Modern Man: Mirror Images of Hemingway's Four Witnesses of Christ's Crucifixion in "Today Is Friday"

By McDermott, John V. | Notes on Contemporary Literature, September 2012 | Go to article overview

Modern Man: Mirror Images of Hemingway's Four Witnesses of Christ's Crucifixion in "Today Is Friday"


McDermott, John V., Notes on Contemporary Literature


The reactions of the four witnesses elicit the theme of "Today Is Friday" that stresses "The complicity of contemporary man"" in the crucifixion" (Paul A. Smith, A Reader's Guide to the Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway [Boston: G.K. Hall & Co., 1989]: 157). In having stressed the prominent role played by the three Roman soldiers whose voice is generally disputatious, and though still somewhat at odds with itself when the drama ends, it appears reasonable to find the play's "most important character" is the singular, divided voice of the Roman soldiers, a paradoxical voice, divisive yet unifying. See (Joseph M Flora, "Today is Friday" and the "Pattern of Men without Women" The Hemingway Review [Fall 1996]: 98).

The Christ's warning that "division" is one reason he had come into the world is dramatized by the four witnesses in ways given life through irony that deepens the contrast between the Romans and George, for the soldiers take greater emotional interest in Christ's mystifying presence than George, Jesus' fellow Jew, whose voice is muted by his indifference to the event.

Hemingway's exacting language defies a simplistic interpretation of "Today Is Friday", making it incumbent that the reader reach beyond the surface level and attend closely to his language, which Herbert S. Gorman believed was "a sort of fundamental language" with sentences that "fairly quiver with a packed quality of meaning" (Fifteen Modern American Authors, Jackson R. Bryer. ed. [Durham: DukeUP, 1969]:279). Gernard Pfeiffer and Martina Konig make a distinction between "a surface level" and "a symbolic level in Hemingway" (98). For both critics meaning lies primarily on the symbolic level. (The Hemingway Review [, Fall 1996, 16.]: 98). The recurring symbolism generates the innuendos that insinuate the meaning of the drama.

A prime element in "Today is Friday" is Hemingway's frequent use of Biblical allusions to reveal character and motives. One example is the ironic allusion to the "Doubting Thomas": "How happy are those who have no doubts about me" (Matthew 11.6). And again we note his reprimand to St. Thomas for doubting, which serves at the same time as a compliment to the First Roman soldier who has continually praised Christ.

The drama's most pathetic character is George, whose obeisance to the Romans is not only deferential but fawning when contrasted with his refusal to display any sympathy for the conduct of the Christ. The author's Biblical allusions, at times obvious, at times nearly imperceptible are example of his subtle innuendos at play. An example links Christ's chief antagonist to the Christ himself, for as the play ends, the second soldier tells the third, "You have been out her too long. That's all." (273). Though the second soldier does not comprehend the symbolic truth behind his statement, it is true from a Christian view in reference to the presence and power emanating from Christ and indicates the spiritual separation of both soldiers from Christ at this point. …

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