F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Miller Hemingway’s philosophic vision of America
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F. SCOTT FITZGERALD AND ERNEST MILLER HEMINGWAY’S PHILOSOPHIC VISION OF AMERICA
© Fahimeh Keshmiri, Parvin Sanjari, Fatemeh Yavari
English Department, Farhangian university, Isfahan, Iran
Twentieth century has been at the clemency of various events which have been illustrated by intellectuals in different fields. F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Miller Hemingway, American illustrious novelists have dealt with the philosophic visions of modernity. In fact their translation of existentialisms to American interests, and the effects of American system on society, reverberates throughout these authors cultural criticism and their literary works. Throughout his early short stories and novels, Fitzgerald addresses and captures the existential center of his times. Noticeably, Hemingway’s vision of modernity is commonly attributed to the formation of his own philosophies of life, death, and art in what has come to be known as Hemingway’s characteristic philosophy, Hemingway’s Code, and Hemingway’s Code Heroes.
In this article, among the many characteristics revealing their vision of America, the major themes of their foremost short stories and novels have been analyzed with regard to some Critic’s viewpoints regarding these two, literary masters. Critics see Fitzgerald both as a chronicler, and more importantly as a thoughtful and insightful social critic who is working out the «dilemmas of philosophy» in his art. Indeed, what American critics often consider a fatalistic philosophy, a death-haunted, morbid fascination with the darker side of life, existentialist critics see as a prophetic optimism and an absurdist vision that places Hemingway in the ranks of a «guide «prophet of those who are without faith».
Key words: Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Existentialism, America, Twenty century.
A vision of the unique psychological experience of «Being» American that grows from the American existential foundations, lay by Fitzgerald and Hemingway in the first half of the 20th century (Foster, 1968, 220). Actually, their philosophic ideas of modernity, their translation of existentialisms to American interests and concerns, and their existential concerns with the results of an increasingly oppressive American system on the individual and the culture at great, reverberate through some author'-s cultural criticism and their literary works.
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Considerably, critical researches of Fitzgerald and Hemingway repeatedly mention to these writers as innocents of philosophy although evidence such as reading lists, letters, library gatherings, and the writer’s works themselves reveal that Fitzgerald and Hemingway were, at the least, minimally versed in the philosophic discourse of their time1.
Critics repeatedly discount works of philosophy in Hemingway’s reading collection, claiming that Hemingway most likely never read them- and, Fitzgerald’s copy of H.L. Mencken’s The Philosophy of Frederick Nietzsche, a work his letters and interviews reveal he highly valued as well as his admission that Nietz-schean ideology had a profound influence on his thought and writing in his early to mid twenties, is rarely considered in critical studies of Fitzgerald’s canon of works (Bruccoli, 2004, 83). Yet, as Ronald Berman records, because «the decade of the twenties was philosophically explosive,» it is difficult to image that Fitzgerald and Hemingway, who were both recognized to put emphasis on their reading of a variety and range of works as vital to their art, would have overlooked the main intellectual currents of their time the explosion of European philosophy on the American scene. If Fitzgerald and Hemingway had not commented on every aspect of culture in both their fiction and their non-fiction — from history, politics, and social issues to literature, art, and prevailing ideologies of their historic instants — their innocence of the philosophic currents of their time would be more probable, even a reasonable supposition. Yet, European philosophies were being translated, explained, and appropriated to American interests and concerns, both in the highest intellectual circles, and in academia, in social criticism, in cultural comment, in journals and on the pages of some of America’s most well-known magazines.
Considerably, Fitzgerald and Hemingway have the most advanced and fluent existential ideas of modern times and take responsibility through their art for working out the philosophical quandaries of modernity and they have yet to be completely understood as two of the most significant initial literary voices who get to the central of the existential experience of «Being» American, voices whose reverberations are felt by several authors and are still felt today.
Fitzgerald’s Philosophic Vision of America
Hailed «as the interpreter of the youth of the Jazz age,» the «spokesman» of «the dancing, flirting, frivoling, lightly philosophizing young America» and as the «delineator» and liberator of «the American girl,» by the end of 1922, Fitzgerald was the authoritative voice of an age and a generation (Bruccoli, 2004, 75). He not only labels and describes his age the Jazz Age but also captures the energy of
1 Richard Foster and Manfred Putz are among the scholars who discuss Fitzgerald and Hemingway’s existentialism, yet they both argue that Fitzgerald and Hemingway were not versed in philosophy. Specifically, see Foster’s article «Mailer and the Fitzgerald Tradition,» p. 229 and Putz’s Nietzsche in American Thought and Literature, p. 7.
