AMST 246: Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Faulkner
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Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Faulkner
AMST 246 - Lecture 3 - Hemingway's In Our Time, Part II
Chapter 1. New Clusters and Analytic Frameworks [00:00:00]
Professor Wai Chee Dimock: Just want to go back very briefly to Hemingway’s letter to John Dos Passos just to remind us what we are up against, this claim on Hemingway’s part. “A Mrs. George Kauffman is here. And she claims they want to cut it all out–the Indian Camp story. Cut the In Our Time chapters. Jesus, I feel all shot to hell about it. Of course they can’t do it because the stuff is so tight and hard and everything hangs on everything else.” This is the very recognizable posture on the part of Hemingway that everything is tight and hard and everything hangs on everything else.
But giving the publication history of the various chapters, and also the stories published separately, whether or not there is in fact an organic unity among them – that’s the big question. Last time we tried to give Hemingway the benefit of the doubt, and we read the end of chapters and the stories as if they were indeed organically integral to one another.
Today we’ll try some other combinations. I found this picture of Hemingway and Dos Passos. Hemingway is to the far right and that’s Dos Passos to the far left. I love this. And they actually both wrote about war. Dos Passos has a novel called Three Soldiers. A great novel about war as well. So you can see that they have a lot in common.
And here’s another important letter to Edmund Wilson. This is slightly earlier.
“Finished the book of 14 stories with a chapter in our time between each… to give the picture of the whole between examining it in detail. Like looking with your eyes at something, say a passing coastline, and then looking at it with 15x binoculars. Or rather, maybe, looking at it and then going in and living in it–and then coming out and looking at it again… it has a pretty good unity.”
Once again, that all-important word for Hemingway, pretty good unity. And that’s a very strong claim. It’s not really pretty good, it’s damn good.
What’s new about this description, though, is the idea of zooming in and zooming out, right? This is very much the approach that we’ve been taking. And we’ve been thinking of it in terms of micro and macro. This was the first set of terms that we started out with. Today I’d like to add a few more terms that line up in a similar way. Obviously, not exactly the same. But they’re interrelated.
So micro, macro. Up close and from a distance. Before and after. This is especially important when a soldier is coming back home: what happened during the war, versus what happened after the war. And going along with that, is the intensity of the experience when you’re in the war, versus, as we know from the story “Soldier’s Home,” the staleness of it when you come back. And then, another pair of terms also important here is tragedy and comedy.
Since this is a writing class, I also want to stop for just one minute and talk about this as a kind of a useful analytic and organizational structure to use in your papers. Start out with one pair of analytic terms and then try out the various variations of that term in the course of the paper. And that will give you a really tight structure. That’s what Hemingway wants.
I’ll explain this more, but just keep this in your mind for now. Think of your papers as theme and variation, inventing different terms that would allow for that theme and variation structure. So I’ll talk more about the substantive implication of that. I think that this is really what Hemingway himself is doing, and because he’s such a good writer, he’s a good example to us.
So anyway, today we’ll be looking at four possible clusters. I want to emphasize that these are just conjectural clusters. We can test them. The first one is chapter seven and “Soldier’s Home.” And then we’ll be looking at chapter nine and “Mr. and Mrs. Elliot,” a hilarious story. Then Chapter ten and “Cat in the Rain.” And finally chapter twelve and “Big Two-Hearted River: Part II.”
Chapter 2. Chapter Seven and “Soldier’s Home” [00:05:24]
So first, chapter seven. Once again, we’re back in wartime Europe, the experience of combat.
“While the bombardment was knocking the trench to pieces at Fossalta, he laid very flat and sweated and prayed oh Jesus Christ get me our of here. Dear Jesus please get me out. Jesus please, please, please, Christ… The shelling moved further up the line. We went to work on the trench and in the morning the sun came up and the day was hot and muggy and cheerful and quiet. The next night back at Mestre he did not tell the girl he went upstairs with at the Villa Rosa about Jesus. And he never told anybody.”
