Masaryk University Faculty of Arts

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6.4Dignity means purpose

The story of the old man is simple. He is a fisherman, his whole life is spent going out to sea to kill fish. It is beyond a profession, it is his purpose. He lives in a small village his life is humble and he has nothing else but fishing to fill his life with. Santiago lives a very different life to the majority of people in Western civilization. If he fails as a fisherman he does not become a fashion designer or a bank clerk, he loses his purpose in life and his dignity with it. When he is on the sea and he gets cramps in his hand he is disgusted (48) he has a very strong feeling towards it, he actually hates it and finds it humiliating (51). His hands are his tools, their purpose is to enable him to catch fish, but if he is unable to move them properly than he is most likely going to fail.

Not only Santiago fails to fulfil his purpose but it is also the fish that loses its dignity for the same reason. The beautiful marlin is killed because it is the way of nature, the strong kills the weak – fisherman kills fish, the fish is sold and eaten – that is its purpose. But what happens is that the fish is mutilated and the old man cannot look at it anymore (88). He feels the fish died for nothing; if it was alive it would not be such an easy prey for sharks. Santiago in his sadness says, “′A man can be destroyed but not defeated.′ I am sorry that I killed the fish though . . .” (89). Even though he doubts there will be anybody worthy to eat it, it would still be a meaningful death as he elaborates on his motivation “Perhaps it was a sin to kill the fish. I suppose it was even though I did it to keep me alive and feed many people” (90). He compares himself to a shark noting that there is no difference; they both live on fish, they kill to survive (91). His ability to observe animals and treat them with respect can be considered dignified because he feels he is part of nature and he does not feel superior like a lot of people do, but equal.

The betrayal of his body and the feeling of life slipping away from him reflect similarity with the author. Santiago, as well as Hemingway, reached old age and occurrences like cramps in his hand remind him of inevitable death. Santiago and Hemingway struggle with the loss of the full strength they were so used to. Stanley Cooperman mentions the importance of the values of pride, sacrifice, and endurance that are found through Hemingway′s work and the assumption Hemingway made that the old man must be a young man grown tougher and purer (220). Santiago was made to be a combination of these virtues; he is not a standard character resembling all old people, but Hemingway′s concept of the ideal; the man Hemingway maybe wanted to be, keeping his purpose and dignity until death.

7.Short stories

Ernest Hemingway excelled in writing short stories. For the purpose of this thesis were chosen two which represent well the theme of dignity as well as a dignified death. One story is from Africa and another describes despair of regular, aging waiter.

7.1The Snows of Kilimanjaro

The Snows of Kilimanjaro” may be read as a very private story and Hemingway′s reaction to the life of Fitzgerald as well as to his own. In the first version of the story the character of Julian, who admired the rich people, was actually Fitzgerald, but he asked Hemingway to change the name (Baker 290). According to Baker, Hemingway explained the concept of the story as his daydream of what it would be like if he accepted the offer of a rich woman to go on safari with her (289). Arthur Waldhorn concludes that “Hemingway the artist had been an adventurer and he had apparently begun to brood about the waste of his own talent” (144).

Harry, the main character, is slowly dying of gangrene in Africa. As Waldhorn puts it, the true centre of the story is Harry′s inward struggle to face himself as he is (146). “With remorseless honesty, Harry strips away all pretense and discards every excuse for his failure as artist and man.” (Waldhorn 146) at first Henry is awful to his wife, blaming her for his life and for not accomplishing more in his career as a writer. He calls her “rich bitch” (7) and hurts her on purpose. In retrospective he goes back to his adventures, the stories he planned to write but did not, which he now deeply regrets. Baker suggests that “he has died artistically long before his physical death” (African Stories 119) and Harry realizes it too. He comes to the conclusion that “It was not her fault that when he went to her he was already over” (7) and he starts to be kinder to her.