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this age like no other writer of his time. Even though the vision of modernity Fitzgerald presents in his early short stories and novels earns Fitzgerald instant renown as of one of the most important chroniclers of Jazz Age America, critics who have recognized the existentialist impulse in Fitzgerald’s work see Fitzgerald both as a chronicler, and more importantly as a thoughtful and insightful social critic who is working out the «dilemmas of philosophy» in his art. Ronald Berman argues that the characters in The Great Gatsby and Fitzgerald’s World of Ideas, are working out a dilemma of American philosophy. Although Berman does discuss the influence of Nietzschean philosophy on Fitzgerald’s art and thought, he attributes this influence to American cultural critic H. L Mencken and his translation of Nietzschean philosophy to an American context (Berman, 2001, 9).
Significantly, only a handful of scholars have examined the depth to which Fitzgerald’s thought and writing is influenced by the philosophic currents of his time. Fitzgerald scholar David Ullrich, for example, identifies the existentialist impulse in Fitzgerald’s early works in Fitzgerald’s focus on identity and cultural memory as socially constructed. Ullrich argues that this existentialist impulse is embodied in Fitzgerald’s existentialist critique of America’s tendency to erect «memorials and monuments» as a way of shaping cultural memory, regional and personal identity, and thus «assuring conformity and thwarting the possibility of envisioning 'individuality'» (Ullrich, 1999, 2).
Fitzgerald’s early concern with America’s creation of mythologies through which the identities of the individual, communities, regions, and the nation are shaped, and what Richard Foster identifies as Fitzgerald’s characters' «search for selfhood» in a culture which threatens to annihilate the individual, forms the basis of Fitzgerald’s early «'existential' vision» of modern, American experience. Foster, in fact, implies that Fitzgerald’s «'existential' vision» of modernity positions Fitzgerald as the first modern American author to interpret American experience existentially. In fact, Fitzgerald is heralded as «the first author to chronicle the younger generation at the moment when youth was becoming supreme and defiant,» an assessment that not only points to Fitzgerald’s extreme sense of contemporaneity and his keen social eye but also points to Fitzgerald’s historic moment, the moment when the modern sensibility was born, when the Victorian public conscience is replaced by the modern epistemological shift to subjectivity, the moment when the American youth rebelled against the values of the increasingly conformist modern society in which they lived (Bruccoli, 2004, 60).
Fitzgerald’s complex vision positions him as a chronicler and an existentialist, the philosophy he explores and espouses inseparable from the historic moment he puts in motion through his art. In fact, throughout his early short stories and novels, Fitzgerald addresses and captures the existential center of his times by showing how the individualist values of Americans conflict with the increasingly oppressive and conformist values of the culture at large. Fitzgerald’s The Ice Palace, for example, serves as critique of the American political and social
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structures that seek to ensure individuals' loyalty to regional and national values and thus ensure individuals' conformity (Ullrich, 1999, 2). In '-& quot-The Diamond as Big as the Ritz,& quot- Fitzgerald presents a stark picture of the implications of America’s emphasis on the value of wealth: wealth and the protection of one’s wealth, Fitzgerald suggests, had become the most important individualist endeavor, more important than human life. Although Fitzgerald critiques different aspects of American culture in these stories, they both reveal Fitzgerald’s existentialist view that the values American culture espouses are antithetical to the individual- in fact, he suggests that the direction American culture is heading is not only toward the death of the individual, but to the eventual death of American culture.
