AMST 246: Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Faulkner

Lecture 18

 - Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls, Part III


Professor Wai Chee Dimock focuses on the themes of dying and not dying that reappear throughout For Whom the Bell Tolls. Marshaling Elaine Scarry’s argument on the aesthetics of killing, she reads the execution of the Fascists as a representation of both aesthetic and ethical “ugliness” in death. She then turns to a discussion of the tragic-comic dimensions of not dying as depicted in the bullfighter Finito’s refusal to die and the smell of death emanating from the old women in the Madrid marketplace. She concludes with a reading of the word cobarde–coward–as it is applied to both Robert Jordan’s suicidal father and the indomitable Pablo.

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Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Faulkner

AMST 246 - Lecture 18 - Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls, Part III

Chapter 1: The American Civil War as a Distant Home [00:00:00]

Professor Wai Chee Dimock:  Today, we’re going to go back.  I just want to refresh your memory about some of the things that we’ve been saying about For Whom the Bell Tolls. Those seven-fold permutations that we’re looking at, in fact, pretty much all semester.  Also: voluntary versus involuntary, foreign versus not foreign, literate versus not literate.

On Thursday, we were talking about the distant home versus the on-site environment. And it turns out that there really are two very distant homes and maybe just two homes for Robert. One is Paris, which isn’t really a real home. But it is a home in the sense that it is something that he has the luxury of taking completely for granted. And so that’s one definition of home, a place where he can work unselfconsciously.

The other home is a more complicated place in the sense that maybe it’s not even a geographical locale, but a kind of emotional shelter that is given to him– bestowed upon him – by his grandfather’s heroic conduct in the civil war. So it’s a nineteenth century home for him. And he needs that very much because of the non-home that is the twentieth century. I think that is a sad fact about Robert.  And maybe it’s true of some people. Sometimes it’s true of some authors that I love that they really should have existed in a different century, and things would have been so much easier for them.

Robert isn’t exactly that kind of person.  But there is a sense that the twentieth century has been hard on him. And it is especially hard on him because of the fact of his father. There’s no more central fact than what your parent was.  This is the moment that clears up a lot of things for us – why his own home is a non-home for him.  He got this gun back, his pistol, that was his grandfather’s pistol from the Civil War that was misused by his own father. And this is what Robert does with that pistol.

“…he climbed out on the rock and leaned over and saw his face in the still water and saw himself holding the gun, and then he dropped it, holding it by the muzzle, and saw it go down making bubbles until it was just as big as a watch charm in that clear water, and then it was out of sight.”

This is the best that he can do for his father is to make his father disappear. The extent of the contamination that his father has brought upon the memory of his grandfather can be washed clean only when he becomes no more than a bubble.  Not even a bubble anymore in that clear water. It clearly goes back to Hemingway’s conception of cleanliness, of how one clears up one’s life in In Our Time in the “Big Two-Hearted River.”

But, within For Whom the Bell Tolls, it also looks forward to a moment, a traumatic moment, when someone else is looking at something like a mirror and seeing his own reflection. I just want to call your attention to the very deliberate composition of this particular visual tableau. Robert isn’t just dropping the gun. He has to lean over. He has to see his own face. He has to see himself holding the gun. And it’s that kind of almost narcissistic observation of himself that Hemingway is fascinated by, and the psychological meaning of that. So we can read all kinds of meaning into this particular scene.  We’ll see this tableau repeated by another person in an equally traumatic moment.

But here, it seems that Robert really has no parent. He looks at the world, and the only thing that he can see is himself. It’s almost as if he’s really an orphan, has always been an orphan all the time, because his father can’t really be a father to him. And so the act of dropping the gun is, in some sense, only a redescription of what has long been a psychological fact for Robert.  All this highlights the fact of how important it is to die well, not just for yourself, but also for other people for whom your death would also be consequential. And here, the biography of Hemingway really becomes quite important. Hemingway’s own father, Dr. Clarence Hemingway, died by his own hand. And we know that Hemingway himself also died by his own hands.

