AMST 246: Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Faulkner

Lecture 19

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


Professor Wai Chee Dimock concludes her discussion of For Whom the Bell Tolls by reading the novel as a narrative of dispossession and repossession. She argues that the rape of Maria, which takes place in front of a barbershop mirror, enacts one type of disempowerment; the end of Robert Jordan’s life represents another, but with the potential for redemption. She shows how Jordan vacillates between a “have” and a “have not,” depending on how ironically one understands Maria’s question “What hast thou?”

Warning: This lecture contains graphic content and/or adult language that some users may find disturbing.

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Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Faulkner

AMST 246 - Lecture 19 - Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls, Part IV

Chapter 1:  Women’s War [00:00:00]

Professor Wai Chee Dimock: This is the historic end of the Spanish Civil War. The Republicans lost. They were on the losing side.  The winner gets to appear on the cover of Time Magazine – March 27, 1939, General Franco.  It actually ended slightly later than that, but already at that point it was clear that there was no way the fascists would not win.  That’s why he was on the cover of Time Magazine.

What we’re looking at in Hemingway is some time before that, when things are still up in the air.  When we get to the end of For Whom the Bell Tolls, actually there’s still hope for Robert in some sense.  We’ll be looking at that at the end of today’s lecture. But I also want to call your attention to a very interesting fact about the Spanish Civil War, which is that it was very much a women’s war, unlike World War I or, indeed, World War II, where there weren’t a lot of women doing the actual fighting. The Spanish Civil War was one that was very proud of the fact that women were participating.

We can see that in the posters celebrating that fact, and also in numerous photos that we have of women either training or actually in combat situations. There’s one of them. They were trained just as a man would be trained, and they were in uniform.  This was a woman militia from Barcelona, I think.  Once more, women fighting.   I think that partly accounts for the fact that Pilar is such a powerful figure in For Whom the Bell Tolls, that this is one of the few Hemingway novels where there’s a fairly strong woman’s voice.  We might think that maybe she’s too good to be true, that maybe it’s overly idealized, but, in any case, Pilar is a rare instance of a very powerful woman who would dare to cast her judgment, pass her judgment, on the conduct of her own side.  She thinks that the revolution had begun badly, as we saw last time. A woman who’s not afraid to have that opinion.

Partly it had to do with the fact that the women were so important in the Spanish Civil War as soldiers.  But I think that it also has something to do with the personal circumstances in Hemingway’s own life. If you turn to the front of For Whom the Bell Tolls, you’ll see that it’s dedicated to Martha Gellhorn. Hemingway was married to Martha Gelhorn when they were writing, when they were covering the Spanish Civil War.  She very much was a very important journalist in her own right.

This is the book that she wrote, both about the Spanish Civil War, but also about World War II, and in fact aboutVietnam. It went all the way to the ’60s. So she really had a very long, distinguished career as a war journalist.  In recognition of the fact, there actually was aUnited Statespostage stamp celebrating her writing, with her wartime writings fromJapanandChina. The Chinese Revolution was a very important part of her writing, and in Normandy and Dachau, the World War II episodes.

I was tempted to assign some of her writing, but there’s just no room to incorporate her wartime reporting into this class. But I do want to draw your attention to the fact that she was a significant companion to Hemingway in more ways than one.

Chapter 2: Symmetry of Brutality and Narration in Hemingway [00:04:33]

Today we’ll be talking about  the narrative form of Hemingway.  You guys will be getting paper topics very soon from your the teaching fellows, and one of the topics will have to do with forms of narration, the narrative structure.  I want to start talking about that, and to get you guys thinking about various experimental or well rehearsed, but nonetheless still reinvigorated, forms in this novel.

We’ll be looking at questions of symmetry, and the mirror effect that already we’ve seen a little bit of. Last time we talked about negative mirroring, the earth moving for Robert Jordan and Maria when they made love, and that being mirrored negatively with the bombing when the earth moved under the feet of the people who were bombed. So that’s one instance of negative symmetry, something being ironized retroactively.

