A Hostile And Threatening World Essay, Research Paper
Ernest Hemmingway’s main characters, often referred to as heroes, “Live in a world that is like a hostile forest, full of unseen dangers, not to mention nightmares that haunt their sleep” according to Malcolm Cowley. “Death spies on them from behind every tree. Their only chance of safety lies in the faithful observance of customs that they invent for themselves.” “Soldier’s Home,” “Big Two-Hearted River,” and “The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” all depict this notion of following self-invented customs to protect themselves from threat. “Soldier’s Home” is a story about young man who has just returned home from World War I, “Big Two-Hearted River” is a story of a man camping alone in the wilderness, and “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” is a story about a man dying from gangrene in Africa. Hemmingway’s heroes exist in the eye of a hurricane, the walls surrounding like the line between life and death. They are isolated within this, performing self-invented rituals to ward away the danger in which they are eternally shielding themselves from as it approaches closer with every passing year.The idea of a lurking danger is present even in Hemmingway’s early short stories when the hero is younger. In “Soldier’s Home,” the hero, Krebs, has disturbing lurking memories of World War One that plague his mind, preventing him from living like the other ex-soldiers in his town. Protecting himself from these memories is a set of rituals preformed daily, to guard him from exposing these to others and to prevent him from constantly thinking of them.”He was sleeping in late in bed, getting up to walk down town to the library to get a book, eating lunch at his home, reading on the front porch until he became board and walking downtown [to play pool with his friends] In the evening he practiced on his clarinet, strolled down town and went to bed.”This daily routine allows Krebs to live a more normal life although the lurking memories prevent him from doing certain activities. He was unable to perform any activity that creates too many consequences for both himself and others including getting a girlfriend. Although he wants one, the process of both getting and keeping one creates too many consequences because “he did not want to get into the intrigue or politics. He did not want to do any courting. He did not want to tell any more lies.” Whatever memory is causing him to make these lies, is the same that prevents him from saying and doing even the most fundamental things. When Krebs’ mother asked is he loved her, he replied “No I don’t love anybody.” Immediately afterwards he realizes his mistake but Krebs is not willing to tell her because “it wasn’t any good He couldn’t make her see it.” The same mysterious “it” that prevents him from telling the truth, is the same “it” that prevents him from praying, for whatever happened caused him to feel that he is no longer in God’s kingdom. Something extraordinarily disturbing must have occurred to cause this, like the realization of how bloodthirstily he had killed, or how much pain and suffering he had single-handedly caused the families of the people he killed. Whatever “it” he is referring to is never reveled to the reader, and left for them to decide themselves. This “it” is the reason for the creation of his daily protective ritual. The threatening “it” which is causing Krebs to tell lies is ready to attack if revealed or remembered. The threatening hurricane eye is ready for the chance to constrict for the kill. As the Hemmingway hero ages, the fear begins to subside, disappearing at times but always able to resurface. The hero, now Nick, continues to follow rituals and rules to prevent the thoughts from recurring. This mindset and action is illustrated throughout “Big Two-Hearted River, ” in which Nick to begins in an composed mental state then reverts to a state much like that of “Soldier’s Home”. Throughout his excursion, Nick Adams performs many rituals. Smoking occurs on multiple occasions. Nick smokes first just before he studies the grasshopper, making the discovery that the grasshoppers were all black due to the recent fire. Later, as Nick smokes after losing the huge trout, he loses his feeling of disappointment, and begins to fish again. In both instances smoking caused Nick’s mind to focus causing all other thoughts to vanish, allowing him to continue his activities. The bulk of these rituals appear when Nick sets up camp. He has everything he could possibly need so that no complications will ever arise when he is performing these including his bag of nails, a frying pan, an ax, a wire grill, cheesecloth, full fishing gear, a bottle of catsup, and many other miscellaneous items. The heavy pack likely weighs in excess of eighty pounds, which is obviously more than most people would need to carry to set up an equivalent camp. He sets up his camp and tent with precision using a very orderly process, creating a place that was “mysterious and homelike.” The ritual of coffee making is one of the few procedures that Nick did not invent himself. Following the process meticulously, Nick brought the mixture of water and grounds to a boil, causing Nick to receive a mental boost as “it was a triumph for Hopkins”. The next morning Nick continues following his rituals by forcing himself to eat breakfast and prepare lunch. Later, while fishing, Nick follows the rule of always wetting your hand before handling fish, for not doing so will cause the fish to contract a fungus, causing them to die. Nick also states many fishing rules like “there will be no big trout in the shallows,” trout hide in every shadow, and “after the sun has crossed toward the hills, the trout would be in the cool shadows on the other side of the stream.” Hiding behind these rules works well in the beginning then becomes more difficult as the story progresses. The first sign of this buried feeling or memory trying to resurface appears as nick looks into the pond ” just after leaving the train. Nick’s heart tightened as the trout moved. He felt that old feeling.” Later, when he is fishing, the feelings rise again as he looks into he branch filled hole then looks into the swamp where the old feeling rises again, only this time the danger is closer and is more than just an idea. It seems as though this is the first time he believes he has he has the power to conquer this feeling and scare away the deathly presence in the swamp. Nick begins feeling happy, then reverts to his fearful mental state, the danger this time not originating in Europe, but in the swamp just across the stream from his camp.
The threat turns deadly in “The Snows of Kilimanjaro.” Harry, now the middle-aged hero, is trapped on his deathbed with gangrene. Essentially helpless, he unable to escape impending doom because he is unable to follow his custom, which he has been neglecting for many years. Harry, an author, alcoholic, women chaser, and hunter has so many stories that he should have written, because”There was so much to write. He had seen the world change; not just the events; although he ad seen many of them and had watched the people, but he had see subtler change and he could remember how people were at different times. He had been in it and he had watched it and it was his duty to write it; but now he never would.”Harry, through neglect and ignorance, allowed many of his best stories to go forever unpublished. Aiding in this neglect is alcohol. His drinking and whoring in Paris along with his wife’s begging by his deathbed calls and then hastens the arrival of death. Death approaches and puts his weight upon him, forever silencing the troubled man. The threat has moved dramatically from where it was last seen in a nearby swamp. It has finally been able to reach and touch the hero, causing a swift and clean demise. Doom is certain for the Hemmingway hero. Early on, he is able to ward it away through the faithful observance of invented customs, but as these customs became neglected, the eye of the hurricane that he is trapped within finally overtook him, causing him to cross the circular border between the relative calm of the eye, and the deadly force of the surrounding wall. “Soldier’s Home” presented Krebs with disturbing World War One memories from Europe, “Big Two-Hearted River” presented a threatening nearby swamp, and “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” presented a doomed man with gangrene. All three short stories have a progressing closeness of death and show how the hero uses custom and ritual to ward off the ever-nearing threat. Malcolm Cowley’s hypothesis was correct. Death does spy on the characters from every tree, forever ready to approach if the customs are ever neglected.