So this is the classic dynamics of before and after – the intensity of the experience when you’re in the thick of the battle, and the sense that you really have lost it all once that experience is behind you. What Hemingway is exploring here, and we’ll also see him exploring at great length in “Soldier’s Home,” is the intransitive relation of emotions across time. It’s a terrible thing. We think so much about the question of sustainability, we want things to be sustainable across time.
It seems that Hemingway is saying that, basically, intense emotions are not sustainable across time. We’ll also see this in a big way, actually, in Faulkner in The Sound and the Fury, in the Quentin section. Even when we’re devastated by something, whether or not that sense of devastation will be with us, even a short moment afterwards.
When he is in the war, he is in this kind of mortal fear, fearing for his life, calling on Jesus. And that word is really kind of a name, it’s not necessarily a specific reference. Although in this case it actually is Jesus. But Jesus could also be a shorthand for something that we really just need to invoke. It’s very much a word we cry out at that moment of desperation. But then the meaning of Jesus is completely lost, even the next night. So what’s interesting, and I guess quite bleak about it, is that we really can’t hold on to our own experience. We’d like to think that if we’ve been through this, that it’s ours for good. It’s ours for life. And it seems not to be the case.
Let’s move on now to “Soldier’s Home” and we know–I’m just realizing the mic is all the way down–we know that this Krebs was a soldier fighting in basically all the famous battles in World War I. And then he comes home too late – by which time all the other people have been back and they’ve been telling stories about war atrocities. So nobody’s listening to him anymore. And his mother is just worried that he should find a job.
This is the very near the middle, just one line near the middle of the story. They’re having breakfast. Krebs is reading the papers and worrying about his father not wanting the paper to be roughed up. And then meanwhile, “Krebs looked at the bacon fat hardening on his plate.”
And I think that is in some sense the most graphic metaphor that Hemingway has come up with, a material emblem of our own relation to our own experience. That this is the chemical transformation. It’s so natural. Last time we talked about the naturalization of pain. Childbirth is as natural as rain. And the pain that we inflict on others is also as natural as rain. And here, for fresh experience to go stale – that is as natural as the bacon becoming stale on your plate.
Hemingway is using a very common object to talk about the fate of emotions across time. And the fact that to go on living is not cumulative. There’s the price you pay for surviving. I mean, this is a terrible thing. We like to think that some things can be cumulative but according to this paradigm, it’s almost as if the longer you live, the more you lose, actually. And we know that Hemingway actually chose to end his own life. So this is almost a kind of – I mean he wasn’t thinking about suicide at that point, at this early moment – but it’s almost a justification for suicide. That you want to end it at the moment of its greatest intensity and greatest emotional satisfaction. You don’t want to lose that.
So there’s that, the bacon fat hardening on his plate. And at the very end of the story, “Well, that was all over now, anyway. He would go over to the schoolyard and watch Helen play indoor basketball.” No detail is trivial. No detail is random–well, not always, but quite often. This is a very significant detail in Hemingway. And it’s almost the kind of a slightly larger view, moving away from the bacon fat on the plate to the larger family situation.
Krebs was a very good soldier during World War I. He’s not a very efficient player in civilian life. Helen is the player. She’s literally the basketball player. But she’s also a player in a bigger sense. She’s more consequential in life than Krebs ever would be. And it’s the sadness of being consequential only in one setting, being good at what you’re doing only in one context, and being terrible – not attended to, not listened to, being completely on the sidelines – once you’re put in a different kind of situation. So Krebs is on the sidelines, a mere spectator, as Helen plays both the indoor basketball and also the game of life that is not going to be his game. So obviously I think these two stories, the connections between them, are very tight. They are in two different settings. But they really making exactly the same point.
Chapter 3. Chapter Nine and “Mr. and Mrs. Elliot” [00:12:49]
Let’s move on now to an even more interesting connection, and not quite so clear cut, between chapter nine and “Mr. and Mrs. Elliot.” Chapter nine is in many ways the Hemingway that we’re very familiar with, the Hemingway in The Sun Also Rises, the Hemingway who talks about bull fights. He also does it in the Death in the Afternoon. This is the kind of classic Hemingway. Except there’s a twist here.
