer present perplexities to his mind. The Fascists are dirty dogs, and to kill them is a holy act. He who had made a separate peace, who had said farewell to arms, has found a reason for taking them up again in a spirit of rabietic fury unpleasantly reminiscent of the spy mania and the sacred anti-German rage which took possession of so many civilians and staff officers under the stimulus of the last war.
Not that the compensatory trauma of the typical Hemingway protagonist is totally absent even here. The main episode is the hero’s brief love affair and voluntary breaking off with a beautiful and adoring girl with whom he takes up in Madrid and who, having belonged to the Junior League and been to Vassar, represents for him the leisure-class playworld from which he is trying to get away. But as he has treated her from the very first scenes with considerable frank contempt, the action is rather lacking in suspense as the sacrifice is rather feeble in moral value. One takes no stock at all in the intimation that Mr. Philip may later be sent to mortify himself in a camp for training Young Pioneers. And in the meantime he has fun killing Fascists.
In The Fifth Column, the drugging process has been carried further still: the hero, who has become finally indistinguishable from the false or publicity Hemingway, has here dosed himself with whiskey; a seductive and desirous woman, for whom he has the most admirable reasons for not taking any responsibility; sacred rage; the excitement of bombardment; and indulgence in that headiest of sports, for which he has now the same excellent reasons — the bagging of human beings.
You may be afraid, after reading The Fifth Column, that Hemingway will never sober up; but as you go on in the new volume in which it appears, which includes also his most recent short stories, you find that your apprehensions were unfounded. Three of these stories have a great deal more body — they are longer and more complex — than the comparatively meagre anecdotes collected in Winner ’Take Nothing. And here are his real artistic successes with the material of his experiences in Africa, which make up for the miscarried Green Hills: ‘The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber’ and ‘The Snows of Kilimanjaro,’ which disengage, by dramatizing them objectively, the themes which in the earlier book never really got themselves presented. And here is at least a beginning of a real artistic utilization of Hemingway’s experience in Spain: a little incident in two pages which outweighs the whole of The Fifth Column and all his Spanish dispatches, about an old man, ‘without politics,’ who has occupied his life in taking care of eight pigeons, two goats, and a cat, and who has been dislodged and separated from his pets by the advance of the Fascist armies — a story which takes its place in the category of the war series of Callot and Goya, whose union of elegance with sharpness Hemingway has already recalled in his earlier battle plates, a story which might have been written about almost any war.
And here — what is very remarkable — is a story, ‘The Capital of the World,’ which finds an objective symbol for, precisely, what is wrong with The Fifth Column. A young boy who has come up from the country and waits on table in a pension in Madrid gets accidentally stabbed with a meat knife while playing at bullfighting with the dishwasher. This is the simple anecdote, but Hemingway has built in behind it all the life of the pension and the city: the priesthood, the working-class movement, the grownup bullfighters who have broken down or missed out. ‘The boy Paco,’ Hemingway concludes, ‘had never known about any of this nor about what all these people would be doing on the next day and on other days to come. He had no idea how they really lived nor how they ended. He did not realize they ended. He died, as the Spanish phrase has it, full of illusions. He had not had time in his life to lose any of them, or even, at the end, to complete an act of contrition.’ So he registers in this very fine story the discrepancy between the fantasies of boyhood and the realities of the grown-up world. The artist in Hemingway, who feels things truly and cannot help recording what he feels, has actually said good-bye to these fantasies at a time when the war correspondent is making himself ridiculous by attempting still to hang on to them.