Today we’ll be looking at more instances of those kinds of symmetry.   Possession and dispossession, have and have not– a paradigm that we’ve been looking at for some time – along with ironic and not ironic. And then – today – also ending and beginning, very important in this novel.  But I want to begin by looking at one particular symmetry, which is the symmetry of brutality, or brutal conduct. Execution that we saw, the execution of the fascists that we saw last time in Chapter 10.  Then in Chapter 31, a similar, maybe more horrendous, episode of fascist violence, the rape that is inflicted on Maria.  It goes back, also, to the importance of women in the Spanish Civil War as well.

Because rape is such an explosive subject, there’s been lots done on rape. This is Susan Brownmiller’s Against Our Will, it’s one of the classic considerations of rape. There also has been lots and lots of representation of rape in painting, especially rape considered as a metaphor for the brutalities perpetrated on the defeated by the victors. Even though it’s the women who are getting raped, it  is a metaphor for what happens to the losers in the war.

Poussin had a number of paintings. I can’t even keep count of the significant number. This is one, and this is another one at the Louvre, a very well known painting. It can get monotonous after a while. They are different, but they’re also somewhat alike.

When Picasso came to redoing this theme, you can see that this is a real new departure. It looks nothing like the Poussin paintings. And so that is the twentieth century take on a time honored theme.  I would argue that Hemingway is, in his own way, doing a novelistic rendition of the rape of the Sabine women in the rape of Maria, that is every bit as innovative as the Picasso painting, coming out at the same time, a complete departure from tradition.  What is innovative about Hemingway, and it goes back to his longstanding interest in the mirror and seeing yourself in the mirror. The last time we noticed this – when Robert was dropping the gun, the pistol that was misused by his father – he was looking at himself his mirror image in the water, looking at himself holding the gun and dropping the gun.  We’ve already seen one instance of the mirror in For Whom the Bell Tolls.  Here is a much more traumatic instance of that:

“I saw my face in the mirror of the barbershop and the faces of three others who were leaning over me and I knew none of their faces but in the glass I saw myself and them, but they saw only me.  And it was as though one were in the dentist’s chair and there were many dentists and they were all insane.  My own face I could hardly recognize because my grief had changed it but I looked at it and knew that it was me.  But my grief was so great that I had no fear nor any feeling but my grief.”

So this is not actually the rape, it’s just cutting off her hair. In many ways an innocuous exercise, the rape would come after that.   But Maria doesn’t talk about the actual rape. This is all as close as we can get, is the looking at herself in the mirror.  I think it is a belated rejoinder to the earlier episode of Robert looking at his own face in the water, in a sense that this is associated with trauma for some reason. To look at ones self in the mirror is a traumatic tableau for Hemingway. It’s the precondition for some kind of trauma. In the case of the earlier episode with Robert looking at himself mirrored in the water, it’s actually the beginning of the cleansing process. He’s ridding himself of that pistol that he would want to have nothing to do with. In this case, Maria looking at herself in the mirror as the rape is about to happen is the beginning of the trauma. So let’s look at the visual tableau that Hemingway is creating for us.

Because of the optics, the particular optics of this scene, Maria can see herself and then the three of them. And they can look in the mirror and they see only Maria.  This is a great example of how self-consciousness is, in many ways, the burden of the person who is tortured. The people who are doing the torturing see only the object of the torture. They get all the pleasure from being able to inflict maximum damage on the person that they are torturing. They don’t see themselves doing it. That’s what enables them to do it is that they don’t see themselves.

Maria sees herself, and she sees the three people who are able to do this to her.  What we’re beginning to see is, in many ways, the beginning of the process of this procession. Maria looks at herself, but because of those three looming figures behind her, already she’s not quite herself. She is herself plus those three other people. And she’s also not quite herself because they’re cutting off her hair. So she’s losing a very important part of her identity. She’s beginning not to recognize herself.

This process of not recognizing herself would get dramatized in a way that goes back, actually, to the image of the two lines that we had talked about, and that Robert Motherwell also represented in numerous paintings. The two orderly lines that would be the utopian ideals of political ritual in the execution of the fascists. In this case it is, once again, a retroactive ironization of that earlier utopian moment. We get the same two lines, except that those two lines now have a completely different meaning.