“The first matador got the horn through his sword hand and the crowd hooted him. The second matador slipped and the bull caught him through the belly. He hung on to the horn with one hand and held the other tight against the place, and the bull rammed him, wham, against the wall and the horn came out, and he lay in the sand, and then got up like crazy drunk and tried to slug the men carrying him away and yelled for his sword but he fainted. The kid came out and had to kill five bulls, because you can’t have more than three matadors.”
This is the emotion, I think, that is actually the dominant emotion in In Our Time. This isn’t exactly tragedy. It doesn’t rise to the level of tragedy. But it’s not exactly funny, either. And this is really the combination of tragedy/comedy that is so important to Hemingway. Nobody gets killed except for the bull, five of them. But that’s supposed to happen.
There are two completely incompetent matadors. They’re making a farce, really, of the bull fight. And meanwhile it’s also farcical in a different way in that you have to stick by the rules. Even though the first two matadors are making a complete mess of everything, you still have to go by the rules. You can’t have more than three matadors, and so one single person has to kill five bulls because that’s the rule.
This is the kind of situation where we don’t know whether to laugh or to cry. And I guess we laugh because it’s not worth crying over. But it really is not that funny. And this is the nature of the very complicated, dark kind of comedy that we get in Hemingway, and that we’ll be getting in Fitzgerald and Faulkner as well.
So this is really the common ground – an interesting compounding of genres. Usually we’re used to thinking of tragedy and comedy as two discrete genres, quite separate. But in American literature–this really goes back to the nineteenth century–in American literature quite often there’s the mixing of genres, with tragedy being energized, actually, by comedy. And producing a really interesting kind of hybrid genre.
So keep that in mind it’s about bull fighting and incompetent matadors and then the kid having to clean up the mess. It would seem, on the face of it, that this really could not have any relation to “Mr. and Mrs. Elliot,” which has nothing to do with bull fighting. It’s about a poet, or someone who’s trying to be a poet, and his wife, and so forth.
But there’s this very interesting history behind this story. ”Mr. and Mrs. Elliot,” the story, was first published in The Little Review. Last time we talked about how a lot of the pieces came out in little magazines. So this is The Little Review, 1924/1925 edition. And then it came out again, in In Our Time, the Liveright edition, the American edition, 1925.
And it turns out that Hemingway actually has written a very telling letter to Horace Liveright. You can see it here. I think that if you go to ClassesV2 to look at the image online, you should be able to zoom in and actually look at all the words. But anyway, this is the transcript of one of the paragraphs.
“As you will see I have revised the Mr. and Mrs. Elliot story and entirely eliminated the obscene image. It is a shame it had to be changed but as you say, it would be a very silly play to get the entire first book suppressed for the sake of the few funny cracks in one story… Jane Heap ran it in its original form.” Jane Heap is the editor of The Little Review. ”Jane Heap ran it in the original form and did not get into any trouble.”
OK. So we’re talking about a libel suit, it looks like. That legal action could be visited upon Hemingway because of his story. What could be the cause for this legal action against Hemingway?
The title of the story is suggestive. Elliot is an important name in both American literature and British literature. Very, very important name. That’s is T.S. Eliot, obviously. Known to Hemingway. They were in the same circles. And T.S. Eliot was one of the most important poets, twentieth century poets, best known for the poem “The Wasteland,” would go on in 1948 to win the Nobel Prize. A major poet.
And this is a picture of his first wife, Vivienne – Eliot on the far right and Vivienne is on the far left. It was a marriage that ended in divorce and with Vivienne having lots and lots of mental problems. So it was a very public dissolution of the marriage. Very painful, actually, when she was clearly going crazy.
Hemingway’s story isn’t about that. But it’s in fact making fun of something that really didn’t end up being all that funny. It was a kind of horrendous episode in T.S, Eliot’s life. But the way that Hemingway is talking about it initially is this. This is his version. And, as you will see, he’s actually changed the spelling. T.S. Eliot, just one “l.” To remove the threat of legal action for himself, he’s changed the spelling of Elliot. This is the story that he tells:
“Mrs. Elliot and the girl friend now slept together in the big medieval bed. They had many a good cry together. In the evening they all sat at dinner together in the garden under a plane tree and the hot evening wind blew and Elliot drank white wine and Mrs. Elliot and the girl friend made conversation and they were all quite happy.”
