For Whom The Bell Tolls: Hemingway's Style

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For Whom The Bell Tolls: Hemingway's Style

Post by Archer on Sat Jan 15, 2011 12:32 am

For Whom the Bell Tolls portrays the typical Hemingway characters and addresses the issues of machoism and womanizing. In this novel, as in many of his other works, Hemingway employs extensive use of what is known as the Hemingway Code. Numerous influences from various people and events from his personal life also had an effect on his writing.

Many people hold the opinion that there has been no American writer like Ernest Hemingway. A member of the World War I “lost generation,” Hemingway was in many ways his own best character. Whether as his childhood nickname of “Champ” or as the older “Papa,” Ernest Hemingway became a legend of his own lifetime. Although the drama and romance of his life sometimes seem to overshadow the quality of his work, Hemingway was first and foremost a literary scholar, a writer and reader of books. This is often overlooked among all the talk about his safaris and hunting trips, adventures with bullfighting, fishing and war. Hemingway enjoyed being famous, and delighted in playing for the public spotlight. However, Hemingway considered himself an artist, and he did not want to become celebrated for all the wrong reasons.

Hemingway employed a distinctive style which drew comment from many critics. Hemingway does not give way to lengthy geographical and psychological description. His style has been said to lack substance because he avoids direct statements and descriptions of emotion. Basically his style is simple, direct and somewhat plain. He developed a forceful prose style characterized by simple sentences and few adverbs or adjectives. He wrote concise, vivid dialogue and exact description of places and things. Critic Harry Levin pointed out the weakness of syntax and diction in Hemingway's writing, but was quick to praise his ability to convey action.

Hemingway spent the early part of his career as a journalist. In 1937, he went to Spain to cover the Spanish Civil War for the North American Newspaper Alliance. After a few months in Spain, Hemingway announced his plan to write a book with the Spanish Civil War as its background. The result was For Whom the Bell Tolls.

The majority of his early novels were narrated in the first person and enclosed within a single point of view, however, when Hemingway wrote For Whom the Bell Tolls, he used several different narrative techniques. He employed the use of internal monologues, objective descriptions, rapid shifts of point of view, and in general a looser structure than in his earlier works. Hemingway believed that:

“A writer's style should be direct and personal, his imagery rich and earthy, and his words simple and vigorous.”

The greatest writers have the gift of brevity, are hard workers, diligent scholars and competent stylists.

For Whom the Bell Tolls is the most serious and politically motivated novel that Hemingway wrote. There are few comic or light episodes in the entire book. For Whom the Bell Tolls is an attempt to present in depth a country and people that Hemingway loved very much. It was an effort to deal honestly with a very complex war made even more complex by the beliefs it inspired.

Common to almost all of Hemingway's novels is the concept of the Hemingway hero, sometimes known as the “code hero.” When Hemingway's novels were first published, the public readily accepted them. Part of this acceptance was due to the fact that Hemingway had created a character whose response to life appealed strongly to those who read his works. The reader saw in the Hemingway hero a person whom they could identify with in almost a dream sense. The Hemmingway hero was a man's man. He moved from one love affair to another, he participated in wild game hunting, enjoyed bullfights, drank insatiably, he was involved in all of the so-called manly activities in which the typical American male did not participate.

Hemingway's involvement in the war instilled him with deep-seated political views. For Whom the Bell Tolls is a study of the individual involved in what was a politically motivated war. But this novel differs greatly from Hemingway's prior portrayal of the individual hero in the world. In this book, the hero accepts the people around him, not only a few select members of the distinguished, but with the whole community. The organization of this community is stated with great eloquence in the quotation from one of the poet John Donne's sermons upon the death of a close friend. This is the quotation from which the book takes its title:

No man is an island, entire of itselfEvery man is a piece of the continent, a part of the mainIf a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, As well as if a manor of thy friends or of thine own wereAny man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankindAnd therefore never send to know for whom the bell tollsIt tolls for thee. Therefore, while the hero retains the qualities of the Hemingway Code, he has been built up by his unity with mankind. In the end, he finds the world a “fine place,” that is “worth fighting for”. In his personal confrontation with death, Robert Jordan realizes that there is a larger cause that a man can chose to serve. In this way he differs from the earlier Hemingway hero. The insistence that action and its form be solely placed on one individual is still present, along with the need for the character to dominate that action. However, this issue is not longer a single matador against a single bull, or an individual character against his entire environment. The person is the “instrument of mankind” against the horrors of war. The political issues of this book are therefore presented not as a “contrast of black and white, but in the shaded tones of reality”.

