Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Role of Nature in Hemingway Literature

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Hemingway believed in simplicity, whether it is in his personal life or his writing style. This view of life is reflected in his approach to nature. Being a renowned writer of his time, Hemingway was especially known for his beautiful, vivid descriptions of the surroundings and setting. The role of nature and the symbolism incited in it is an essential aspect of Hemingway’s literature that permeates 'The Old Man in the Sea' and 'The Snows of Kilimanjaro'.

Hemingway’s nature was simple. Nature mirrors his obsessions preoccupation with all outdoor pursuits and sports; identification with the primitive; constant confrontation with death; fascination with violence, and with the skillful control of violence. Nature is also perceived as a place of restoration. His characters often use nature to relax and release tensions before facing life’s problems again. “For Santiago the coast of Africa and the images of the playing lions carry the associations of youth, strength, and even immortality” (Baker). Because Santiago associates the lions with his youth, the dream represents the circular nature of life. Additionally, the images of the fierce predators playing on the beach, represents a harmony between the opposing forces of nature. In 'The Old Man and the Sea', the sea itself is personified and referred to as being cruel. “Why did they make birds so delicate and fine as those sea swallows when the ocean can be so cruel? She is kind and very beautiful. But she can be so cruel and it comes so suddenly and such birds that fly, dipping and hunting, with their small sad voiced are made too delicately for the sea” (Hemingway). This vision of nature can be cross-applied to everyday life. Natural catastrophes such as earthquakes often come suddenly with no notice, leaving their victims defenseless.

Perhaps the most obvious occurrence of nature symbols can be observed in the story The Snows of Kilimanjaro, in which Hemingway uses two different animals to symbolize both the type of person Harry wishes he is and the type of person he has truly become. The leopard is seen only in the epigraph at the opening of the story, but its presence is particularly important to the rest of the story. Here the reader is told the legend of the leopard carcass found at the top of Kilimanjaro. The leopard, it seems, was seeking the summit, known as the House of God (Hemingway). A leopard exemplifies grace, strength, speed, courage, and dignity. It is an animal that pounces with purpose, lightning speed, and accuracy. In this story, the leopard symbolizes all of these qualities that Harry wishes he had. However, the hyena is a symbol of qualities that are present in Harry. It is representative of the scavenger-like qualities of Harrys personality and his spiritual death, which has occurred long before his physical one. The reader finds, through his delirious visions, that the qualities of the leopard are ones with which Harry could never be associated. Harry has never been able to exercise his talent decisively because has been too afraid to try. He realizes that, if he died, he would not have to fail at writing [his thoughts] down (Hemingway), and therefore does not fight against death. He merely awaits death, expecting to gain from it the spiritual enlightenment that others must work hard for. This quality of laziness can be seen in his vision of his trip to Kilimanjaro, to the House of God. Unlike the leopard, who made the grueling climb in search of the mountains summit, Harry takes a helicopter ride to the top. Harry is certainly closer related to the hyena that circles his campsite, waiting for him to die. He has lived off the riches of his wife, calling his love for her the lie he made his bread and butter by (Hemingway). Harry lies crippled on a cot while his wife goes to kill a piece of meat (Hemingway). The microcosm of the camp is an extension of the real world in which Harry picks up the leftovers of others, just as the hyenas live off the leftovers of the better hunters. Whenever the hyena appears in the story, they are associated with Harrys death. The two animals represent conflicting personality traits. Harry, in the end, dies as he lives, as a hyena scavenging the leopards leftovers on his path to Kilimanjaro.

Works Cited

Backman, Melvin. “Hemingway The Matador and the Crucified.” New Republic. Rpt. in Baker.

Baker, Carlos, ed. Ernest Hemingway Critiques of Four Major Novels. New York Scribner’s.

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