Once again, this is the “happy ending” (in quotation marks) in Hemingway.
But you can really see why T.S. Eliot would contemplate legal action against Hemingway. The suggestion of a lesbian relationship, when there was nothing, in fact, in the actual life of Vivienne Eliot to suggest that there was a lesbian relationship. She did have an affair very soon after she was married to T.S. Eliot but with a man, Bertrand Russell, a famous philosopher. So this is fabricated detail on the part of Hemingway.
But, I think there is also something else that’s mixed into the story. It’s the lesbian relationship that actually stops this from being a tragedy. It really would have been quite tragic if the girl friend had not been there. But it’s this three-way triangulation that enables Mr. Elliot to drink white wine and to spend all night writing poetry. He doesn’t especially want to be in the same room with his wife. And Mrs. Elliot and the girl friend have many a good cry together in the big medieval bed. And they were all quite happy.
Hemingway is maybe, in one sense, thinking of the historical T.S. Eliot and Vivienne Eliot. But I think that he was also probably thinking of another couple, very good friends of his at one point, that he talks about at great length in A Moveable Feast. Another iconic figure in American literature – Gertrude Stein, and her companion, lifelong companion, Alice B. Toklas. That’s Gertrude Stein on the right and Alice on the left. And Hemingway also makes fun of them in A Moveable Feast.
But, actually, if you guys have seen Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris–if you haven’t seen it, try to see it later on DVD. Gertrude Stein is very important there as a mentor to Hemingway. We thought of showing this, but it’s still running. So we don’t have it on DVD to show it. In any case, if you see that Woody Allen movie, you’ll see that Gertrude Stein was crucial, both to other young writers, and very much to Hemingway. And what’s what Hemingway portrays here, a long-lasting, sustainable relationship, the lesbian relationship. For life, really. And happy as much as any relationship can be happy.
So I think what Hemingway has done, actually, to produce this tragedy/comedy, is to compound the unhappy T.S. Eliot marriage to Vivienne with much happier companionship between Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas. And he really wasn’t thinking of libel from Gertrude Stein, she is not mentioned by name. But she could not not have been on his mind. So it’s a really interesting kind of a capsule summary of a lot of American literature in there.
So I think that that’s really the connection with chapter nine. Not so much the subject matter. There’s no bull fighting in the story. But they have the same tragedy narrowly averted, turning into a comedy or a farce, halfway between comedy and farce. That is the outcome of that kind of unusual arrangement. It doesn’t rise to the level of tragedy. And that’s the most important point for Hemingway.
Chapter 4. The Logic of Substitution [00:25:10]
Let’s move on now to the next cluster. And I should stop here for a moment and talk a little bit about the analytic structure that we’ll be using for the next set of stories and chapters. Actually, beginning with chapter nine and “Mr. and Mrs. Elliot,” we are beginning to see a kind of logic of substitution – Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas’ relationship, this relatively happy relationship, taking the place of the unhappy historical relation between Vivienne and T.S. Eliot, so that Hemingway can get to a place where he wants to be.
Taking the place – substitution – is a good thing in that chapter and in that story. We’ll explore the meaning of substitution in the other clusters. Sometimes it’s good. Sometimes it’s not so good. It’s always kind of a mixture. But on the whole, I would say that Hemingway is more interested in comedy than tragedy.
And here I’m going against Aristotle and, in fact, a whole tradition of Western thinking about genres. Tragedy is the high, dignified–very dignified–genre, Greek tragedy. And that’s what Aristotle talks about in the Poetics. His attention is really all given to tragedy. Comedy gets about two lines in the Poetics. So I think that tragedy just has a different kind of centrality to the entire Western canon.
But comedy, arguably, is just as interesting and just as complex. So in the rest of the course, we’ll be thinking about the ways in which comedy is actually right next door to tragedy. We have to rethink the landscape. Rather than thinking of these two as being on opposite ends of the spectrum, to think about almost a kind of emotional proximity between tragedy and comedy. Not because this is a natural proximity, but because the writers that we’re looking at tend to have that really kind of interesting thinking and mixing of genres. So in the next cluster, chapter ten and “Cat in the Rain,” we’ll first of all, look at one kind of substitution taking place in chapter ten, the horse and the picador. And then the cat in the “Cat in the Rain.”