Chapter 2: Hemingway’s Suicide [00:06:08]

In many ways, For Whom the Bell Tolls is kind of a meditation ahead of time to that moment when Hemingway would have to decide what to do with his own life. And so this was front page news in The New York Times, June 3, 1961. Front page news, Chicago Tribune.  On July 3, 1961, the interpretation of the death of Hemingway was that it was accidental. He was cleaning his gun, and the gun just kept going off. And this fiction lasted for five years, until 1966, when his widow, Mary Hemingway, finally admitted that no, actually that he had just put the gun into his own mouth and blew out his own brains. It took five years for the truth to come out. And now there are all kinds of theories. In fact, just last summer– I think it was July– there was a lot of speculation that Hemingway might have died because he was under such close surveillance by the FBI. That’s just a new theory that would still be coming up in 2011, so many years after the death.

People still continue to have conjectures about why it was that Hemingway killed himself. But I think that one simple explanation is that he was just in poor health.  He was not able to write.  For a writer, there probably is nothing more painful than that, or something that would make life more meaningless.  This is a picture of him fairly close to the end. This was a public appearance.  He wasn’t looking too bad. But we can sort of see that he really wasn’t looking well.  He was there. It was a fishing competition. And Castro apparently won lots of trophies.  Hemingway was there to give him the trophies. But he really wasn’t looking well.  I think that that probably is the simplest explanation, that he no longer is what he once was.  He simply couldn’t accept the fact that there is this kind of sharp decline in his mental abilities and physical abilities.

This is the last image that I like to show you of Hemingway.  It’s just he used to write. That is the most important place for him, really, in the whole world.   Today, we’ll talk about issues related to that.  We’ll think about the varieties of dying and the numerous ways by which people end or choose not to end the life. So Hemingway actually covers the entire spectrum– people who choose to die as well as people who choose not to die and seeing what it means in each case.  We’ll begin by looking at the central event in For Whom the Bell Tolls, the execution of the fascist.  Then we’ll look at the personal end or non-end of various individuals, beginning with Finito whose name obviously is a pun.  Then the old women in the Madrid market.  Then bombing, which is a new phenomenon in the early twentieth century.  Then Robert’s father again.  And finally Pablo, someone who refuses to die.

Chapter 3: Varieties of Dying: The Execution of the Fascists [00:09:39]

But first of all, the execution of the fascists. We should remember this whole episode is narrated by Pilar.   I hope that you guys will talk about it in section, what it means for a woman who’s on the Republican side to be recounting this story, the execution of her political enemies and how she feels about this, and why it is that Hemingway chooses to have a woman tell this story.  Anyway, this is Pilar speaking, and how the Republican guerrillas have taken the town, so they can execute all the fascists.  This is all engineered by Pablo.

“He placed them in two lines as you would place men for a rope pulling contest or as they stand in the city to watch the ending of a bicycle road race with just room for the cyclists to pass between, or as men stood to allow the passage of a holy image in a procession. Two meters was left between the lines and they extended from the door of the Ayuntamiento clear across the plaza to the edge of the cliff. So that, from the doorway of the Ayuntamiento, looking across the plaza, one coming out would see two solid lines of people waiting.”

For Pilar, this formation, this particular visual tableau– and once again, it’s highly visual– is emphasizing what one will see coming out of the Ayuntamiento. It’s two solid lines of people who are very, all the way, not inflamed by passion, just doing what needs to be done. And so all the metaphors that Hemingway uses are actually ritualistic metaphors, something that is extremely well-defined or very well-defined rules of the game, like rope pulling contests or better yet, bicycle race. Not considered a violent event, either of those. But it still more intensifying the degree of ceremoniousness is the procession of the holy image of an icon going through.

The three metaphors highlight the fact that this is the equivalent of those rituals, civic and religious rituals, that would be a political ritual of execution. At it’s most utopian– the execution of your opponents, which is a necessary thing in some cases– the execution of your political opponents should be as ritualistic, as ceremonious, as free of passion, as all those other ritualistic events.

This is a very utopian moment in For Whom the Bell Tolls. And if it could be held at this level, then the Spanish Civil War, according to Pilar, would in fact be a good war or a beautiful war.  She tends to think of those terms as sometimes synonymous – we’ll talk about that. But in any case, it begins with a very utopian description of what a war could be and what you could do to your enemies without debasing them, without abusing them, even though you do kill them.