“‘At that time I wore my hair in two braids and as I watched in the mirror one of them lifted one of the braids and pulled on it so it hurt me suddenly through my grief and then cut it off close to my head with a razor.   And I saw myself with one braid and a slash where the other had been.  Then he cut off the other braid but without pulling on it and the razor made a small cut on my ear and I saw blood come from it.  Canst thou feel the scar with thy finger?”’ ‘Yes.  But would it be better not to talk of this?’ ‘This is nothing.  I will not talk of that which is bad.  So he had cut both braids close to my head with a razor and the others laughed and I did not even feel the cut on my ear and then he stood in front of me and struck me across the face with the braids while the other two held me and he said, “This is how we make Red nuns.  This will show thee how to unite with thy proletarian brothers.  Bride of the Red Christ! And he struck me again and again across the face with the braids which had been mine and then he put the two of them in my mouth and tied them tight around my neck, knotting them in the back to make a gag and the two holding me laughed.’”                       

This is the new use to which lines could be put – the two braids belonging to oneself can be used as weapons against oneself.  This is very much the same logic as the earth rising up and hitting the men that it has been nourishing up to this point.  It’s the complete reversal of the meaning of something that really is a part of you, a radical alienation of that thing, and the instrumentalization of that thing into a weapon.

Chapter 3: The Dispossession of Rape [00:15:12]

Even then, I think it’s less traumatic than the effect of looking at the mirror and watching yourself losing first one braid and then the other, and then watching the transformation of your face when that is happening. It is not only inflicting that on Maria, but also making her watch herself undergo this transformation, that she’s becoming an alien being even to her own eyes.

This is the concluding moment of that act of dispossession.

“Then the one who had gagged me ran a clipper all over my head; first from the forehead all the way to the back of the neck and then across the top and then all over my head and close behind my ears and they held me so I could see into the glass of the barber’s mirror all the time that they did this and I could not believe it as I saw it done and I cried and cried but I could not look away from the horror that my face made with the mouth open and the braids tied in it and my head coming naked under the clippers.”        

This is the closest that Hemingway will get to giving us an image of Maria being rendered completely defenseless, because all the things that shelter ourselves are being taken away from her. Hair might not be the most powerful form of shelter, but it is a form of shelter in the sense that without it we really look very naked, naked in a psychological sense.  Maria will become naked in more than that sense. But it also has to do with what kind of object Maria would be in the world. Before this happens, she would never be an object to herself. She should always be a subject to herself, in a sense that she would never actually see herself as she’s seeing herself right now.  It is taking away her relation to herself. That is being taken away from her.

It’s not even just the hair, which is nothing, which will grow back – although we can also see that Hemingway is quite obsessed with hair and the cutting off of hair, just as Fitzgerald is in “Bernice Cuts Her Hair.” But the physical removal of the hair is really nothing compared with the destruction of a longstanding relation that one has to oneself.

I think that we see a similar operation when someone would insult you to the point where you don’t actually recognize the person who has been insulted. It might not ever have happened to you, and very rarely it happens to anyone, but Zora Neale Hurston talks about that in an essay called, “How I Became the Colored Me.”  It was when she was growing up in a black community inFlorida, but she never saw herself as black until she was made to feel herself as black.  It’s losing one’s identity to oneself.  What is happening here is a similar kind of dynamics, that suddenly she sees herself as something that she’s never seen herself as before.  It is both that operation, but also the additional horror that she cannot take her eyes away from the mirror. She could easily have shut her eyes.

The psychological atrocity of this scene is that the dynamics of the scene is such that she cannot take her eyes away from this thing that she cannot bear to watch. It is the gluing of her eyes to something that she would want to do everything to remove her eyes from. It is that gluing that is also part of the atrocity.

This is the way that Hemingway chooses to talk about rape, not the time-honored and recognizable scenario that Poussin has made classic in his classic compositions.  Not even the Picasso representation, which still has to do much more with someone crying out in protest. We can almost hear the sound in the Picasso representation. In the Maria episodes there is absolutely no sound, because her mouth has been gagged.  It’s the absolute silencing of Maria, and the complete reduction of that scenario into a visual scenario without sound that makes it different from the Poussin and the Picasso painting.

What makes it slightly bearable in Poussin and Picasso is that we can imagine those women as crying out.  It is that crying out that makes them human and registers the resistance to what is being done to them.  In the case of Maria, because it is strictly a mirror effect, and because it is a strictly visual tableau, and because her mouth is gagged, it is completely soundless.  It is the deprivation of voice, along with the cutting of the hair – these two things that work to create the maximum effect of victimization in the rape scenes.