Fitzgerald repeats this sentiment in his early novels This Side of Paradise (1920) and The Beautiful and Damned (1922) through presenting characters who are lost, who are broken both physically and spiritually and thus unable, impotent to act, what Fitzgerald envisions as the implications of his culture’s desire for conformity: the death of the creative spirit and vitality of the individual. Yet Fitzgerald’s vision of modernity, as pessimistic as it may seem, does retain a sense of hope for the individual and for American culture. For Fitzgerald, the first step is to come to a heightened awareness and understanding of self and world. At the end of Fitzgerald’s «The Ice Palace,& quot- for example, Sally Carrol Happer comes to what David Ullrich identifies as an & quot-existential awareness& quot- of self — & quot-that real growth is inevitable and painful& quot- (Ullrich, 1999, 9). This Side of Paradise ends with Armory Blaine’s admission that he knows himself, nothing more, suggestive of Armory’s growth and his existential awareness of self. & quot-Diamond"- ends with Kismine and John who escape the island to avoid & quot-execution"- for their knowledge of the secret diamond at the source of Kismine’s family wealth. Fitzgerald suggests that Kismine and John come to an awareness that love and human connection are more fulfilling than wealth- they also come to an awareness of the implications of revering wealth — the death of the individual — a sentiment Fitzgerald punctuates by the deaths of those who visit and inhabit the island. And although The Beautiful and Damned ends with a sentiment similar to & quot-Diamond"- -the perception that that wealth is more important than human life — it also ends by lauding courage and an individualist ethic through Anthony Patch’s proud vision of himself. He does not & quot-submit to mediocrity& quot-. For Ullrich, the importance of Fitzgerald’s early short stories and his first novel, This Side of Paradise, is that they reveal Fitzgerald’s formation of a & quot-complex philosophy of culture,& quot- a philosophy Ullrich claims Fitzgerald had already developed by 1919−1920, a philosophy Ullrich argues informs Fitzgerald’s critique of American culture in his later works. Although the philosophy of culture Fitzgerald espouses in his early works recurs throughout his canon, his own admissions that Nietzsche’s works, as well as Mencken’s Nietzschean inspired social commentary of the 1920s, had a profound influence on his thought and writing in the first half of the 1920s, suggests that Fitzgerald was still formulating — or refining — his existentialist philosophy of
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culture and the individual in the years leading up to The Great Gatsby. In fact, Fitzgerald at 1922 claimed to Maxwell Perkins that he wants «to write something new'-» suggests Fitzgerald thinks he has something new to write, something that is not only different from his own works, but something different from the artistic endeavors of his contemporaries (Lehan, Limits 28). In a 1924 interview Fitzgerald reveals one of the ways in which Gatsby was to be different from current trends in American literature.
In this interview Fitzgerald claims a shift in the intellectual and literary climate of his time and presents his observation that, «five years ago the new American novels needed comment by the author… But now that there is a intelligent body of opinion guided by such men as Mencken, Edmund Wilson, and Van Wyck Brooks, comment should be unnecessary» (Bruccoli, 2004, 68). What Fitzgerald recommends in this interview is that not only was he well-versed in the American cultural discourse of his time — much of which was Nietzsche-inspired -but that this discourse was not limited to intellectual and literary circles- it conquered American public discourse. Mencken wrote a series of essays in the years 1920−1927 in which he questioned «the nature of democracy» and offered his view of «some of its current problems» (Berman, 2001, 9). Berman writes that in these essays Mencken captures «the sense of opposition between individuals and clusters of the early twenties» and formulates «one issue» Berman perceives as «central to Fitzgerald’s writing» — the insufficiency of the «legal aristocracy» as the ruling class in America. Critic Robert Emmett Long attributes Mencken’s influence on Fitzgerald’s vision in Gatsby to Mencken’s «concern with the illusion of national myth» and the «worship of 'success,'» as well as his written attacks on «our great national myth of 'success'» and the optimism that stood behind it (Long, 1979, 38). Mencken continually states themes Berman and Long see as part of the fabric of Fitzgerald’s Gatsby. In fact, Long claims that it is through Fitzgerald’s writing of Gatsby that Fitzgerald «finds his vision» (Long, 1979, 180).
Fitzgerald’s view in Gatsby, what can be considered as a complicated combination of history, politics, religion, social issues, and philosophy, not only expresses the cultural and philosophic quandaries of his time, but separates Fitzgerald from the literary-artistic activities of his contemporaries. For instance, where postwar writers had a tendency to write pessimistically about the condition of American democracy and American culture, content to expose and criticize America’s myths of success, equality, and unhindered individual freedom, Fitzgerald’s Gatsby departs from this body of opinion and displays Fitzgerald views American culture as capable of recreating itself more authentically. In fact, Fitzgerald’s pessimism toward American culture is evident in his early works, a pessimism retained in Nick Carraway’s disdain for the blind masses and the «legal aristocracy,» yet (Foster, 2005, 219).