I tried to find an image of the two lines of people, with the people who are being executed passing through.  I just couldn’t find an image.   I guess it’s not surprising. Probably nobody will be taking pictures at that moment. But as it turns out, one major artist actually has numerous paintings that seem to be alluding to that kind of formation. Robert Motherwell, a major twentieth century artist. And not only does he have one, he actually has numerous. From the ’50s on to the ’70s, he produced numerous paintings all called “Elegy to theSpanishRepublic” with this two line formation. So this is an early one that was composed, I think it was 1954.  This one is much later. He numbers all of them. This one is in theMetropolitanMuseum.  This one is 102, I don’t actually remember what date it was, but later. And this one is quite late in the ’70s, 110 now in the series. It’s in theGuggenheimMuseum.

Clearly, Hemingway’s talking about something that’s also recognized by other people as, in many ways, the utopian moment of the war when violence is both executed, but not allowed to get out of hand. But Hemingway also shows us that, in fact, that is not a sustainable utopia. That violence kept within limits, violence kept within bounds, is not likely to last for the whole duration of the war.  Pilar refers to this as drunkenness coming into the lines.

“…the people of this town are as kind as they can be cruel and they have a natural sense of justice and a desire to do that which is right. But cruelty had entered into the lines and also drunkenness or the beginning of drunkenness and the lines were not as they were when Don Benito had come out… in Spain drunkenness, when produced by other elements than wine, is a thing of great ugliness.”

So already we’re beginning to see the language of beauty and ugliness coming into the situation where it seems that moral judgment is in play.  Pilar’s referring to real drunks, actual people who are drunks in that episode. But she’s also referring to another kind of drunkenness, which is to be drunk with maybe the desire for vengeance. Drunk with your own sense of momentary power, absolute power over someone. Drunk with your ability to bring about absolute debasement in your opponent. All of those things can make people inebriated. And so Hemingway’s really talking about– and Pilar is talking about– different forms of inebriation and how they can all work to break down the stability, orderliness, and ceremoniousness of what really ought to be no more than a ritual. So it’s the breakdown of ritual that for Pilar marks the beginning of the chaos and the mob violence that takes over the scene.

Chapter 4: The Aesthetics of Killing [00:16:52]

She talks about ugliness. And in many ways, she’s inviting us to think about both the ethics, but also the aesthetics of killing.  A book that is pertinent to that kind of thinking is Elaine Scarry’s book On Beauty and Being Just.  Her argument is that beauty is actually very important in our consideration of justice. That the sense of proportion, the sense of balance, the sense of symmetry, all those ideas that we associate with beauty should also be concepts that we consider when we think about crime and punishment. Whether the punishment is commensurate with the crime.  It’s an interesting argument.  Not just about execution of political prisoners, but thinking about justice in general.  Keep that in mind as we go with Pilar to talk more about the breakdown of the line.

“Then some drunkard yelled, ‘Guillermo!’ from the lines, imitating the high cracked voice of his wife and Don Guillermo rushed toward the man, blindingly, with tears now running down his cheeks and the man hit him hard across the face with his flail and Don Guillermo sat down from the force of the blow and sat there crying, but not from fear, while the drunkards beat him and one drunkard jumped on top of him, astride his shoulders, and beat him with a bottle.”

My reading is not even doing justice to just how horrendous this scene is.  I think that the reason that Hemingway really singles out this moment is the incommensurability between the punishment and the crime.  We know in fact– and Pilar is very careful to tell us– that Guillermo is not the worst of the fascists. In fact, he’s not powerful.  He doesn’t own anything. He owns a little wooden implement shop.  He is a fascist because of his wife, because his wife is religious.  He becomes a fascist to humor her. So he really is the last person who ought to be executed under those circumstances.  He’s also the last person who ought to be humiliated in this particular way.

There are various kinds of execution. There doesn’t have to be this very brutal kind of debasement of the person that’s just cruel mockery. This is what Pilar means that these people are naturally kind, but they’re also capable of great cruelty.  This is the moment when we see that cruelty dramatized.  It’s not even the killing of Guillermo. It’s the making fun of him.  The whole scenario engineered in such a way as to bring about the maximum degradation on the part of Guillermo. This is what makes this scene so unbearable.

For Pilar, this is the absolute low point maybe of the whole Spanish Civil War up to that point. Although she can’t really look into the future, and she doesn’t know what’s to come. But in any case, this is the moment when all of a sudden, everything seems to be going the wrong way.  It is a turning point for the worse for Pilar.