If Hobbes′ standards are applied to Harry, his dignity would be intact according to society. He leads an interesting life and he is a compelling companion, which is the reason why his wife fell in love with him. Despite his popularity among rich people who he despises, in his opinion, he lost his dignity the moment he sold his dreams for comfort. When he started to lie and to give vague promises to himself about writing his stories later that was the beginning of the end. He lost his original purpose – to write – and he did not find a new one. To be a husband and do whatever he wanted was not enough for him, his sense of life was writing and he gave that up. It is ironic that when he returned to Africa and decided to write again, he must die and it is too late for him to write all of his experiences from his previous life when he was “the young, free, unsold writer who took all Europe as his oyster and was seriously devoted to his craft” ( Baker, African Stories 123).

7.2A Clean, Well-Lighted Place

This very short story is set somewhere in Spain, in a café late at night. There are two waiters and a customer. Robert P. Weeks stated that “the burden of the story is carried by the contrast between a young, unaware waiter who has no feeling for a desperate old man who dreads leaving the clean, well-lighted cafe, and a middle-aged waiter who knows what it is to experience the horror of nothingness” (15).

The young waiter is eager to go home to his wife and he does not understand how important it is for the old man to stay in a clean and well-lighted café. He does not want to be as old as the customer saying: “An old man is a nasty thing” (381). He sees him as a pathetic man who tried to commit suicide and failed. The older waiter is more understanding and he points out that “This old man is clean. He drinks without spilling” (381). He wants to say something positive about the man but he knows him only as a frequent customer. The young waiter is cruel to the old man who is deaf and cannot hear him (380). When the old man leaves he is walking “unsteadily but with dignity” (381). The reader does not know anything about the man, except that he is very old, he has money but no close family - he carries the burden of loneliness. When he tried to end his life he was “saved” because suicide is considered a sin in Catholic Spain. Thus he is sentenced to wait for death that is creeping towards him in the darkness.

The old waiter tries to explain to the younger why he wants to stay, for “all those who need a light for the night” (382). He has the same problem as the old customer; he cannot sleep at night, which is a common problem during old age. Fear of darkness can correspond to the fear of dying. The old waiter feels that nothingness, that “nada”, and goes to bed when the sun is rising, calling his problem “only insomnia” (383).

The effect of the darkness of the night is described even in The Sun Also Rises where Jake confess to sleeping with electric light on for half a year (128) because everything is different in the dark. The old waiter has nothing else to do at night since he cannot sleep and therefore he wants to serve the others, to have some purpose. He understands that such people cannot go to any place, his café is clean and full of light with the possibility to sit because you cannot “stand before a bar with dignity” (382). Because of the young waiter who does not have the time to spare for strangers (he is not alone) the old waiter must go to an open bar which is not that good. He has to stand in front of the bar and even though the light is pleasant, the bar is unpolished. It is not dignified to stay there.

7.3The problem of dying and dignity

Both stories show people getting closer to death - one faster than the other. As Cooperman suggests the "proper" confrontation of death is quite essential to the works of Ernest Hemingway only a few of his heroes are likely to grow old, and none of them will live to die in bed if they can possibly help it (215). Cooperman points out that the fear of passivity is a recurrent nightmare for Ernest Hemingway, in which the individual is deprived of his manhood by becoming an object rather than an originator of action (218). The difference between Harry and the old men is that Harry is dying while he still has his “manhood” intact, he has a beautiful woman to take care of him while the old waiter is alone which makes a difference. He says, “He might be better with a wife.” (381) implying that the old man would have a reason to live and would not feel this lonely.

Every reader is able to make a connection between Hemingway′s fears and old man trying to kill himself. The question is why the character in the story would choose death by hanging which is neither fast nor dignified. Harry recalls, in one of his flashbacks, a friend of his who hanged himself (16), the difference was that he lost his money and found no reason to live while the old man had plenty of money and he too did not have motivation to continue living. It shows that people need something outside the material world to keep them alive.