Additionaly, what is similarly distinctive about Fitzgerald’s philosophic view in Gatsby, as Ronald Berman aptly claims, is found in Fitzgerald’s presentation of
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«the dilemmas of philosophy in anecdotes of social life,» philosophies that Berman debates are affected by the philosophic discourse of Fitzgerald’s time. These philosophies, which «seemed simple to Mencken and to other editorialists,» Berman writes, «became more complex» in the «novelistic form» of Gatsby (Berman, 2001, 9). The complexity of Fitzgerald’s existential-philosophic idea of modernity, according to Wright Morris, is found in Fitzgerald’s optimistic-absurdist vision of contemporary experience. As Morris claims, this vision positions Fitzgerald as «the first American to formulate his own philosophy of the absurd,» a philosophy that takes shape during Fitzgerald’s conscious attempt to write something new, something different from the works of his contemporaries and from his own early artistic endeavors, something contemporary that also captures the «dilemmas of philosophy» and presents a remedy for living in Jazz Age modernity (Morris, 1963, 26−27).
Even though Fitzgerald’s philosophic idea is existentially Nietzschean in origin, a view that fundamentally Americanizes and adds profundity to the existing American-oriented Nietzschean musings of fellow chroniclers such as H.L. Mencken, we cannot fully comprehend Fitzgerald’s absurdist idea by trusting solely on a Nietzschean frame. Actually, Nietzsche is only section of Nick’s story and Fitzgerald’s complicated philosophy. Yes, Nick is an aspiring Nietzschean, yet Nick never recommends that Gatsby’s sees as he does. Actually, as Nick comes to see more of how Gatsby sees, Nick comes to understand that Gatsby’s trust — like that of Soren Kierkegaard’s «young swain who falls in love with a princess,» yet understands the impossibility of this love — is a faith in the absurd. It is Gatsby’s opinion, his committal to Daisy, his faith, hope, and courage in the appearance of impossibility that not only reinvigorates Nick’s faith, but shapes the foundation of the absurdist idea Fitzgerald presents in Gatsby.
To understand Fitzgerald’s — what becomes Nick’s — absurdist vision of con-temporaniety is to understand Gatsby as an outsider to the Nietzschean civilization, Nick envisions as his own. He is «exempt from» Nick’s usual «scorn» because Nick comes to see that Gatsby, unlike Myrtle and George Wilson, is not blind or deluded- instead, he is aware from the outset that he was in Daisy’s house by «colossal accident». Because of his fear, that his «invisible cloak of a uniform» might fall off at any moment and Daisy may find out that he was not «a person from much the same strata as herself,» Gatsby «made the most of his time» with Daisy, an admission that suggests the «penniless young man without a past» is aware of the impossibility of winning Daisy. Gatsby’s quest — to amass great wealth and create a past for himself in order to win Daisy — is, in part, achieved. He risks everything — his life and his creation of «Jay Gatsby» — for the possibility of achieving what was once, and may still be, the impossible. For Nick, it is Gatsby’s infinite hope, his faith that the absurd is possible, that makes Gatsby’s vision different from his own. But Fitzgerald’s message or his view is that «hope keeps the world beautifully alive» and this vision forms the basis of his absurdist
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vision (Lehan, 1990, 72). It is this element of Gatsby’s character that Nick describes as his «romantic readiness,» his «extraordinary gift for hope,» and his «sensitivity to the promises of life». It is Gatsby’s striving, his «extraordinary gift for hope» and his courage in the face of his adversaries that Nick admires. It is Gatsby’s hope and the authentic vitality of his creative spirit, not a «flabby impressionability which is dignified under the name of the 'creative temperament'» that Nick suggests separates Gatsby from the majority of men. Yet, what is unique about Gatsby, what separates him from «the herd» is that Gatsby embraces his creative spirit and gives direction to his vitality through his commitment to Daisy. In fact, Gatsby embodies the American spirit Fitzgerald sees as part of the American character that can save the individual and culture from the direction it is heading: toward the death of the individual and the creative spirit, and thus the death of what Fitzgerald seems to be uniquely American.
