"But Bryant? What of Bryant in Bryan?": The Religious Implications of the Allusion to "A Forest Hymn" in the Sun Also Rises

By Hurley, C. Harold | The Hemingway Review, Spring 2001 | Go to article overview

"But Bryant? What of Bryant in Bryan?": The Religious Implications of the Allusion to "A Forest Hymn" in the Sun Also Rises


Hurley, C. Harold, The Hemingway Review


JAMES HINKLE, in "Some Unexpected Sources for The Sun Also Rises" identifies nearly sixty literary echoes in Hemingway's 1926 novel depicting the exploits of a band of spiritually-bereft expatriates living in post-World War I Europe. Among Hinkle's identifications is Bill Gorton's statement, "Remember the woods were God's first temples" (Hinkle 38-39; SAR 122), an allusion to "The groves were God's first temples" the first sentence of William Cullen Bryant's "A Forest Hymn" published in 1825.(1) Although Hinkle asserts that knowing its sources and influences is unnecessary for understanding The Sun Also Rises, he intimates, nonetheless, that Bill's allusion to William Cullen Bryant (1794-1878), embedded within his discourse on William Jennings Bryan (1860-1925), has significance beyond Bill's playful association of similar-sounding names.(2) Had Hinkle, in fact, further probed his own trenchant questions--"But Bryant? What of Bryant in Bryan?"(39)--he might have discovered how Bill's conjoined references to William Cullen Bryant and William Jennings Bryan--American icons long venerated for their personal piety--provide an ironic counterpoint to one of The Sun Also Rises's central issues--Jake Barnes's on-going quest for spiritual values in a broken world.(3)

I

Bill Gorton's allusion to William Cullen Bryant's "A Forest Hymn" occurs in Chapter XII of The Sun Also Rises, a chapter rich in religious suggestion. Far removed from the cafes, crowds, and confusion of Paris and Pamplona, Bill Gorton and Jake Barnes engage in extended badinage on matters both sacred and profane on the first day of their five-day fishing excursion to the Irati River near Burguete in Spain. Ultimately seeking an answer to the question, "Listen, Jake ... are you really a Catholic?" (124)--as Jake had professed earlier to a passenger on the train to Bayonne--Bill, with a drumstick of chicken in one hand and a bottle of wine in the other, pays mock-tribute to William Jennings Bryan, prominent fundamentalist and champion of creationism in the infamous "Monkey Trial" of 1925, whose death Jake Barnes has recently read about in the newspaper:

We unwrapped the little parcels of lunch.

"Chicken" [Jake said.]

"There's hard-boiled eggs."

"Find any salt?"

"First the egg," said Bill. "Then the chicken. Even Bryan could see that."

"He's dead. I read it in the paper yesterday."

"No. Not really."

"Yes. Bryan's dead."

Bill laid down the egg he was peeling.

"Gentlemen," he said, and unwrapped a drumstick from a piece of newspaper. "I reverse the order. For Bryan's sake. As a tribute to the Great Commoner. First the chicken; then the egg."

"Wonder what day God created the chicken?"

"Oh," said Bill, sucking the drumstick, "how should we know? We should not question. Our stay on earth is not for long. Let us rejoice and believe and give thanks."

"Eat an egg."

Bill gestured with the drumstick in one hand and the bottle of wine in the other.

"Let us rejoice in our blessings. Let us utilize the fowls of the air. Let us utilize the product of the vine. Will you utilize a little, brother?"

"After you, brother."

Bill took a long drink.

"Utilize a little, brother," he handed me the bottle. "Let us not doubt, brother. Let us not pry into the holy mysteries of the hencoop with simian fingers. Let us accept on faith and simply say--I want you to join with me in saying--What shall we say, brother?" He pointed the drumstick at me and went on. "Let me tell you. We will say, and I for one am proud to say--and I want you to say with me, on your knees, brother. Let no man be ashamed to kneel here in the great out-of-doors. Remember the woods were God's first temples [emphasis added]. Let us kneel and say: `Don't eat that, Lady--that's Mencken.'"

"Here," I said. "Utilize a little of this. …

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