The old men are trying to stay in a well lit place to keep their dignity and fight the fear of death. Harry in his ultimate dream flies towards Kilimanjaro, he finds it unbelievably white in the sun and realizes that it was there he was going (24). Since the translation of the name that a part of Kilimanjaro carries is “the House of God” (1) it can be assumed that by staying in the light one is closer to God and therefore does not feel alone. It is quite a plausible explanation given that Hemingway was also religious. He allows his heroes at least some comfort when they are so close to death so they can keep their dignity and fight fear. Warren observed that the typical Hemingway′s hero is a man aware of nada (death) and he must stick to his “code” even in the face of it (34-35). In these short stories it seems that Harry no longer has any “code” and “a corrupt life breeds a corrupt death” (Waldhorn 146) while the old waiter still keeps his moral standards and purpose and therefore is allowed to dwell in a nice, clean and well-lighted place.


The concept of dignity is rather difficult to analyse in such a limited space. It was fiercely debated by many philosophers and it is possible to conclude that it is a very subjective topic in which it is impossible to find a single answer. Generally, dignity is on one level a natural characteristic and as such it would be difficult to omit it.

The theme of dignity can be found throughout Ernest Hemingway′s works. One of the reasons for its recurrence may be his upbringing since Hemingway comes from a religious family and the concept of dignity is firmly rooted in Christianity. He learned dignity from his parents and he continued to spread the thought. It has a rather didactical character the way he instructs his readers through fictional characters what the “right” way of life looks like. His heroes live according their “code,” for example Jake Barnes or Robert Jordan, they fight their fears and try to give their life some purpose.

The connection of dignity to the purpose is very clear. Given that people are part of nature and in nature everything has some purpose - consequently everybody has to have purpose. Santiago hates his cramp and feels humiliated (51) because for a man who makes living with his hands it is painful not be able to use them. He loses the sense of his life, if he would be unable to have purpose then there would not be any reason to live because he has dignity and he does not want to lose it, become helpless, dependent on charity which corresponds with Hemingway′s fear.

It is also possible that Hemingway wanted to acquire or not to lose dignity. He was a well known “womanizer” and he drank heavily so by endowing his heroes, like Jake, with dignity he was reminding himself as well as to the others what is really important. He is also recognized for his sceptical approach to the human ability to form their own future, or change their fate. In his books heroes are hit by whatever life (and writer) throws at them, and they cannot change or influence it. The only right thing they can do is to keep their dignity. Harry is struggles at first but he gets there eventually.

By playing with dignity Hemingway fabricates quite an interesting contrast. He puts into opposition Jake and Cohn, the two waiters in Clean Well Lighted Place or even past and present in The Snows of Kilimanjaro. By redistributing dignity unevenly even the most ignorant reader will notice the distinction and is able to come to their own conclusion.

Hemingway also explores the possibility of keeping dignity until death. Given that one option to acquire dignity is to give life some sense then another goal is logically not to die in vain, For Whom the Bell Tolls works very well as an illustration to this phenomenon. It is the ultimate heroic and simultaneously dignified act one can do in his last moments – to die bravely, with dignity and purpose. It is this same reason why Harry struggles while slowly dying, it is hard to comprehend that he wanted to do so much but never got to it and now not only is it too late but it could be easily prevented. There are more dignified ways to die in Africa but he is dying because of a series of coincidences each harmless on their own but together fatal.

In the novels of Ernest Hemingway can be found not only one kind of dignity but as many as numbers of readers who are analysing the stories and applying them on their own lives and values. I think it is great that everyone has a possibility to take something from these texts, for me it would be the advice not to give up and fight.

Works cited

Primary sources:

Hemingway, Ernest. Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises. London: Arrow, 2004. Print.

---. For Whom the Bell Tolls. 1940. New York: Scribner, 1996. Print.

---. A Farewell to Arms. New York: Scribner Classics, 1997. Print.

---. The Old Man and the Sea. New York: Scribner, 1952. Print.

---. The Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway. New York: Charles Scribner′s Sons, 1966. Print.

Secondary sources:

Baker, Carlos. Ernest Hemingway; a Life Story. New York: Scribner, 1969. Print.