Chapter 5. Chapter Ten and “Cat in the Rain” [00:27:57]
I should mention that there’s a difference between the picador and the matador. This is a distinction I didn’t know about it before I started reading about Hemingway. Which is that the matador is the one who actually kills the bull. The picador’s function is to weaken the bull. The picador never actually kills the bull. It’s always a three step ceremony. The bull, by the time he comes out, is weakened already by various people stabbing at him. The picador tries to do a major job of weakening the bull. Then finally the matador comes out and actually kills the bull. And the picador doesn’t actually come out on foot. He’s always on a horse. And now we find out how Hemingway feels about that practice, about a picador coming out on a horse and fighting the bull.
“They whack-whacked the white horse on the legs and he kneed himself up. The picador twisted the stirrups straight and pulled and hauled up into the saddle. The horse’s entrails hung down in a blue bunch and swung backward and forward as he began to canter, the monos whacking him on the back of his legs with the rods.”
It’s a terrible thing. Actually, this has been banned in many Spanish cities because it’s just so incredibly cruel. And here are two images of that kind of substitution, shameless use of the horse as a shield against the bull. And we can see from the onlookers, they’re used to it. This is done all the time. This is not exceptional cowardice on the part of the picador. That’s part of the game.
But still it’s very hard to take when you’re looking at it. And to see the entrails actually coming out right at that moment. And here’s another image. There are countless images. All you have to do is to type in “Picador’s Horse” on Google and you’ll find all these images.
So Hemingway, even though he’s a big aficionado of the matador coming out–and we’ll see his celebration of this one-on-one battle between the matador and the horse–just finds this practice utterly despicable. I mean, this is really substitution at its worst. And so he’s talking about this– it’s hard to wrap our minds around this completely ritualized practice. And so that’s what he talks about in Chapter Ten.
And then in “Cat in the Rain,” once again there seems to be no thematic continuity between chapter ten and “Cat in the Rain,” about a young American couple in a hotel. Completely non-violent setting. And doesn’t seem very dramatic either. In some sense, it seems as if nothing happens in that story. But there is a kind of interesting way in which we can read that story as a story about substitution as well, in the sense that the young wife does have one very emphatic desire:
“‘Anyway, I want a cat,’ she said. ‘I want a cat. I want a cat now. If I can’t have long hair or any fun, I can have a cat.’” So the cat, obviously, is shorthand for something else. She’s actually looking at this cat in the rain, not trying to hide from the rain under the table, and thinking of the cat. And she says, OK, you know, if I can’t have anything else, I can’t have my own silver at a table, I can’t have new clothes, I want a cat. But even those things, eating at a table with my own silver, even that is probably just a metaphor for something else as well.
And so the wanting a cat, the fact that it’s such an artificial and unpersuasive substitution for something that she doesn’t have in her life, suggests that there is something that this very peaceful story does have something in common with the very violent episode in chapter nine. It really has to do with the way we think about what is adequate to what we could call a good life, or a good marriage, or a good anything.
This story is about what constitutes a good marriage, or what is absent that would make for a bad marriage. But it really is thinking, generally and abstractly, about what counts as a good life, or what counts as being a good player in a bullfight. And coming out and using your horse as a shield, that doesn’t count as merit for Hemingway.
In this case, it’s the wife that gets us to think about that particular configuration. She goes out in the rain, an umbrella opens up behind her, and it’s a hotel maid that opens up the umbrella behind her. She says, “I want a cat. I want a cat.” And, in fact, I’ll just read you the ending of that story.
“Someone knocked”–on page 94–“Someone knocked at her door. ‘Avante,’ George said. He looked up from his book. In the doorway stood the maid. She held a big tortoiseshell cat pressed tight against her and swung down against her body. ‘Excuse me,’ she said. ‘The padrone asked me to bring this for the senora.’”