We can see that, for Maria, dispossession is a central narrative fact.  It is registered with full dramatic effect as unforgettable, an instance of rape as any in American literature, but actually representing the act itself.  That’s part of the innovation as well, is that you don’t actually go anywhere near the actual deed.

Chapter 4: Dispossession for Robert [00:21:36]

Given the fact that dispossession is so important for Maria, we have to ask a related question. To what extent is dispossession terminal for Robert? I think it is an open question. I hope that you guys will talk about all of this in section – whether or not Maria actually gets to recover from that act of dispossession. Has she recovered fully from that rape, or is she still living in the shadow of that rape? How long does it take for that shadow to go away? Is she still within the narrative of dispossession all the way through For Whom the Bell Tolls?  That’s an open question for Maria. For Robert it’s a slightly different question, and it has to do with two possible trajectories for Robert.

What I would like to do here is to give you a practical demonstration of a strategy in writing your final paper, which is to write half of the paper as dedicated to one argument, then the other half as dedicated to the opposite argument.  It would be an interesting experiment to do. Basically you’re trying to be a lawyer. Lawyers are supposed to argue either side of a case. It’s an intellectual exercise. Usually it takes, for most of us, it takes a little bit more that that. We actually have to have some kind of emotional investment in something to argue, to make a very convincing case. But supposedly someone who’s trained as a lawyer should be able to argue either side.

So what I’m offering as one possibility in the final paper is to make an argument one way and then the opposite way. And in this case it’s not even a stretch for me to argue both sides of the case, because I’m actually of two minds.   There is emotional investment on my part in both sides of the argument.

The two opposing arguments: one would be that For Whom the Bell Tolls is a narrative about dispossession, that what Robert ends up with at the end of the novel is as a “have not.” That he starts out with something, and by the end of the novel everything is taken away from him. He is completely empty handed at the end of the novel. A very harsh reading of the novel. The other, and I like to end with that, is to argue that it actually is a narrative of repossession. Yes, that a lot has been taken away from him, but that maybe we could still make a case that he’s not totally empty handed at the end of the novel.

Chapter 5: Robert as a “Have Not” [00:24:48]

I hope I’ll be able to make a compelling case for both, but let’s start with trajectory one.  In order to make a case for Robert as a “have not,” we have to put an ironic spin on the word “to have”, especially a memorable line, “Roberto, what hast thou?” And I want to bring back, actually to a similar use, ironic use, of the word “have” in As I Lay Dying.

Following from that, we can look at the narrative structure of For Whom the Bell Tolls, and look at it as a narrative enactment in terms of the formal structure of the novel, as a narrative enactment of the act of dispossession, that Robert is losing control of the narrative.  A narrative leg and arm have been cut off from him and taken over by someone else – similar to the structure of To Have and Have Not.

First, “have” as an ironic word. This is at the very end of the novel.

“Maria was kneeling by him and saying, ‘Roberto, what hast thou?’He said, sweating heavily, ‘The left leg is broken, guapa’…The sweat-streaked, bristly face bent down by him and Robert Jordan smelt the full smell of Pablo. ‘Let us speak,” he said to Pilar and Maria.  “I have to speak to Pablo.’ ‘Does it hurt much?’ Pablo asked.  He was bending close over Robert Jordan. ‘No, I think the nerve is crushed.  Listen.  Get along.  I am mucked, see?  I will talk to the girl for a moment.’ ‘Clearly, there is not much time.’ ‘Clearly.’ ‘I think you would do better in the Republic,’ Robert Jordan said. ‘Nay, I am for Gredos.’ ‘Use thy head.’ ‘Talk to her now,’ Pablo said.  ‘There is little time.  I am sorry thou hast this, Ingles.’ ‘Since I have it,’ Robert Jordan said, ‘Let us not speak of it.  But use thy head.  Thou hast much head.  Use it.’”                    

