Ernest Hemingway

’s Code Hero Defined By His Setting In A Farewell To Arms Essay, Research Paper

Ernest Hemingway’s Code Hero Defined by His Setting

The life of Ernest Hemingway exemplifies courage, valor, and fortitude as he recovered from a World War I wound, stalked big game, and pursued other blood sports. In fact, where there was action, there was Hemingway. This influential writer, who uses his simple prose to portray strong, stoic characters, ultimately created his own genre of “good guy” characters-the “Hemingway code hero.” These anti-heroes, as they are sometimes called, are a strange brew. He created this hero as a result of his vision of the world after World War I. Hemingway and other writers of that time were called the “Lost Generation” by Gertrude Stein who saw that they all had lost their idealism due to the senseless bloodshed of the war. With no positive outlook on life, Hemingway created characters like himself who confront the meaninglessness of life in various settings, such as nature, night, rain, and fields of battle. Thus, Hemingway uses setting to reveal Frederic Henry in A Farewell to Arms, Nick Adams in “Big Two-Hearted River,” and the old man in “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” as “Hemingway code heroes.”

Fighting on foreign soil for a country not his own is the setting where young Frederic Henry plays an all too real and meaningless “game” called war, thus revealing himself to be a code hero in A Farewell to Arms. His heroism is portrayed in a truly ironic scene. While eating cold macaroni and cheese with his young ambulance crew, the opposition scores as they hit the very bunker where Frederic and his comrades are ironically talking of the meaninglessness of war over their cold repast. Just before the blast, one of Frederic’s crew addressed Frederic, saying, “[The Bersaglieri] wouldn’t attack . Were you there, Tenente, when they wouldn’t attack and they shot every tenth man? They lined them up afterward and took every tenth man. [The] Carabinieri shot them” (48-49). Lives of men in war are meaningless. Just as every tenth man being shot shows that life is meaningless, so, too, does this random shell blast that takes the life of one of Frederic’s crew. Young Frederic, with an injured leg, and the remainder of his crew emerge from the smoky dead-zone and are saved by another crew. In this gruesome setting, Hemingway is able to reveal Frederic as a code hero who is stoic in the face of danger, for after all, the Hemingway code, when realizing his life has no meaning and that death is all that lies in his path, shows grace under pressure.

In another story, “Big Two-Hearted River,” Hemingway depicts a wounded veteran of World War I returning to the northern woods to heal, perhaps as Frederic Henry might have done. As Nick meticulously puts together his tent, meticulously baits his hook, and carefully catches and releases his fish, he reveals himself to be a Hemingway code hero. In putting up his tent so carefully, Nick shows great self-discipline, as well as his need to perform rituals that are familiar, mechanical, and require no thinking. A typical code hero, Nick sees the healing benefits of separating himself from people, grabbing a fishing pole, and getting back to nature where the cycle of life and death is predictable and meaningful. With a pole in his hand and the sun’s rays at his back, Nick has endless hours to relax and keep his mind off the meaninglessness of the war in which he was nearly killed and one of his friends, Hopkins, died. Nick, a typical code hero, can now mend his wounds and enjoy his separate peace with the war in this soothing, natural setting.

Another Hemingway code hero found in “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” is a much older version of the previous two men. The old, hearing impaired man is a nightly patron at a small caf where he enjoys indulging himself by carefully sipping alcohol as he tries to cope with his loneliness and isolation. His nights are especially lonely for he has no wife. His niece, the one who cut him down after he, in despair, tried to commit suicide, is the only one in his life to care for him. The old man, after realizing life has no meaning for him, enjoys the caf setting because he can be near two waiters who essentially let him alone, get drunk with dignity, and forget he is dying of old age. The old, nihilistic man, craving the well-lighted caf and his saucers of brandy, manages to cope and show grace under pressure, like a true code hero, despite the fact that he knows his life means nothing in this world, and he is soon going to die.

Through his settings, Hemingway reveals these three code heroes. Frederic, in A Farewell to Arms, is a code hero who is stoic in the face of danger. Nick, in “Big Two-Hearted River,” is a code hero who isolates himself from man and uses nature to heal both his physical and mental wounds, and the old man in “A Clean, Well-Lighted place” is a code hero who, even though he realizes that life has no meaning, manages to cope with death and depression and show grace under pressure in this dark and lonely world. These code hero traits are embodied in Hemingway’s own life. In a sense, a part of each of these three heroes’ lives or stories is an autobiographical vignette of Hemingway’s own life.


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