First of all, there’s a very sly substitution going on. Because I don’t think it’s actually the same cat. This big tortoiseshell cat probably isn’t the same kitty that she saw earlier in the story. So there is one almost comical kind of a substitution. But the more important substitution in the story, other than just wanting the cat to stand for something else, is also that instead of the husband being the emotional support for the wife, it is the hotel apparatus that has substituted, has stepped in and is fulfilling that function. The hotel maid is the one who opens the umbrella when the wife steps out into the rain. She wants a cat. It’s the hotel staff that brings the cat.
So this is, for me, this is one of the best and most memorable portraits of what’s missing in a marriage, done in just a couple of pages. And done completely through third parties. So this is a story supposedly about husband and wife and is almost told completely through third parties, through the cat, through the hotel maid, through the padrone.
And so it says something about Hemingway’s strategy as well. And this is really something to think about for all of the writers, is how to frame the story and how to populate the story. And the population of what is in the foreground in the story isn’t necessarily the center. I mean the house maid is front and center in this story. This story isn’t really about the hotel maid, but nonetheless she is in the foreground, as is the cat.
So what is this story about? This is a good question to ask. Actually, this is another question that is related to writing papers. Start out by thinking: what is this particular paragraph about? I mean, certain things are in the foreground, but it could be there’s something much more marginal could actually be the real subject of that paragraph. So it’s always a good analytic strategy to–um, gosh, never thought–is it mine? It’s not mine, right? [Referring to the ringing of a cell phone.] Yeah. For some reason I just thought–Good. That would be really a big embarrassment. But, in any case, here’s a little act of substitution, or whatever.
Chapter 6. Emotional Resolution in Hemingway [00:38:00]
But so far we’ve been talking about the clustering of the stories in the chapters. Really, kind of going in a bleak direction. You know, the lack of emotional satisfaction seems to be the main point in all of these stories. That’s really the tragedy/comedy, the lack of adequate emotional resolution. There’s just no emotional resolution at the end of the “Cat in the Rain.” There’s no emotional resolution at the end of “Soldier’s Home.” There’s maybe a little bit of emotional resolution at the end of “Mr. and Mrs. Elliot,” but really not that great.
So the question is, is this kind of a natural resting place for Hemingway? Is that the kind of emotional landscape that he feels most comfortable with? And that would be completely OK. I think that this is a viable way of writing. And you can have great literature resting on precisely that very precarious state of lack of emotional satisfaction, lack of full resolution.
But I think that Hemingway, actually, is a slightly different kind of writer. So he is quite unashamed of going to an almost embarrassing extreme in a sense that you don’t want to show that this is really what you believe in. So it’s embarrassing in this sense. But he’s not especially embarrassed about making it very clear what he believes in and what he finds satisfying. I think that’s really what makes Hemingway what he is – in many ways, very emphatic about belief, and about the emotional space that he would affirm and celebrate.
Chapter 7. Chapter Twelve and “Big Two-Hearted River” [00:40:23]
So let’s look at chapter twelve. This is the combination that shows that side of Hemingway. And it’s not surprising, it’s back to bull fighting. But this time it’s not the picador on his horse.
“When he started to kill it was all in the same rush. The bull looking at him straight in front, hating… The bull charged and Villalta charged. And just for a moment they became one. Villalta became one with the bull and then it was over. Villalta standing straight and the red hilt of the sword sticking out dully between the bull’s shoulders. Villalta, his hand up at the crowd, and the bull roaring blood, looking straight at Villalta and his legs caving.”
So some of us would find it gory. And I didn’t think that I would be singing the praises of bull fighting. But – just to think in terms of what Hemingway is doing – for him this is the truly sublime and satisfying moment for both the matador and for the bull. Because the repeated line is this: they became one. They became one. That is the supreme ideal for Hemingway.
Instead of having this shield of the horse shielding you from the bull, you are in direct contact with the bull. And whatever you do, you do it in utter lack of distance. So this is the close up, the diminishment of distance. And the two of them really bonding so tightly that it really becomes a single unit.