It is very hard to not to notice the way that the key player in this passage is the word to have. It begins with Maria asking Robert, innocently, “What hast thou,” because, in fact, she doesn’t know whether the leg is really broken. But he knows. And it’s at this point– it’s the switching of Pablo for Maria that, for me, represents one of the cruel decisions on Hemingway’s part. That, instead of having Maria still bending over him, the person who’s now bent over Robert is Pablo, and what he smells is the full smell of Pablo. It’s a very, very significant detail in the sense that Robert still doesn’t really know Pablo. He remains a mysterious figure all the way through. I mentioned last time that a lot of things happen. Pablo does a lot of things. He thinks lots of things when we’re not privy to what is going on in the narrative. And, likewise for Robert, he simply doesn’t know what’s going on inside Pablo’s head, or what Pablo is doing. He’s executing other people when Robert isn’t looking.  All this we suspect might be happening, but we just never know.

Pablo is, from beginning to end, he’s always an opaque character both to Robert and to us. But all that Robert can get at this moment is the full smell of Pablo. It is that overwhelming odor, almost like the smell of honeysuckle that is coming to Robert at the end of his life. That is about the most that he will ever get, it’s not a cerebral understanding of Pablo, it’s just an animal apprehension of how powerful a man this is, smells in an animal sense.  It’s an animal’s fear and apprehension, but also a recognition of what kind of a man Pablo is.

Pablo asks an innocent enough question, “Does it hurt much?” But he knows that there’s no way Robert can travel. There’s no way he can go with the rest of the people. He knows perfectly well how much time, really, is left to Robert. And there is an up front, cruelly, I think, in the last thing that Pablo says to Robert, “I’m sorry thou hast this, Ingles.” From beginning to end, the refusal of recognition that Robert is American and English, that he has a name, even. For Pablo, Robert is just like Kashkin someone with a rare name who comes in, who destroys the bridge, destroys something, works the explosive, is killed. He is another of those. A whole string of foreigners coming though with totally forgettable names, and not even getting the nationality right.

This is the ultimate insult inflicted by Pablo on Robert at the very end of his life. And Robert is absolutely defenseless. He’s defenseless physically, he’s defenseless psychologically and emotionally. All he can say is, in fact, this admission of defeat really, giving the last bit of advice, telling Pablo to go back. They are behind their enemy’s lines so they are actually in Fascist nationalist territory, and he advises Pablo to go back to the Spanish Republic. But Pablo says no, I’m actually going to go further away from the Spanish Republic. I’m for Grados. And actually, it turns out to be a really smart decision, because if they had gone back to theSpanishRepublicthey would actually all have been killed.  Robert is actually right to end with the last line, “Thou hast much head.”

The symmetry here is between Robert having a broken leg and Pablo having much head. He’s the brainy one. This is the ultimate rewriting of the power dynamics in For Whom The Bell Tolls. We’ve been going along on the assumption that it’s the person with the knowledge or the technology, the person with the knowledge of the world, the person who can speak several languages, we’ve been going on the assumption that that person is going to be on top, that the future belongs to him. The ultimate irony of this novel is, in fact, this is the person who’s going to lose out, who has no future at all. So in many ways we can either say it is a very brutal undoing of everything that Robert has believed in, or we can say it actually is a kind of inverted, utopian vision, that there is still a future for the Spanish peasants, even though they seem so disadvantaged in a modern world, even though they seem completely incapable of functioning outside of their very limited environment.

Because they are capable of functioning within their very limited environment, they have a chance to survive, at least that’s the narrative that Hemingway’s giving us.  A negative utopia for Robert and a positive utopia for Pablo.  It’s ironic that Pablo should be the embodiment of some kind of utopian hope at the end of the novel.

And just to give you a comparison for similar use of the verb to be in As I Lay Dying, almost exactly the same.

“Cash has a broken leg.  He has had two broken legs.  He lies on the box with a quilt rolled under his head and a piece of wood under his knee. ‘I reckon we ought to left him at Armstid’s,’ pa says. I haven’t got a broken leg and pa hasn’t and Darl hasn’t and  ‘It’s just the bumps,’ Cash says. ‘It kind of grinds together a little on a bump.  It don’t bother none.’”      

Chapter 6: The Removal of Narrative from Robert Jordan [00:33:53]

Exactly. Hemingway and Fitzgerald have the same intuition about the extent to which the word “have” can be ironized.  Given the fact that Robert has arrived at his destination, which is this state of dispossession at the end of the novel, we should not be surprised that that destination is well prepared for, some ways, before that.  I just want to call your attention to the narrative innovation in For Whom the Bell Tolls, which is the removal of the narrative from Robert Jordan. He doesn’t get to tell the story.

