Academic journal article Connotations : a Journal for Critical Debate

The Change of Hemingway's Literary Style in the 1930s: A Response to Silvia Ammary*

Academic journal article Connotations : a Journal for Critical Debate

The Change of Hemingway's Literary Style in the 1930s: A Response to Silvia Ammary*

Article excerpt

Silvia Ammary's article is a valuable contribution to the critical debate about Hemingway's highly self-reflexive portrait of the artist as a failure. It aptly grasps the nostalgic tone of much of the author's writing, it takes a commendably corrective stance against earlier readings which give a negative view of the female character or take her portrait as proof of the author's male chauvinism, and it argues convincingly against such earlier readings which have seen the ending of the story in a positive light, regarding it as a triumphant, epiphany-like moment in which the soul of the dying artist finally reaches a moment of transcendent perfection. In the face of an overwhelming amount of scholarship which looks at the story from a biographical angle, the article represents a laudable attempt to refocus our attention in new-critical fashion on the text itself, thus following the principle to D. H. Lawrence's famous dictum that we should never " trust the artist" but the "tale/7 1 would argue, however, that in the present case a radically intrinsic approach is apt to unduly limit the perspective on the text.

Before coming to that point, I would like to refer to other parts of the article's argument which I would hesitate to agree with. For one thing, this concerns the connection between Frost's poem and Hemingway's story. I agree that in both texts the theme of nostalgia is predominant, and it makes sense to argue that for the lyrical I of "The Road Not Taken" the "other path remains simply an illusion, an abstraction" (124) because the speaker has indeed no idea whatsoever of the "unlived life" he would have lived had he taken the other road. With the writer-figure in "The Snows of Kilimanjaro," however, the case is different in so far as he has actually lived the life he remembers in fragmentary form in the italicized passages of the text. We can imagine these passages as imaginative writing exercises which dramatize the dying Harry in his failing attempts to activate once more his lost potential of artistic creativity. These writing exercises are indeed marked as pathetically autistic attempts as they are no longer able to reach a real authence, but rather than talking of "scenes of the unlived life" (131), it would be more adequate to talk of an 'unwritten life/ In contrast to a character such as, for example, John Marcher in Henry James's "The Beast in the Jungle" who simply forgot to live while he was continuously expecting some terrible thing to happen, the protagonist in Hemingway's story has actually gone through the experiences he remembers, but failed to make the right use of them, which - according to Hemingway's self-proclaimed artistic ideal - should have been "to put down what really happened in action" (Death in the Afternoon 2).

A related point concerns the article's argument about Harry's role as an "unreliable narrator" (130; in fact, Harry is not the narrator of the story but a reflector figure). Here again, one can agree that Harry is "projecting his frustrations and regrets on his wife" (130), but the matter appears to be more complex, as Harry is shown as constantly wavering between projection and self-insight. Looking at the dynamics of the interior conflict enacted here, it is also questionable if one can really argue, as the article does, "that Harry never really had any talent as a writer" (130). Granted that Harry is indeed an unreliable reflector figure, his unreliability has its limits, which is the case, for example, when he reflects on how "he had traded away what remained of his old life" ("The Snows of Kilimanjaro" 62). The overall image which emerges throughout is indeed that of a person whose "old life" had a quality of "real" and "true" experience (key concepts in Hemingway's idea of artistic authenticity) which was lost at a certain point of his life. As Tino Müller aptly puts it in a recent study: "We gather that his career has been marked by an ever-growing discrepancy between his ideal of writing things 'well' and his tendency to squander his talent for quick financial success" (247). …

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