Thus, Gatsby embodies Fitzgerald’s hopeful vision for the individual: that hope, faith, commitment, and courage will keep the world «beautifully alive» (Lehan, 1990, 72). This is what Nick memorializes through writing The Great Gatsby: he memorializes the one uniquely American characteristic that has survived the times — the vitality of the American spirit — and shows his generation that there are authentic possibilities for the individual who gives authentic direction to this vitality of spirit. It is this uniquely American spirit that Nick sees in Gatsby and that he feels «responsible» for sharing with his generation, a spirit whose physical embodiment is destroyed by the «careless» and irresponsible, but a spirit Nick suggests — nay, ensures — will live on in the hearts and minds of his fellow and future Americans.
Through Fitzgerald’s creation of his own coherent view of American culture and the individual’s place in culture, Fitzgerald puts his philosophy in motion through Gatsby with the intention of clarifying «a nation’s vision of itself' (Mailer, 1966, 98). What Fitzgerald seeks to clarify is that the direction American culture is heading is toward the death of the individual. What can save us, Fitzgerald suggests, is to see more clearly, to retain a sense of hope, to grow, to be responsible, not «careless.» For Nick, Gatsby both serves as an example and a warning to modern Americans: his hope, faith, courage, and commitment are laudable, but his vision lacks the hardy skepticism Nick practices in his pursuit of «truth.» Gatsby, as Nick envisions him, has an absurdist faith in the impossible- but, for Nick, what Gatsby sets his sights on — Daisy — is not worthy of his love, his hope, and commitment. Although Fitzgerald’s own belief «that hope keeps the world beautifully alive» is illustrated through Gatsby, Fitzgerald also shows us that we must break all illusions and come to see the world more clearly and truly- we must take responsibility for developing and refining our own vision. In fact, it is Gatsby’s hope, his vitality, his creative spirit, as well as what Nick sees as Gatsby’s inability to see self and world clearly, that stirs Nick’s creative spirit and inspires him to take responsibility for Gatsby and for sharing his own heightened
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awareness and understanding of the world with his fellow Americans. It is Gats-by's vitality and hope that inspires Nick to give direction to his own creative spirit, a commitment to the memory of Gatsby through which he simultaneously creates art, becomes an artist, and espouses an «art of living» for modern times.
Hemingway’s Philosophic Vision of America
Hemingway’s vision of modernity is commonly attributed to the formation of his own philosophies of life, death, and art in what has come to be known as Hemingway’s «characteristic philosophy» — the «Hemingway Code» and Hemingway’s «Code Heroes» (Madariaga, 1961, 18). Decades of critics have explored Hemingway’s development of his «Code Hero» in his early works — from Nick Adams, Jake Barnes, and Fredric Henry to his early portraits of the Spanish matador — and have described both Hemingway’s philosophy and that of his characters as existential-oriented. Wayne Kvam, who explores the popularity of Hemingway’s early works in Germany in the twenties, notes that «existentialist critics naturally felt immediate kinship with a writer who recognized death as the only absolute,» a sentiment Kvam interprets as a major theme of Hemingway’s early works (Kvam, 1973, 154). John Killinger attributes Hemingway’s early «literary popularity» to his «extreme sense of contemporaneity,» which he notes reflected the «rigorous philosophical movement» of his time — existentialism — and like Kvam, he recognizes Hemingway’s repeated exploration of death in his early canon of works as Hemingway’s attempt to «reduce the problem of existence to its lowest common denominator». Jose Castillo-Puche claims the Spanish bullfight as essential to Hemingway’s formation of a coherent philosophy- he claims that after Hemingway saw his first bullfight in 1923, the bullfight «was to remain fixed in him and indelible, the basis of his elemental philosophy which he would carry with him throughout his life» (Broer, 2002, 55). In fact, Castillo-Puche writes, «From the very first moment» Hemingway «tended to see in the matador a superhuman power that was more than religious — something almost divine» ((Broer, 2002, 206). Lawrence Broer insightfully notes that «in the image of the matador» Hemingway «found a symbol of the best a man can be in a violent and irrational world — a model of manhood and integrity after which he would pattern his major fictional heroes» (Broer, 2002, vii). This pattern began in embryonic form in 1923 when Hemingway saw his first bullfight and immediately recognized the «transcendental value of the bullfight» (Broer, 2002, 55).