While Jordan is the epitome of the hero in his actions, he is also in command of himself and his circumstances to a far greater extent than Hemingway's previous heroes; he is driven to face reality by deep emotional needs. Jordan's drives in the novel seem to be a direct reflection of Hemingway's own, because Hemingway had also been deeply affected by the suicide of his own father. Ironically, suicide as an escape from reality is a violation of Hemingway's own code. The self-doubt and fear that such an act brings to the children of a person who commits suicide is a well-known psychological outcome. This is perhaps why the painfulness of their fears causes Hemingway's heroes to avoid “thinking” at all costs. For “thinking” too much may prevent a person from reacting. And without something to react to, the hero is left to face his inner fears. Death is also used by Hemingway at the end of the novel to resolve the dramatic conflicts established by the story. The theme of death is likewise observable in other parts of the book, such as when the characters express their concern about dying during the attack on the bridge. As in other works following the suicide of his father, Hemingway brings his characters face to face with death. He admires those who face death bravely and without expressing emotion. For Hemingway, a man does not truly live life until analyzes the significance of death personally.

In contrast to the Hemingway heroes are his female characters. Hemingway's approach to women in his works is particularly masculine. They are seen and valued in relation to the men in his stories insofar as they are absolutely feminine. Hemingway does not go into their inner world except as this world is related to the men with whom they are involved. The reader comes to view them as love objects or as anti-love figures. Part of the reason Hemingway had this opinion of woman was because the way he viewed his mother. He believed his mother to be a manipulator and blamed her in part for the suicide of his father.

“The qualities he thought admirable in a man-ambition, and independent point of view, defiance of his supremacy-became threatening in a woman”.

Hemingway's heroines almost always personify the physical appearance of the ideal woman in their beauty. But in their personality they appear as two types: the “all-woman” who gives herself entirely to the hero and the “femme fatale” who retains herself and prevents the hero from possessing her completely. The “all-woman” is acceptable in Hemingway view because she submits to the hero. She wants no other life than with him. By succumbing to the hero, she allows him to dominate her and affirm his manhood. The “femme fatale” is usually a more complex character than the “all-woman”. While she may or may not be nasty, she does not submit to the hero and wounds him and all the men around her primarily because they cannot manage her and thus cannot assert their manhood through her. But despite Hemmingway's portrayal of women, he usually has them fall into the same basic category as the men. The heroine, like the hero, obeys the “Hemmingway Code.” She sees life for what it is even as she longs for something more. She is basically courageous in life, choosing reality over thought, and she faces death stoically. In practically every case there has already been in her life some tragic event-the loss of a lover, violence-which has given her the strength to face life this way.

For Whom the Bell Tolls “is a living example of how, in modern times, the epic quality must be projected”. Heroic action is an epic quality, and For Whom the Bell Tolls contains this element. The setting is simple and the emphasis is on the basic virtues of uncomplicated people. The men are engaged in the conflict are prepared to sacrifice their lives; they are exceptional for their deeds of daring and heroism.

Behind the conception of this idea of the hero lies the disillusionment of the American public, the disillusionment that was brought about by the First World War. The impressionable man came to realize that the old ideas and beliefs rooted in religion and ethics had not helped to save man the catastrophe of World War I. As a result, after the war came to an end, Hemingway and other writers began to look for a new system of values, a system of values that would replace the old attitudes which they thought proved to be useless. The writers who adopted these new beliefs came to be known as the “lost generation.”

The “lost generation,” was a name instituted by Gertrude Stein and it signified the postwar generation and the literary movement produced by the young writers of the time. Their writing reflected their belief that “the only reality was that life is harsh”.

A great deal has been written about Ernest Hemingway's distinctive style. Ever since he began writing in the 1920's, he has been the subject of lavish praise and sometimes savage criticism. He has not been ignored.

To explain Hemingway's style in a few paragraphs in such a manner as to satisfy those who have read his articles and books is almost impossible. It is a simple style, straightforward and modest. Hemingway's prose is unadorned as a result of his abstaining from using adjectives as much as possible. He relates a story in the form of straight journalism, but because he is a master of transmitting emotion with out embellishing it, the product is even more enjoyable.

Rarely have authors become so identified with a particular writing style or with the word “style” itself as Ernest Hemingway. Many writers have attempted to “write like Hemingway.” Few have succeeded.