“ ‘I myself had felt much emotion at the shooting of the guardia civil by Pablo,’ Pilar said. ‘It was a thing of great ugliness, but I had thought if this is how it must be, this is how it must be, and at least there was no cruelty, only the depriving of life, which as we all have learned in these years is a thing of ugliness but also a necessity to do if we are to win, and to preserve the Republic.’”

It’s a very complex bit of reasoning here.  It seems that Pilar’s disagreeing with Scarry. Scarry thinks that there’s almost kind of a perfect match between beauty and justice. That in our mind’s eye– not so much in the physical eye, but in our mind’s eye in our mind– what we recognize in our mind’s eye as beautiful will also be just. That there’s that kind of balance and symmetry. But Pilar’s making a distinction between something that is ugly and something that is morally reprehensible and something that is politically necessary. So those are the three aesthetic/ political concepts that are in play in her head.  For her, something that is politically necessary can also be ugly, and that is OK. She can take ugliness. She doesn’t welcome it. She doesn’t love it. But she can take it.  It is the cruelty that she can’t take.

Based on that distinction, it is the fact that cruelty had entered into the lines – for her, that is the measure of just how much the sense of war has been corrupted from within. That it has “gone bad.”   That is a phrase that Hemingway uses quite a bit in For Whom the Bell Tolls. Pablo is someone who has gone bad. And the Spanish Civil War, the Republican cause is something that has gone bad. So the final reflection from Pilar.

“…but I could not sleep that night and I got up and sat in a chair and looked out of the window and I could see the square in the moonlight where the lines had been and across the square the trees shining in the moonlight, and the darkness of their shadows, and the benches bright too in the moonlight, and the scattered bottles shining, and beyond the edge of the cliff where they had all been thrown. And there was no sound but the splashing of the water in the fountain and I sat there and I thought we have begun badly.”  

She’s arriving at that, which for her, is the ultimate really judgment. Not ugly, but bad. This is her verdict on her own side.

Pilar, of course, is not speaking for Hemingway. But I think that she has a lot of authority. Her judgment is something that we should take very seriously. At what point does cruelty in any war– not just the Spanish Civil War but the first World War, the second World War especially is a war marked by great cruelty– at what point does cruelty render that side not justifiable?  Winning is not always justifiable.  From here, from this kind of a large-scale meditation on the justice of war– whether there could be a just war, or at what point does all wars become unjust– from that large scale macro meditation, let’s move on to thinking about dying as a much more personal phenomenon and also a choice, quite often. Hemingway is very interested both in people dying involuntarily, but also in people choosing to live on voluntarily, even though living on might not be beautiful, might not even be ethical – though that is kind of a funny thing to say.

Chapter 5: Varieties of Not Dying: Bullfighter Finito [00:25:03]

He certainly seems to be looking forward to his own end in the Agustin episodes, but beginning with the bullfighter Finito.  This is someone who is already– his career is over at this point. He’s gone to his last corrida, last bullfight. And this is the ceremony celebrating the end of his career and his retirement and his glorious career up to this point.

“Finito did not eat much because he had received a palotaxo, a blow from the flat of the horn when we had gone in to kill in his last corrida of the year at Zaragoza. So the president of the Club reached the end of the speech and then, with everybody cheering him, he stood on a chair and reached up and untied the cord that bound the purple shroud over the head. And the head of the bull was as though he were alive, his forehead was curly as in life and his nostrils were open and his eyes were bright and he was there looking straight at Finito. Everyone shouted and applauded and Finito sunk further back in the chair and then everyone was quiet and looking at him and he said, ‘No, no,’ and looked at the bull and pulled further back and then he said, ‘No!’ very loudly and a big blob of blood came out and he didn’t even put up the napkin and it slid down his chin and he was still looking at the bull.”

There’s a lot of looking in Hemingway. You guys can write a great paper just on the dynamics of looking.  The gaze that we cast upon someone else and sometimes the gaze that they cast back at us. Quite often it’s a reciprocal process.  Here it is indeed a reciprocal process. Finito is looking at the bull, and the bull is looking at him. Even though it’s a dead bull, it doesn’t matter. A dead bull can look back at you too. And it seems that here, actually, it is not what Finito is seeing. It’s not the mirror image. And that’s what’s so heartbreaking about it.