In the nine years between Hemingway’s first bullfight and his publication of his Spanish bullfight manifesto, Death in the Afternoon, Hemingway writes of the Spanish bullfight in articles and in essays, in prose and poetry form. Yet, Miriam Mandel notes that Hemingway’s first piece on the Spanish bullfight was written before he saw his first bullfight. Mandel writes: «When Mike Strater, Gertrude Stein, and Alice B. Toklas spoke to him about the bullfight, he immediately recognized its literary possibilities» and wrote «The First Matador Got the Horn,»
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which Mandel notes «reads like an objective, journalistic eyewitness account, but it is a mix of hearsay, imagination, and reading, a crafted exercise in voice and point of view» (Mandell, 2004, 7). After Hemingway saw his first bullfight on March 27, 1923, he immediately began sharing his first-hand experiences and his insights into the Spanish bullfight with his American readers (Mandel, 2004, 143). In 1923 Hemingway published three essays on the bullfight: «Bullfighting, Sport, and Industry, ««World Series of Bull Fighting a Mad, Whirling Carnival, «and «Tancredo is DeadIn the same year, Hemingway writes poetry and prose on the bullfight: «Maera Lay Still» was published in In Our Time, and his poetry, «The Soul of Spain with McAlmon and Bird the Publishers» and Part Two of the Soul of Spain with McAlmon and Bird the Publishers were published the following year. In 1924 Hemingway produced more bullfight poetry — The Poem is by Maera and Some day when you are picked up — and in 1926 he writes To a Tragic Poetess. The bullfight in Hemingway’s fiction includes The Undefeated (1925), The Sun Also Rises (1926), Banal Story (1927), which is another tribute to Maera, and The Mother of a Queen, which was composed in 1931−1932 and published in Winner Take Nothing in 1933 (Mandel, 2004, 13).
In the years 1923−1932 Hemingway brings the bullfight to Americans and serve as his readers' guide to Spain and Spanish culture, and he guides them through Trout Fishing in Europe, through fishing expeditions between Key West and Havana- he brings them the American expatriate experience in Paris and repeatedly brings them back to the war on the Italian front using all genres of writing available to him. But what Hemingway finds in Spain greatly differs from what he finds in other cultures of the world — Paris included. What Hemingway finds is a country, a people, and a national spirit, untouched by the First World War and free from the overcrowding and modernization that Hemingway saw spoiling his own native land as well as some of his favorite cultures of the world. Spain serves as a contrast to America where the «values» of courage, bravery, honor, and patriotism hold little or no significant meaning for the individual. What Hemingway grasps to be the dilemmas inherent in «Being» American — his is a generation rendered impotent by war directionless, disillusioned, a «lost generation» smothered by the conformist values of American culture — he finds the answers to in Spain. What Hemingway finds in Spain is esteem for the individual. In fact, it is the rebel, the individualist, the artist, who is celebrated in Spain and celebrated through the national art of the Spanish bullfight. It is a country which encourages the growth of the individual and cherishes what is uniquely their own -their culture, their view toward life and death, the sculptural art of the Spanish bullfight. It is in this context — Spain — that Hemingway, by contrast, comes to see what is universal in the particulars of Spanish culture. They, like Hemingway’s post-war generation, live with the thought of death every day.
By the time Hemingway starts writing Death in the Afternoon, Hemingway’s distrust of his own culture — which he sees as espousing abstract material values
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that distort identity and thwart the individual by smothering him/her in conformity — has brought Hemingway to a deep appreciation of the spiritual superiority of Spain. It had all the essential characteristics of an authentic, individualistic culture that America did not. Its values, firmly set and visibly performed through the Spanish bullfight, Hemingway tells us, are embodied in — «pun donof', it means honor, probity, courage, self-respect and pride in one word. It was a culture that faced death everyday with a vitality of spirit Hemingway saw as essential to the life of the individual and to the life of a nation. The philosophy that grows from what Hemingway seems to be the superior qualities of Spanish culture is a philosophy through which Hemingway attempts to clarify the vision of his nation, of his fellow Americans. This philosophy calls for a new awareness, a new understanding of self and world- it calls for a new consciousness for the individual American and for the nation as a whole. The basis of this philosophy, that we must, as Susan Beegel puts it, «look realistically at war and death, and.. abandon all romantic notions of them,& quot- concentrates on individual experience and feeling and on what Sidney Finkelstein refers to as the «essential question& quot- of individual «existence& quot- (Beegel, 1988, 75).