The emotion which principally comes through in ‘Francis Macomber’ and ‘The Snows of Kilimanjaro’ — as it figures also in The Fifth Column — is a growing antagonism to women. Looking back, one can see at this point that the tendency has been there all along. In ‘The Doctor and the Doctor’s Wife,’ the boy Nick goes out squirrel hunting with his father instead of obeying the summons of his mother; in ‘Cross Country Snow,’ he regretfully says farewell to male companionship on a skiing expedition in Switzerland, when he is obliged to go back to the States so that his wife can have her baby. The young man in ‘Hills Like White Elephants’ compels his girl to have an abortion against her will; another story, ‘A Canary for One,’ bites almost unbearably but exquisitely on the loneliness to be endured by a wife after she and her husband shall have separated; the peasant of ‘An Alpine Idyll’ abuses the corpse of his wife (these last three under the general title Men Without Women). Brett in The Sun Also Rises is an exclusively destructive force: she might be a better woman, it is intimated, in the company of Jake, the American; but actually he is protected against her and is in a sense revenging his own sex through being unable to do anything for her sexually. Even the hero of A Farewell to Arms kills Catherine — after enjoying her abject devotion — by giving her a baby, itself born dead. The only women with whom Nick Adams’s relations are perfectly satisfactory are the little Indian girls of his boyhood who are in a position of hopeless social disadvantage and have no power over the behavior of the white males — so that he can get rid of them the moment he has done with them. Thus in The Fifth Column Mr. Philip brutally breaks off with Dorothy — he has been rescued from her demoralizing influence by his dedication to Communism, just as the hero of The Sun Also Rises was saved by his physical disability — to revert to a little Moorish whore. Even Harry Morgan, who is represented as satisfying his wife on the scale of a Paul Bunyan, deserts her in the end by dying and leaves her racked by the cruelest desire.
And now this instinct to get the women down presents itself frankly as a fear that the women will get the men down. The men in both these African stories are married to American harpies of the most soul-destroying sort. The hero of ‘The Snows of Kilimanjaro’ loses his soul and dies of futility on a hunting expedition in Africa, out of which he is not getting what he had hoped. The story is not quite stripped clean of the trashy moral attitudes which have been coming to disfigure the author’s work: the hero, a seriously-intentioned and apparently promising writer, goes on a little sloppily over the dear early days in Paris when he was earnest, happy, and poor, and blames a little hysterically the rich woman whom he has married and who has debased him. Yet it is one of Hemingway’s remarkable stories. There is a wonderful piece of writing at the end when the reader is made to realize that what has seemed to be an escape by plane with the sick man looking down on Africa is only the dream of a dying man. The other story, ‘Francis Macombor,’ perfectly realizes its purpose. Here the male saves his soul at the last minute, and then is actually shot down by his woman, who does not want him to have a soul. Here Hemingway has at last got what Thurber calls the war between the sexes right out into the open and has written a terrific fable of the impossible civilized woman who despises the civilized man for his failure in initiative and nerve and then jealously tries to break him down as soon as he begins to exhibit any.
Going back over Hemingway’s books to-day, we can see clearly what an error of the politicos it was to accuse him of an indifference to society. His whole work is a criticism of society: he has responded to every pressure of the moral atmosphere of the time, as it is felt at the roots of human relations, with a sensitiveness almost unrivaled. Even his preoccupation with licking the gang in the next block and being known as the best basketball player in high school has its meaning in the present epoch. After all, whatever is done in the world, political as well as athletic, depends on personal courage and strength. With Hemingway, courage and strength are always thought of in physical terms, so that he tends to give the impression that the bullfighter who can take it and dish it out is more of a man than any other kind of man, and that the sole duty of the revolutionary socialist is to get the counter-revolutionary gang before they get him.
But ideas, however correct, will never prevail by themselves: there must be people who are prepared to stand or fall with them, and the ability to act on principle is still subject to the same competitive laws which work in sporting contests and sexual relations. Hemingway has expressed with genius the terrors of the modern man at the danger of losing control of his world, and he has also, within his scope, provided his own kind of antidote. This antidote, paradoxically, is almost entirely moral. Despite his preoccupation with physical contests, his heroes are almost always defeated physically, nervously, practically: their victories are moral ones. He himself, when he trained himself stubbornly in his unconventional, unmarketable art in a Paris which had other fashions, gave the prime example of such a victory; and if he has sometimes, under the menace of the general panic, seemed on the point of going to pieces as an artist, he has always pulled himself together the next moment. The principle of the Bourdon gauge, which is used to measure the pressure of liquids, is that a tube which has been curved into a coil will tend to straighten out in proportion as the liquid inside it is subjected to an increasing pressure.