It would have been great if it had been a mirror image. Because what he sees in a bull is actually a bull in a full vigor of life. This bull, even though it’s dead, he’s more alive than when he was alive, it seems. His curly hair, his nostrils are open, his eyes are bright. He’s just a great spectacle. And more than that, he’s animate. He seems to be endowed with life even after death.

If this were a mirror image, it ought to have been Finito in his prime of life, when he was a great matador, when he wouldn’t be coughing blood, when he would be able to eat instead of now when he can’t eat anything, because of the damage that has been done to this stomach.  So if this were a mirror image, Finito would have been young again. But we all know that that’s not going to happen.

And so Hemingway is clearly punning on the word Finito. This is a man who is finished. When a man is finished in this particular way, is it better or worse for him to be still alive? Wouldn’t it have been better if he had been killed earlier, just like the bull? Then he would have been preserved at the maximum high point of his life. So I think it’s not the kind of thinking that actually we want to engage in all the time. But it is something that I think that Hemingway takes very seriously.   For him, this is a kind of comic– tragic-comic moment of survival. Yes, Finito is hanging on there. He’s not about to just dispatch himself voluntarily. He’s going to hang on. But it’s a very dubious kind of hanging on. And the only redeeming thing that we can say about it is that it is funny. It’s comical.

Chapter 6: Varieties of Death: The Tragic-Comic Smell of Death [00:29:37]

Once again, the only way that we can take this, we can swallow this, stomach it, is by saying that it is a comical moment in For Whom the Bell Tolls. And there’s another equally tragic-comic moment in For Whom the Bell Tolls about somebody hanging on, refusing to die, even though they have finished, as Finito is also finished. This is Pilar talking to Robert about the smell of death. And then he doesn’t know what that smells like. And she tells him to go to the market in Madrid.

“ ‘You must go down the hill in Madrid to the Puente de Toledo early in the morning to the matadero and stand there on the wet paving when there is a fog from the Manzanares and wait for the old women who go before daylight to drink the blood of the beasts that are slaughtered. When such an old woman comes out of the matadero, holding her shawl around her, with her face gray and her eyes hollow, and the whiskers of age on her chin and on her cheeks, set in the waxen white of her face as the sprouts grow from the seed of the bean, not bristles but pale sprouts in the death of her face. Put your arms tights around her, Ingles, and hold her to you and kiss her on the mouth and you will know the second part that odor is made of.”

I definitely think there’s quite a bit of misogyny going on. Old people, male and female kind of look bad. But Hemingway seems completely fixated on how bad old women look. And especially the bean sprouts growing on her face– that’s why it’s sort of comic and is OK because of that.  Lots of very well known older women have this kind of whiskers on their faces.  It’s just a fact. But for Hemingway, it seems to be a kind of a reproach on the old women that they should have this growth on their faces.   It’s as if they are going against nature, that suddenly they have become men rather than women to have whiskers on their faces – they really ought to have died earlier instead of allowing this unnatural phenomena to happen to them.  It’s really a very small incident, but nonetheless, the female counterpart to the Finito story.

I want to stop here for a moment and talk a little bit about the interconnections between Hemingway and Fitzgerald. In fact, we’ve seen this phenomenon before – a kind of an unnatural growth that is almost a parody of nature.  Here we have this tragic comic bean sprouts on a human face.  In Fitzgerald, we have a non-comic version of that in The Great Gatsby in the Valley of the Ashes with the ashes growing like wheat.  I’ll read you the passage in a moment.  Hemingway also has the kind of non-comic parallel to the Fitzgerald version, which is also a kind of parody of nature that we’ll look at. But first, something that is almost like the market scene of the bean sprouts in The Great Gatsby.

“This is the valley of ashes, a fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat into ridges and hills and grotesque gardens.”

Fitzgerald’s talking about some kind of grotesque vegetation that is made up of the animate and the inanimate. And in many ways, Hemingway’s talking about exactly the same thing, the bean sprouts. The women are almost inanimate. They really ought to be inanimate. It’s a caricature of the animate that they are animate. But in any case, it is sort of the re-commingling of the animate and the inanimate that he’s talking about and that Fitzgerald is also talking about.  Curious that the organic and inorganic are mixed in this way for both authors.

