A Quick Jaunt With Hemingway and Realism

I recently finished reading Hemingway’s For Whom The Bell Tolls and I have to admit that this is the first Hemingway book I’ve ever read. It was a deliberate decision on my part to educate myself in some proper literature and elevate myself out of the murky and corrupting waters of political commentary, military history and paperback fantasy (long story.) So; armed with an arsenal of classics procured by my mother from the SPCA bookshop, ranging from Hemingway to Joseph Conrad, I started reading. And good God! I haven’t been this intrigued by an author since Tintin!

I’m going to avoid reviewing the book and giving an explanation of the story in detail, but suffice to say the book revolves one Robert Jordan, an American partizan fighting with the International Brigades against the Spanish Nationalist forces in the Spanish Civil War. The book revolves around several themes, but the most mechanical of which is the destruction of a bridge (by Jordan) at the beginning of a larger offensive by the comrades. Now, enough dry explanation, because it simply doesn’t do Hemingway justice.

What affected me most profoundly was probably the extremely descriptive style of Hemingway’s writing. The charm of it, however, is that he’s not explicitly descriptive, explaining the flavour of the chamomile tea which Mrs Puddlebottom sips lazily on the creaking wooden porch which smells faintly of cinammon… or something. Instead, Hemingway gradually and inexorably drags you along a development of character and story which seems both bizarre and weirdly natural. By the end of the book you’re left wondering how on earth such a small context could make such a profound impact on one’s emotions.

I think what impacted upon myself most about Hemingway’s style of writing is that he appeals to my sense of realism. There’s never any hint of some sort of hopeless idealism or drippy happy-ending. Considering the ideology of the communist partisans during the civil war this is particularly ironic! Instead, Hemingway lets you know in no uncertain terms the very real misery of war, and the probably outcome long before it occurs. It elicits a sense of resignation at one’s fate while still being able to indulge in deliberate and considered fantasy; that there is always hope, even if the reality of your existence is indicating everything but.

The book will leave you stripped of everything nice and leave you gutted, but you’ll be thankful for it, and you’ll understand in complete terms how you got to this point and why. Hemingway in this sense elicits the very fundamentals of realism for me. The calm and considered acceptance of one’s contextual parameters and the subsequent consequences your actions (and others) will occur. Moreover, Hemingway allows the realism a very deliberate portal into fantasy; into dreaming of what will be if hope turns into fruition. The notion that war will become a distant thing for the characters, and that love can be given the proper space in which to be enjoyed. But this fantasy is never given precedence over reality, and it always remains in cognizance thereof, so that the fantasy can be enjoyed all the more for its own simple sake. Hemingway’s writing, for me, allowed me to enjoy the high emotions of the characters in their brief but intense elation while still understand the very real and terrible reality in which they exist, together with the very real and terrible future which awaits.

Hemingway wrote none of this by accident, and I am glad for it. His writing has affected me profoundly, and I only wish that one day I could write at even a fraction of his skill. I still can’t explain the effect of his writing very well. It’s a hot-cold, quick-slow kind of affair. It both frustrated me immensely yet always enabled me to see the why of it all. It reinforced my belief in considered fantasy while still accepting the daunting reality of one’s existence, and not to shrink away from it.

Written by admin in: Books |


  • Joe

    Haha, dude, you totally read this because its John McCain’s favourite novel! πŸ˜›

    Comment | November 5, 2008
  • admin

    Hehehe, I actually honestly didn’t know that. But now that I do, I think I might just explode with admiration πŸ˜€

    Comment | November 7, 2008

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