In the act of writing Death in the Afternoon, the voice of an American adventurer and a chronicler of American experience becomes the cultivated voice of a spokesman philosopher for modern times whose focus is not merely American existence, but human existence. In Death in the Afternoon Hemingway’s existentialism and his coherent view of life as a whole takes shape. Hemingway shows that individuals must renounce capitalistic values and concentrate on their own individual existence. He presents a «philosophy of life in the lap of death& quot- and illustrates this philosophy through the matador, an individual.
Lawrence Broer sees as the new «embodiment& quot- of Hemingway’s «Code Hero,& quot- a hero Kathy Willingham sees as «grounded in the existential being in the world& quot- and who strives for «existential authenticity& quot- through his creation of the art of the Spanish bullfight (Broer, 2002, 46- Willingham, 2002, 34). In terms of the matador, Hemingway emphasizes the fact that he «is not always expected to be good, only to do his best& quot- by adhering to the highest standards of bullfighting, by working closely with the bull, and by performing honorably in the bull ring.
For Hemingway’s American audience, because the bullfight and correlatively the philosophy Hemingway had been formulating, was radically foreign to the American mind, to understand the bullfight Hemingway calls for a new awareness and a new understanding, not just of the bullfight, but of self and world. Hemingway tells readers they must learn to «see clearly and as a whole& quot-- they must reserve all judgments until they have seen the things he has spoken of, for them- they must create their own standards, decide what is «good& quot- and «bad& quot- and let nothing confuse these standards- and they must allow themselves to feel, not what they have been «taught to feel,& quot- but must see their own feelings and emotional reactions as epistemologically valid. In short, he emphasizes that readers
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must take responsibility for their own perceptions, feelings, and morality and for their own thoughts and actions. Through teaching readers how to see, judge, and feel the Spanish bullfight, Hemingway attempts to bring readers to a heightened awareness and understanding of their own existential situation in life — as towards death. For Hemingway, this situation requires that we break all illusions and face the stark realities of life, that every individual be brave in his/her own way, that every individual take responsibility for creating meaning and content for his/her own life as a «whole,» and that every individual face his/her own death in order to live life with clarity, integrity, purpose, and meaning- in short, one must face the reality of death with earnestness or pun donor in order to live life earnestly.
What American critics often consider a fatalistic philosophy, a death-haunted, morbid fascination with the darker side of life, existentialist critics see as a prophetic optimism and an absurdist vision that places Hemingway in the ranks of a «guide for his generation,» a «prophet of those who are without faith» (Kvam, 1973, 29). Hemingway’s is a philosophy of the absurd, a philosophy in which one must «think death» and think of «it as your lot,» and do «what death is indeed unable to do — namely, that you are and death is also,» a philosophy that calls for a union of the temporal and the eternal, of life and death, a philosophy through which the individual recognizes that life must be lived with passion and intensity and with clarity and purpose since death may come at any moment (Kierkegaard, 1993, 75). For Hemingway, to unite the temporal and the eternal is to choose an overarching meaning for one’s life as a whole and to live with and renew this commitment every day. Like the matador, who faces death on an almost daily basis, who makes a commitment to his work and his art and strives to unite the temporal and eternal in his art, Hemingway is also committed to unite the temporal and the eternal in his art. Like the matador, and like Hemingway, we must have courage and faith in the face of death to commit to an overarching purpose for our lives as a «whole.» The basis for Hemingway’s absurdist philosophy of life — that we must unite life and death, the temporal and the eternal, in order to express the eternal in our lives — finds its most articulate expression in the greatest of the matador-artists' union of «life and death» through their art, a living illustration of the necessity of pundonor and earnestness at a time when the faith and courage of Hemingway’s generation faltered.