And that this could be a metaphor for any kind of thing. It could be a man and a bull; it could be a man and a woman; it could be two women; it could be you and a project you become fused with. But for Hemingway, this kind of complete lack of emotional insulation – and we’ve talked about the question of insulation in Indian Camp – but the complete lack of emotional insulation between yourself and something that you feel utterly passionate about: that for Hemingway, is the place that he really wants to get to. And all those times when he doesn’t get there, you can see why it’s kind of frustrating. And he wants us to be frustrated when we can’t get beyond those places.
So this is kind of the classic Hemingway: the epiphany of achieving this union with the bull that you’re going to kill. And the fact you’re going to kill this creature, according to him, doesn’t really matter because you’ve achieved that union at that critical moment. We are not reading The Sun Also Rises, but this is almost a completely parallel moment in The Sun Also Rises. Pedro Romero killing the bull.
“The bull charged as Romero charged. Romero’s left hand dropped the muleta over the bull’s muzzle to blind him, his left shoulder went forward between the horns and the sword went in, and for just an instant he and the bull were one….”
So you can see that that word one is of critical importance to Hemingway. Two entities becoming one. Even though it’s the moment of death and killing, it’s still important to achieve that oneness with the world. So I’m sure it’s romanticizing bull fighting, but it’s actually one of the rare public demonstrations of that ideal. And it’s very hard to think about this. It’s very hard to see two things becoming one in public, so bull fighting is actually one of the rare instances when everyone can be there and watch. So Hemingway probably was looking at something like this: more like a dance than actually the killing of the bull.
You can see why he would want to romanticize something like that. It’s really completely choreographed in such a way so that the violence becomes completely ritualized and we almost don’t see the blood. There’s no blood in this moment. So anyway, so for Hemingway, a completely unembarrassed desire to get to this state, he and the bull being one.
Let’s move on now. I have to say I like the “Big Two-Hearted River” much more than the bull fighting scenes in Hemingway. This is a great story. In many ways a two-part story, a rewrite of Krebs coming home. This is also a soldier’s home. He’s not among his family. But he is on this trip through a country that is not really disclosed to us. A landscape we don’t really know where it is. We don’t know where he’s going or why he’s on that trip. But it’s a fishing trip. And this is what happens at the moment when Nick catches his trout. Nick: this is the same Nick that we saw before, now grown up. The young Nick in “Indian Camp” and “The Doctor’s and Doctor’s Wife.” Now he’s a full grown man and obviously having been in war. But coming back and going through what appears to be a healing process for Hemingway.
“Soldier’s Home” is about the non-healing of Krebs. The trauma of war, and then the trauma of being completely marginal, being completely sidelined. All of those things would just keep hurting him. In the case of “Big Two-Hearted River,” it’s a rewrite of that, with a very different outcome at the end of that story. And it has to do, actually, with similar dynamics to the bull fighting.
“Nick cleaned them, slitting the trout. Nick cleaned them, slitting them from the vent to the tip of the jaw. All the insides and the gills and the tongue came out in one piece. They were both males; long gray-white strips of milt, smooth and clean. All the insides clean and compact, coming out all together.”
This is just as emotionally satisfying as the bullfighting. We don’t have to choreograph a moment quite as dramatic and beautiful as in the bullfight. But to be able to expand the ritual of dying in one piece to the trout. We do have to kill the trout (and we can’t avoid that unless we’re going to go without any kind of animal protein). The trout is being killed, but the way – the manner – of killing is everything. There should be no degradation in death. The measure of a good life is first your ability to offer a good death to someone else. We do this all the time. It makes all the difference in the world whether we kill brutally or whether we kill ceremoniously, with full respect for what we kill. And it also makes all the difference in the world if you die a good death. There’s really no other conclusion. So it has to be completely clean and satisfying. Both to the creature who is going through it and to the person who is performing that operation.
So, as far as I can see, Hemingway is actually a very affirmative writer at the end of In Our Time, in the sense that he’s also revising his own story. He doesn’t get to where he wants to be in Krebs story in “Soldier’s Home,” he comes back and tells the story one more time. And this time he gets to where he wants to be. So, say goodbye to Hemingway, we move on to Fitzgerald and The Great Gatsby on Tuesday.
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