Baker, Carlos. "The Two African Stories." Hemingway A Collection of Critical Essays. Ed. Robert P. Weeks. Englewood Cliffs, N. J.: Prentice-Hall, 1962. 118-26. Print.

Colvert, James B. "Ernest Hemingway's Morality in Action." American Literature. Vol. 27. 372-85. JSTOR. Web. 28 Apr. 2012.

Cooperman, Stanley. "Hemingway and Old Age: Santiago as Priest of Time." College English 27.3 Dec 1965. 215-220. JSTOR. Web. 20 Apr 2012.

Daiker, Donald A. " “Brett Couldn’t Hold Him”: Lady Ashley, Pedro Romero, and the Madrid Sequence of The Sun Also Rises." Ed. Harold Bloom. Bloom's Modern Critical Views. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 2005. 176-188. Print. Ernest Hemingway.
"Dignity." Def. 1. Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary. 3rd ed. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2008. 392. Print.

"dignity, n.". OED Online. March 2012. Oxford University Press. 27 March 2012 .

"Famous Aristotle Quotes." Philosophy Paradise. Web. 28 Apr. 2012. .

Hemingway, Ernest. "An Interview with Ernest Hemingway." Interview by George Plimpton. Hemingway and His Critics 1961: 19-37. Print.

Hemingway, Ernest. A Moveable Feast. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1964. Print.

Hobbes, Thomas. "Power, Worth, Dignity, Honour, and Worthiness." Leviathan. 38-43.Earlymoderntexts. Jonathan Bennett, July 2004. Web. 17 Apr. 2012.

Kant, Immanuel. The Moral Law. Trans. H. J. Paton. 3rd ed. London: HUTCHINSON & CO., 1965. Print. KANT′S GROUNDWORK OF THE METAPHYSIC OF MORALS.

Lindner, Evelin Gerda. "The Concept of Human Dignity." Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies. Web. 23 Apr. 2012. .

Lebech, Mette. "What Is Human Dignity?" Maynooth Philosophical Papers (2004). NUI Maynooth EPrints and ETheses Archive. 2004. Web. 18 Apr. 2012.

Nagel, James. "Brett and the Other Women in The Sun Also Rises." Ed. Scott Donaldson. The Cambridge Companion to Ernest Hemingway. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1996. 87-108. Print.

Rovit, Earl, and Gerry Brenner. "Of Tyros and Tutors." Bloom's Modern Critical Views. NY: Infobase Publishing, 2008. 85-108. Print. Ernest Hemingway.

Sanders, David. "Ernest Hemingway's Spanish Civil War Experience." American Quaterly. Vol. 12. 133-43. JSTOR. Web. 28 Apr. 2012.

Schopenhauer, Arthur. The Basis of Morality. Trans. Arthur Brodrick Bullock. London: SWAN SONNENSCHEIN & CO., 1903. Print.

Sojka, Gregory S.. “The Angler.” Ed. Harold Bloom. Bloom's Modern Critical Interpretation. NY: Infobase Publishing, 2008. 69-79. Print. Ernest Hemingway.

Timms, David. “Contrasts in Form: Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea

and Faulkner’s ‘The Bear.” Ed. Harold Bloom. Bloom's Modern Critical Interpretation. NY: Infobase Publishing, 2008. 81-94. Print. Ernest Hemingway.

Waldhorn, Arthur. A Readers’s Guide to Ernest Hemingway. 4th ed. NY: Octagon, 1983. Print.

Warren, Robert Penn. "Ernest Hemingway." Ed. Harold Bloom. Bloom's Modern Critical Views. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 2005. 25-54. Print. Ernest Hemingway.

Weeks, Robert P. "Introduction." Introduction. Hemingway A Collection of Critical Essays. Ed. Robert P. Weeks. Englewood Cliffs, N. J.: Prentice-Hall, 1962. 1-16. Print.

Williams, Wirt. “The Old Man and the Sea: The Culmination.” Ed. Harold Bloom. Bloom's Modern Critical Interpretation. NY: Infobase Publishing, 2008. 31-52. Print. Ernest Hemingway.