There are four chapter told by someone else, quite literally cutting off the narrative from Robert. And those four chapters are the chapters when Andres, who is charged with the mission to go and deliver this very important message to the central command, that actually the enemy knew that they were going to launch this attack, that very important information that was going to be conveyed by Andres is told in four chapters that have absolutely nothing to do with Robert.

Let me just give you one instance of that removal of the narrative from Robert. Chapter 40, he’s a non protagonist, he’s a non participant, he doesn’t show up at all in that chapter.

“During the time that Robert Jordan had slept through, the time he had spent planning the destruction of the bridge and the time that he had been with Maria, Andres had made slow progress.  Until he had reached the Republican lines he had travelled across country and through the fascist lines as fast as a countryman in good physical condition who knew the country well could travel in the dark.  But once inside the Republican lines it went very slowly.”   

There’s irony right here, that – for Andres, this is very dramatic, because actually it takes so much more time to travel through, supposedly, your own side, because he’s questioned and detained by everyone. Whereas it’s much faster to go through enemy terrain because it’s just traveling as someone who is physically fit can travel, which is very fast.

Those four chapters, 34, 36, 40, and 42, those four chapters are devoted to the irony of how slow it is and how impossible it is for Andres to deliver that crucial message. But the other additional irony is that Robert is fast becoming a non-protagonist in his own narrative, which is very much a prelude to the end. At the end of For Whom the Bell Tolls he will be a non-player in the future of the Spanish Republic. He will be a non-player in Maria’s life, in Pablo’s life, in everyone’s life. And Hemingway has already paved the way for Robert being a non-player much earlier.

We can think back to many other instances of someone being a non-player. In “Soldier’s Home” in In Our Time, Krebs being a non player, his sister playing basketball and Krebs being on the sideline, being a non-player. So Hemingway has given a lot of thought for what it means for a man who once used to be an important player to be relegated to the sidelines and to suffer the fate of being a non-player. And he is enacting that one more time in For Whom the Bell Tolls.

I just wanted to highlight the interconnections among Hemingway’s works. This is not the first time when he has removed the narrative from the supposed protagonist of that narrative. In To Have and Have Not a similar fate has been visited upon Harry Morgan. In chapters one to five, told from Harry Morgan’s point of view, chapter six, all of a sudden, he’s referred to as a man. “ ‘You ain’t gonna fix me up,’ the nigger said. The man, whose name was Harry Morgan, said nothing back, because he liked the nigger and there was nothing to do now but hit him, and he couldn’t hit him.” When we were talking about this passage we said that suddenly Harry becomes Harry Morgan, someone looked at completely from the outside, and who is, in fact, put in the same position as the black person. They’ve both lost something.

In a more abstract way, we can also go back to that moment at the very end of For Whom the Bell Tolls. Robert is still Robert Jordan. He never gets to the stage where he can simply be a Robert. He’s still referred to in that alienating form.  Here, too, the structure is very much similar to the alienating device in To Have and Have Not.

I’ve done everything that I can to make a case for To Have and Have Not as a novel of dispossession. That basically Robert emerges as completely empty handed at the end of the novel. He’s lost his leg, he’s lost Maria, he’s about to lose his life. He’s lost even a novel that is supposedly his.  It is a loss, almost completely equal, to the loss of Darl at the end of As I Lay Dying. And it really is possible read both Hemingway and Faulkner as authors who have dedicated to the bleakest vision possible of human possibilities.

Chapter 7: Robert Jordan’s Repossession [00:40:25]

But I want to, now, make the opposite case, which is that it’s not quite as bleak as that. That maybe there’s a way in which we can think about the verb “to have” as a somewhat non-ironic word. And also, that there’s a way to read the narrative not as one that highlights or maybe passes the damning verdict that there really is nothing at the end for Robert.  Trying to recover something for Robert at the end of the narrative.

It turns out that Hemingway is also quite self conscious about using to verb “to have” as a non-ironic verb. This is a little earlier, so it has the disadvantage of coming before that final very ironic moment, but it’s still a moment we should look at.