I would say that for Fitzgerald, it is very hard to see this as comic at all. He didn’t try very hard.  It is just not that funny. It’s ominous. It refers to a tragedy.  But Hemingway also has a version of that – something that is almost a parody of nature, except that it doesn’t take the form of bean sprouts.  It is a human invention that looks like the work of nature, but there’s something else.

Chapter 7: Varieties of Dying: The Tragic-Comic Rewriting of “The Earth Moved” [00:34:52]

This is the bombing of the El Sordo band on the top of the hill. They’ve been chased to the top of the hill, and they’re kept there by the firing power of the enemy. And they’re on the top of the hill, they’re being bombed, the maximum point of efficiency from the bombs.

“Then, through the hammering of the gun, there was the whistle of the air splitting apart and then in the red black roar the earth rolled under his knees and then waved up to hit him in the face and then dirt and bits of rock were falling all over and Ignacio was lying on him and the gun was lying on him. But he was not dead because the whistle came again and the earth rolled under him with the roar then they came again and the earth lurched under his belly and one side of the hilltop rose into the air and fell slowly over them where they lay.”

Supposedly it is bombs dropped by all those bombers that we saw. The Heinkels and the Fiats, the German Heinkels and the Italian Fiats dropping the bombs. In this case, I think it’s just the Italian bombers. But the way that this moment of bombing is described three times in this passage is that the earth is rising up and hitting the guerilla band, and every one of them gets killed in this bombing. It is the fact that the earth seems to be conspiring with the bombers and hitting the human beings that it has nurtured all this time.

This is the ultimate insult. This is the ultimate injury. The Spanish peasants, they live on the earth, they think that the earth is on their side. to have the earth suddenly joining the side of the enemy is about the worst thing that could happen.  This is the cruelty of the description of that scene. A cruelty that is very much coming from Hemingway himself. He didn’t have to describe the bombing as the action of the earth rising up and hitting all these human beings. He doesn’t have to describe them in this way.

He’s describing the incident in this way to highlight the fact that in which nature has been appropriated and perverted by human action. That modern technology has perverted nature so that nature is no longer a place where human beings can be nourished.  The earth itself is a weapon that can be used against human beings.

What is also cruel about this particular realignment of the earth with the enemy is that it reaches back, and retrospectively and retroactively rewrites and ironizes an earlier moment.  This is not the first time that we hear about the earth rolling or the earth moving.  In fact, one of the most famous little detail from For Whom the Bell Tolls is that when you have good sex supposedly the earth moves under you. And this is the information that Pilar wants to get from Maria to make sure that everything is fine, that this, in fact, happened.

“ ‘The earth moved,’ Maria said, not looking at the woman. ‘Truly. It was a thing I cannot tell thee…’ ‘For you, Ingles?’ Pilar looked at Robert Jordan. ‘Don’t lie.’ ‘Yes’ he said. ‘Truly.’ ‘Good,’ said Pilar. ‘Good. That is something.’”

So this is back in page 174. The earth moving, it’s all on the human side. And for someone who has a very short life– everyone seems to know that Robert might actually have a very short life– for someone who’s going to have a very short life, having that experience is very important.  On page 174, the earth moving has one connotation.  The cruelty of what happens on page 331 is that it completely rewrites that earlier scene and assigns a different– in fact the opposite– meaning to the earth moving.

This is what Hemingway’s sometimes quite brutal narrative can do, is that even something that seems to be safely concluded– that earth moving for Robert and Maria– even though that is safely concluded in the past, it is actually not safe from a subsequent rewriting and a reassignment of meaning.  The meaning of the earth moving is still in flux.  Maybe it could be either way. Or maybe, the later event actually can completely erase the earlier meaning.  I think we have to decide for ourselves to what extent page 321 can undo that earlier utopian moment.

Chapter 8: Varieties of Dying: Robert’s Father as Cobarde [00:40:18]

I want to talk about two other things that are associated with dying and not dying, both hinging on the word “cobarde,” coward. The first goes back to Robert’s father. But when we’re looking at the scene when he’s just dropping the pistol in the water, there’s no description of how he feels about his father. It’s just that he wants to get rid of the gun. He never wants to see the gun again. That’s it. He’s managed to get rid of the gun. But actually, there is an upfront description of how Robert feels about his father, and also a clarification of why he needs his grandfather.