Wilson, Edmund. "Hemingway: Gauge of Morale." Ed. Harold Bloom. Bloom's Modern Critical Views. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 2005. 25-54. Print. Ernest Hemingway.

Works of Ernest Hemingway

1923 Three Stories and Ten Poems

1925 In Our Time 

1926 The Torrents of Spring 

1926 The Sun Also Rises 

1927 Men Without Women 

1929 A Farewell to Arms 

1930 The Fifth Column and the First Forty-Nine Stories 

1932 Death in the Afternoon 

1933 Winner take Nothing 

1935 Green Hills of Africa 

1937 To Have and Have Not 

1940 For Whom the Bell Tolls 

1942 Men at War 

1950 Across the River and into the Trees 

1952 The Old Man and the Sea 

1962 The Wild Years 

1964 A Moveable Feast 

1967 By-Lines 

1970 Islands in the Stream 

1972 The Nick Adams Stories

1979 88 Poems

1981 Selected Letters

Resume in English

This bachelor thesis analyses the theme of dignity in the works of Ernest Hemingway. The first part is dedicated to his life because he is known to use his personal experiences in his texts. The second part studies philosophical texts to determine what the term dignity means and comes to the conclusion that there exists more than one explanation and therefore it is up to the reader. The rest of this thesis deals with particular texts, the novels first – The Sun Also Rises, Farewell to Arms, For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Old Man and the Sea – they were picked according to their success and relevance to the theme of dignity. Short stories are represented by “The Snow of Kilimanjaro” and “The Clean, Well-lighted Place” which differ from each other in setting and characters but they both illustrate the theme of dignity and dignified death perfectly.

This study examines the use of dignity, its connection with Hemingway′s life, whether the main characters possess it and what effect it has on the reader. Another point was to establish the reason for its use. The close reading of primary sources is supplied with secondary sources and after their analysis I came to the conclusion that Hemingway used the theme of dignity mainly for a didactical purpose. He is promoting his ideal hero who is brave, dignified and moral, living by his code. He also shows the way to die properly. Dignified death means to him that the hero is defeated only physically but not morally. He must fight his fear and die with dignity.

Resume in Czech

Tato bakalářská diplomová práce zkoumá téma důstojnosti v práci Ernesta Hemingwaye. Protože Ernest Hemingway je známý používáním vlastních zkušeností ve svých textech, jedna kapitola je věnována jeho biografii. Dále je pro ujasnění termínu „důstojnost“ použita filozofická literatura předních filozofů jako jsou Kant a Schopenhauer. Jelikož se Hemingway věnoval tématu důstojné smrti, i tento termín je náležitě rozebrán. Jako primární literatura byly zvoleny romány, které vyčnívají svou popularitou jak u čtenářů, tak u kritiků. K výběru čtyř románů – Fiesta; Sbohem, armádo; Komu zvoní hrana a Stařec a moře – jsou připojeny dvě povídky zabývající se tématem důstojnosti a důstojné smrti a to Sněhy na Kilimandžáru a Čistý, dobře osvětlený podnik.

Práce se zaměřuje na výskyt důstojnosti u hlavních postav, míst a dokonce i zvířat. Zamýšlí se nad důvodem použití tohoto tématu a jeho spojení s vlastním životem Ernesta Hemingwaye. Cílem práce je zjistit, proč Hemingway toto téma tak často opakuje a jaký to může mít vliv na čtenáře. Pro doložení nálezů z primární četby jsou použity sekundární zdroje, které doplňují vlastní výzkum. Podrobným zkoumáním primární a sekundární literatury jsem došla k závěru, že Hemingway užíval důstojnosti zejména z didaktických důvodů. Vytvořil ideálního hrdinu, který žije podle pravidel, je morální, hrdý a statečný a postaven tváří v tvář překážkám nebo smrti si zachová svoji důstojnost a i když je fyzicky poražen, získá alespoň duchovní výhru sám nad sebou a nad svým strachem.
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