To many readers, the essential characteristic of the Hemingway style is simplicity and precision of word choice. That description, while accurate, can be deceptive.

“Simplicity” is not the same thing as short, grammatically simple sentences. “Precision of word choice” does not mean an abundance of unusual words in order to achieve precision. And Hemingway's style cannot so easily be explained as in his own often quoted advice (which needs to be taken with a grain of salt!) to write the story and then remove the adjectives and adverbs.

At the conclusion of For Whom the Bell Tolls, you will have a distinct picture of the places, the objects, the people in the story. If you diagrammed or sketched them, they might be somewhat different from another reader's mental picture. That's inevitable. It's the distinctness- giving the reader the feeling of being there- which is Hemingway's literary feat.

Beyond question this effect is achieved by a heavy use of nouns and verbs. If there is an object in the scene he is relating, Hemingway will mention it. If a character moves, Hemingway will mention it.

It is true that Hemingway often leaves the adjectives and adverbs to the reader. The resulting effect is all the more vivid and memorable. An excellent example is the description of the sights and smells both inside and outside the cave, at the opening of Chapter 5. At the same time, Hemingway does not avoid modifiers altogether. A good example is the description of Joaquin when he is first introduced at the beginning of Chapter 11.

Much has been made of Hemingway's dialogue, through which you get the feeling of being at the scene. Yet when the dialogue is transferred to the motion picture screen, directors have had to be careful to keep it from sounding stilted and formal, because its effectiveness does not depend on reproducing the exact words (including the “uh's” and “er's”) that people utter in real life. Hemingway also doesn't often punctuate his dialogue with italics, capital letters, ellipses (...), and exclamation points to suggest emphasis. The effectiveness lies in stating with utmost simplicity the heart of what the characters mean.

In general, however, For Whom the Bell Tolls is often regarded as somewhat of a stylistic departure from Hemingway's earlier novels, such as The Sun Also Rises. Earlier works relied more heavily on colloquial dialogue to communicate action and rarely included lengthy descriptive passages. Some experts have suggested that in For Whom the Bell Tolls, Hemingway was responding to criticisms of his style. In this, his longest novel, he inserted lengthy lyric passages that describe the countryside, portrayed the mind of Robert Jordan with extended interior monologues, and replaced flowing conversation with a sometimes stilted attempt to reproduce the Spanish language. The leanness of the prose in his earlier novels- which prompted critics to call him a major literary innovator- was thus sacrificed for what some consider pretentiousness, but what others see as brave and successful strides in experimentation. Those who disliked his work in For Whom the Bell Tolls were pleased when he returned to a simpler, terser style in works like The Old Man and the Sea.

Stylistic features peculiar to For Whom the Bell Tolls should be noted. They concern Hemingway's deliberate attempt to reproduce in English the flavor of the Spanish language.

Spanish (like other languages) preserves a special second-person singular pronoun and related verb form such as English formerly had (thou, thy, thee). This form is used in speaking to another person in a familiar manner. Hemingway uses the antiquated English form to better approximate the speech of his Spanish characters. Readers differ in their reactions to this device. Some find it awkward and distracting. Others find that it begins to sound natural after a while. You'll recognize other English sentences that display strange word order or style, such as

“That this thing of the bridge may succeed.” .

This kind of construction is also an attempt to capture the flavor of the Spanish language.

Both Hemingway's actual Spanish and his attempt to render the flavor of Spanish in English have been criticized as frequently inaccurate by people who know Spanish better than he did. An exiled Loyalist commander, Gustavo Duran, read the manuscript of For Whom the Bell Tolls before it was published and was critical of Hemingway's Spanish, although impressed by the story. A more contemporary Spanish critic has called the language abstract when it should be concrete (to properly mirror real Spanish) and solemn when it should be simple.

Hemingway also tries to convey the extremely physical and earthy- often crude- dialogue of Spanish peasants (particularly when they are upset with each other). Today, when there is very little censorship in the publishing industry, there would be no problem in printing the exact English equivalent of what Hemingway wanted his Spanish characters to say. But in 1940 there was a problem in using obscenities.

One of Hemingway's solutions was simply to quote the original Spanish word or phrase. It's then up to the reader to check with a Spanish/English dictionary to learn how crudely someone has insulted someone else.
A second method was to employ an all-purpose and acceptable English word that at least suggests the original. Anselmo, in his early tirade about Pablo's negative attitude, says:

“I this and that in the this and that of thy father. I this and that and that in thy this.”

On several occasions one character advises another to “Go unprint thyself.”
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