“And another thing. Don’t ever kid yourself about loving someone.  It is just that most people are not lucky enough ever to have it. You never had it before and now you have it.  What you have with Maria, whether it last just through today and a part of tomorrow, or whether it lasts for a long life, is the most important thing that can happen to a human being.  There will always be people who say it does not exist because they cannot have it.  But I tell you it is true and that you have it and that you are lucky even if you die tomorrow.”

This is, relatively speaking, an instance where we have the verb “to have” in an unironic, non-ironic mode, that it’s affirming the privacy and the durability of what he had, or has, or continues to have with Maria. But we also know that, even in this non-ironic moment, the verb “to have” is very precarious. It is precarious because it is so much dependent on being able to refute other people who would not credit you with having that thing. So it is this consciousness that there will always be people who say it does not exist because they cannot have it.

Because what we have here, what Robert has here, is so intangible, because there’s really no material way to demonstrate it. It is there, it simply is not a physical object in the world. There’s no material evidence that it is a thing in the world. All you have is your subjective intuition that you did have it, that you continue to have it. And then having it makes all the difference. It is only a subjective conviction. It doesn’t carry the weight of objective demonstrability. And so that is one strike against it, that other people will not be persuaded by the fact that you did have it. They will continue to tell you that you didn’t.

The other thing, which I think actually plays out on a formal level, has to do with the switch of pronouns in this passage. All the way through this passage the pronouns are already switched. Even though Robert has been just talking in the first person singular, I, in this critical moment he’s actually referring to himself as you. “You never had it before and now you have it.” And even more powerfully in the last line, where we see both the pronoun I and the pronoun you, “But I tell you it is true that you have it and that you’re lucky even if you die tomorrow.” The co-presence of the pronoun I and the pronoun you suggest that it is an effort. It takes some real power to convince himself that he did have it. I’m telling you that you did have it. It’s not just that other people are not persuaded, but Robert himself has to be convinced, he has to be beaten over the head by this other I to believe that, yes, that what he did have with Maria does make a difference and does make him a “have.”

Because of those two considerations, I would say that this is a non-ironic use of the word “have,” but heavily circumscribed with other possibilities looming heavily on the horizon. And it’s replayed in the very last moment of the novel.

“He looked down the hill slope again and he thought, I hate to leave it, is all.  I hate to leave it very much and I hope I have done some good in it.  I have tried to with what talent I had.  Have, you mean.  All right, have. I have fought for what I believed in for a year now.  If we win here we will win everywhere.  The world is a fine place and worth the fighting for and I hate very much to leave it.  And you had a lot of luck, he told himself, to have had such a good life.  You’ve had just as good a life as grandfather’s though not so long.  You’ve had just as good a life as any one because of these last days.”

Once again, non-ironic use of the verb “have,” but taking an effort of the will to convince himself. He has to be told you’ve had as good a life as your grandfather. You’ve had as good a life as anyone. It has to be a command issued by part of himself. And so it takes that form, that it is not a natural or unselfconscious conviction. It’s a conviction arrived at through some struggle and with quite a bit of effort.

Robert, I think, is actually a very fragile vehicle as a representative of a narrative of repossession, just because he’s so vulnerable at the end of the novel. But Hemingway actually has stepped in and provided one form of authority or intervention that allows us, possibly, to read the novel as affirming something about Robert, so that he’s not totally a loser at the end of the novel. And that has to do with a very stylized, very deliberate narrative structure of For Whom the Tolls.

You notice that the first line of the novel reads, “He lay flat on the brown, pine-needled floor of the forest, his chin on his folded arms, and high over head the wind blew in the top of pine trees.” And the very last of the novel, “He could feel his heart beating against the pine needle floor of the forest.”

Robert’s totally alone, but in the end is the beginning.   And right now, he’s not dead yet. It’s almost as if he were beginning all over again, that the story is going to begin anew. It is that formal structure, the formal mirror effect, that allows us to entertain the illusion that not all is over, even though we know that physically it is over, that there’s no way it could have a different ending or that things could go on. But nonetheless, the form of the narrative is such, it feels like the beginning rather than the end. And maybe this is really the best that Hemingway can do for Robert, is for the reader to want this to be a new beginning, and for the reader to feel that this isn’t the end. This is the best that we can do for Robert.

[end of transcript]

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