“Aw hell, I wish grandfather was here, he thought. For about an hour anyway. Maybe he sent me what little I have through the other one that misused the gun. Maybe that is the only communication that we have. But, damn it. I’ll never forget how sick it made me the first time I knew he was a cobarde. Go on, say it in English. Coward. It’s easier when you have it said and there is never any point in referring to a son of a bitch by some foreign term. He wasn’t any son of a bitch, though. He was just a coward and that was the worst luck any man could have.”

This is interesting for multiple reasons. One is that Robert really hopes that he’s the grandson of his grandfather, rather than the son of his father. That’s clear. Both describe him – he is both his grandfather’s grandson and his father’s son. If he had the choice, he would much rather be the former. So he’s suddenly hoping for the best, which is that his father would just disappear and that one link would be invalid. It would be an invalid link.

But the way that he thinks about his father is– first of all, that this is a moment when Spanish seems to come in handy.  Maybe it’s easier just to ease your way into that way of thinking about your father. So you go by way of a foreign language. But then you really have to say it in your own tongue. But then the way that he thinks about that word is to empty it of any moral judgment. I think that when we use the word “coward,” we tend to attach a lot of moral significance to that term. Lack of bravery is a kind of a moral failing on the part of the person who’s lacking that quality.

But Robert empties out that moral verdict and just says that some people are unlucky. Some people are just born not very brave.  It is not up to them. If they are born not very brave, it is too much to expect absolute bravery from them. They’re not meant to be brave. And when they are tried under certain circumstances, when they can’t meet that test of bravery, then they’re going to break.  This is his way of accounting for the fact that his father can’t live on stubbornly– doesn’t have the will to live, to keep him going– just to make sense of that in his own mind.

In this incident, a cobarde’s decision to die is rendered acceptable. It’s still not a great thing, but he can wrap his mind around it.  That’s what he wants – to be able to wrap his mind around the fact of his father’s suicide. But I think that Hemingway actually– and this really speaks to how far he’s able to imagine a position that in the end we know that will be the opposite of his own– how far he’s able to imagine and give dignity or maybe a kind of admiration for someone’s decision not to die. The stubborn decide to hang on and not just to go right now.

Chapter 9: Varieties of Not Dying: Pablo as Cobarde [44:51:46]

Parallel to this, symmetrical to this, but also antithetical to his father’s action is a cobarde’s will to survive. And the person who embodies that will to survive is Pablo, whom I argue is actually one of the most interesting characters, arguably more interesting than Robert, in this novel . Because so much goes on inside his head and also through him that we actually don’t see represented in the novel.  This is one area where Hemingway even alerts us to the fact that there is some information that we’re not getting.  This lack of information or that non-disclosure of information actually makes Pablo the very mysterious person that he is. Anyway, Pablo is close to being killed at this moment.

“Agustin hit him again hard in the mouth and Pablo laughed at him, showing the yellow, bad, broken teeth in the reddened line of his mouth. ‘Leave it alone,’ Pablo said and reached with a cup to scoop some wine from the bowl. ‘Nobody here has cojones to kill me and this hand is silly.’ ‘Cobarde,’ Agustin said. ‘Nor words either,’ Pablo said and made a swishing noise rinsing the wine in his mouth. He spat on the floor. ‘I am far past words.’ Agustin stood there looking down at him and cursed him, speaking slowly, clearly, bitterly and contemptuously and cursing as steadily as though he were dumping manure on a field, lifting it with a dung fork out of a wagon. ‘And thou! And thou!’ Agustin turned from the door and spoke to him, putting all this contempt into a single, ‘Tu.’ ‘Yes, me,’ said Pablo. ‘I will be alive when you are dead.’

Agustin is trying his best to get Pablo into a fight so that he can be killed right then and there. And Pablo is doing everything he can to stay alive, and he’s succeeding. So no question about it, he’s an excellent coward. He’s going to stand there and be insulted maybe for as long as Agustin has breath to insult him. He’s not going to break.  We’ll come back and talk more about Pablo next time.

[end of transcript] 

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