Significantly, Fitzgerald and Hemingway have the most developed and articulate existential visions of modern times and take responsibility through their art for working out the philosophical dilemmas of modernity and they have yet to be fully understood as two of the most important early literary voices who get to the core of the existential experience of «Being» American, voices whose reverberations are felt by some authors and are still felt today. Fitzgerald was the authoritative voice of an age and a generation. He not only names and defines his age the
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Jazz Age but also captures the vitality of this age like no other author of his time. Although the vision of modernity Fitzgerald presents in his early short stories and novels earns Fitzgerald instant renown as of one of the most important chroniclers of Jazz Age America, critics who have recognized the existentialist impulse in Fitzgerald’s work see Fitzgerald both as a chronicler, and more importantly as a thoughtful and insightful social critic who is working out the «dilemmas of philosophy» in his art. The characters in The Great Gatsby and Fitzgerald’s World of Ideas, are working out a dilemma of American philosophy.
There are the existentialist impulse in Fitzgerald’s early works in his focus on identity and cultural memory as socially constructed. His early concern with America’s creation of mythologies through which the identities of the individual, communities, regions, and the nation are shaped, and his characters' «search for selfhood» in a culture which threatens to annihilate the individual, forms the basis of Fitzgerald’s early existential vision of modern, American experience. In fact, implies that Fitzgerald’s existential vision of modernity positions him as the first modern American author to interpret American experience existentially. Throughout his early short stories and novels, Fitzgerald addresses and captures the existential center of his times by showing how the individualist values of Americans conflict with the increasingly oppressive and conformist values of the culture at large. The Ice Palace, for instance, serves as critique of the American political and social structures that seek to ensure individuals' loyalty to regional and national values and thus ensure individuals' conformity. In The Diamond as Big as the Ritz, he presents a stark picture of the implications of America’s emphasis on the value of wealth and the protection of one’s wealth, which had become the most important individualist endeavor, more important than human life. Fitzgerald repeats this sentiment in his early novels This Side of Paradise and Th Beautiful and Damned through presenting characters, who are lost and broken both physically and spiritually and thus unable, impotent to act, what Fitzgerald envisions as the implications of his culture’s desire for conformity: the death of the creative spirit and vitality of the individual.
In comparison, Hemingway’s vision of modernity is commonly attributed to the formation of his own philosophies of life, death, and art in what has come to be known as Hemingway’s «characteristic philosophy» the «Hemingway Code» and his «Code Heroes». Many critics recognize Hemingway’s repeated exploration of death in his early canon of works as Hemingway’s attempt to reduce the problem of existence to its lowest common denominator. They claim the Spanish bullfight as essential to Hemingway’s formation of a coherent philosophy. Indeed, they believe that Hemingway found a symbol of the best a man can be in a violent and irrational world, a model of manhood and integrity after which he would pattern his major fictional heroes. He published three essays and poetry and prose on the bullfight. The bullfight in Hemingway’s fiction includes The Undefeated, The Sun Also Rises, Banal Story, which is another tribute to Maera, and The
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Mother of a Queen and Trout Fishing in Europe, in which he brings the bullfight to Americans and serve as his readers' guide to Spain and Spanish culture.
Hemingway finds Spain, a country, a people, and a national spirit, untouched by the World War I and free from the overcrowding and modernization that he saw spoiling his own native land as well as some of his favorite cultures of the world. Spain serves as a contrast to America where the «values» of courage, bravery, honor, and patriotism hold little or no significant meaning for the individual. Death in the Afternoon is Hemingway’s distrust of his own culture which distorts identity and thwarts the individual by smothering him/her in conformity and what has brought Hemingway to a deep appreciation of the spiritual superiority of Spain. It had all the essential characteristics of an authentic, individualistic culture that America did not. Its values, firmly set through the Spanish bullfight and are embodied in honor, probity, courage, self-respect and pride in one word. In the act of writing Death in the Afternoon, the voice of an American adventurer and a chronicler of American experience becomes the cultivated voice of a spokesman philosopher for modern times whose focus is not merely American existence, but human existence.
All in all, Hemingway emphasizes that readers must take responsibility for their own perceptions, feelings, and morality and for their own thoughts and actions. Through teaching readers how to see, judge, and feel. In the Spanish bullfight, Hemingway attempts to bring readers to a heightened awareness and understanding of their own existential situation in life, as towards death. One must face the reality of death with earnestness or pun donor in order to live life earnestly. What American critics often consider a fatalistic philosophy, a death-haunted, morbid fascination with the darker side of life, existentialist critics see as a prophetic optimism and an absurdist vision, that places him in the ranks of a «guide for his generation,» and a «prophet of those who are without faith».
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