watching a James Bond film, one often wonders. If the Bond character were real, would he be able to experience a traumatizing situation -- killing a villain or escaping with his life -- and then straightening the lapels of his dinner jacket proceed to seduce a beautiful woman? While Bond's celluloid heroics transport us as long as the movie lasts, we know that it is unrealistic, and comes from the imagination of Ian Fleming, who like most authors and novelists, probably sat at his desk tapping away at his Remington, letting his mind do the wandering or the conjuring, as was necessary for the plot.
Ernest Hemingway, we know, has lived his novels. He was larger than life, and he lived larger than life E.L. Doctorow, in a tribute to Hemingway, describes a day in Florida when Hemingway persevered after hooking a huge marlin to snag and capture it. But not content with that accomplishment, he was seen on the docks at midnight (probably drunk) using the marlin as a punching bag (Doctorow, 1986). Hemingway remains an enigma to most, almost five decades after he took his own life -- a man broken down by diseases and the culmination of a life of extremes -- perhaps running away from his own self. Several books and a monthly journal "Hemingway Reviews" (The Hemingway Review, 1986) seek to deconstruct his novels, short stories and reportage -- perhaps, they seek to deconstruct the very essence that was Ernest Hemingway.
Hemingway did not just write about wars, he lived his wars -- occasionally fighting in them. His novels are quasi-autobiographical (Baker, 1963). In one of Hemingway's short stories, the Nick Adams character, which as a boy wants to be a writer, talks about writing of situations that he experienced but with a slightly different premise and with characters differing slightly from him. By Nick Adam's admission, his own life and times were not interesting enough (Hemingway, 1972). While most of Nick Adam's short stories appear to show him as tough and insensitive, the analysts' prevailing attitude is that it is a defense mechanism against the chaos in the world (Contemporary Literary Criticism, 2000).
War played a significant role in Ernest Hemingway's life's work. His novels- chronologically: "A Farewell to Arms" (Hemingway, 1957), "For Whom the Bells Toll" (Hemingway, 1940), and a collection of four short stories under the title, "A Soldier Home (Hemingway, 1972)" -- are respectively, about his experiences in Italy during the First World War, his contribution to a small slice of the Spanish Civil War, and coming home. All these novels are set against the backdrop of war, within a historical (factual) construct. Parallel to the fighting or descriptions of battles, Hemingway writes about the wars within: the turmoil of the soul, the upheavals of interpersonal relationships, and about love -- romantic and otherwise.
The three protagonists are: Frederick Henry (A Farewell to Arms) an ambulance driver and overseer of the transport of wounded soldiers, Robert Jordan (For Whom the Bells Toll) -a Spanish Teacher turned demolition expert and sympathizer on the side of the Republicans, against the Fascists and their dictator Generalissimo Francisco Franco; and, Nick Adams -- a soldier coming home. In "A Soldier Home," Hemingway does not inform us from which war the soldier is returning, or whether he is friend or foe. The soldier is perhaps returning to rural Michigan -- the base of Nick Adam's stories. But the story is applicable to every soldier walking into a safe haven and familiar terrain.
Hemingway uses pine needles as a symbol for succor and comfort: In "For Whom the Bells Toll," Robert Jordan passes his hands through the cool comforting pine needles as he lies immobilized by a broken leg, awaiting imminent death at the hands of the fascisti. Nick Adams returns home from war in the first short story of "Soldier Home": "Big Two Hearted River." Bent by the weight of his haversack, he walks on the hard, asphalted road that bisects land containing burned homes and bombed structures. He walks determinedly. In the distance he sees the dark of the forest away from the sun-baked earth. He walks hurriedly towards it. When he reaches it, relief sets in. He can feel the cool of the land; he walks barefoot feeling the cool, green pine needles beneath his feet on the banks of the river.
Nick Adams spends two whole days on the banks of the river. He cooks outdoors; he fishes in the river; he catches trout. Hemingway describes each action of Nick Adams in delicious detail. Why is Nick Adams in no hurry to go home? He does not have to be home. He is home. Camping on the bank of the river, Nick savors every moment of it. In a collection of Hemingway stories of Nick Adams (also in several ways mirrors his own life): fishing by the river (even when it is illegal), camping, seeking the woods -- pine trees as an escape from authority or from the emotional rigors of everyday life are mentioned in several Nick Adams stories.
The outdoor life also brings him closer to his father -- an outdoorsman himself. His association with American Indians also happens in the outdoors. All good memories are associated with the river and the woods (Hemingway, 1972). Nick Adams is truly home.
Coming home for Nick Adams also means tying loose ends, as Hemingway describes in "The End of Something." The first is with girl friend Marjorie. Marjorie and Nick go on a fishing trip. The fishing trip is unsuccessful. Nick Adams does not have the same feelings for Marjorie that he once did. He does not enjoy the picnic luncheon that Marjorie has prepared. Obviously, the war has changed things for Nick Adams. Marjorie recognizes that something is wrong. Then Nick tells her that being with her is not fun anymore -- in effect, that he is breaking up with her. Hemingway describes Marjorie's disappointment and annoyance. She leaves Nick and rows home. There are no tantrums or threats. For the breakup in a relationship, Marjorie takes it quite well. We are not aware of her state of mind or her feelings for Nick. Has she changed? Does she not feel the same way about Nick, after perhaps a protracted absence? Maybe she wanted the breakup after all. Her actions before Nick told her that he was breaking up with her are not of great joy or enjoyment at the prospect of being with Nick after he returns from war. As Bill, his friend, asks him after Marjorie has left. "Did she make a scene?" And Nick replies, "No, she did not." Nick is surprised and perplexed. He obviously feels guilt for having hurt Marjorie.
Hemingway describes the processes of a soldier coming home in a very cryptic format. As if coming home is a stepped-program towards a certain goal. The first step in coming home is to satisfy the visceral needs. Nick Adams spends time doing what he likes most: Fishing, Camping and spending time in the outdoors. The soldier then reevaluates relationships. He has been away. He has see things; he has learned things.(Young, 1964) He is, in some ways, a different person. He knows himself like he has never known himself before. Therefore he seeks to make certain that relationships are terminated if they have to -- the break up with Marjorie.
Having done this, the soldier feels that he can relive good times. In "The Three Day Blow," Nick goes to visit his long time friend Bill. Bill is alone; his father is not at home. Nick feels that he can relax again. Nick and Bill discuss baseball, "How are the Cards (St. Louis Cardinals) doing?" For Nick, the weights of the war and weightier relationships have passed. He sits with Bill, his legs spread in front of the fire. Bill offers Nick a drink. Nick accepts. They drink. There is one constant in the entire story: drinking. Nick and Bill drink and drink. When the whiskey is finished they open another bottle. By the end of the story they are very drunk.
Nick and Bill also discuss books: The works of G.K. Chesterton and Richard Fevrel. As the alcohol begins to take effect, the conversation increases in sentimentality. They begin to discuss relationships. Bill counsels Nick that he was better of not marrying Marjorie. They were young and single, and they should celebrate that freedom. Finally, Bill and Nick, unsuccessfully seeking escapism in alcohol, grow tired of drinking. They decide to take shotguns and go hunting. The "Three Day Blow" is all about relaxing, celebrating the fact of being alive and pure self-indulgence.
Hemingway's soldier comes home. He enjoys things he loved from childhood. He re-evaluates relationships, breaking those that he has grown out of. The soldier relaxes and enjoys himself (Mangum, 1982). Finally, it is time to move on and form new relationships. In "Summer People," he relaxes with his friends: Bill, Ghee, Carl,…