ERNEST HEMINGWAY and the Pursuit of Heroism by Leo Gurko

ERNEST HEMINGWAY and the Pursuit of Heroism

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Assuming, for the moment, a good deal -- that there is some sense in a separate treatment of Hemingway and his work for teens -- how does this function as biography (one-fourth)? as interpretation (three-fourths)? His singular parents, his youthful alienation and indecision, his immersion in the intellectual life of post-war Paris -- all are delineated adequately if not with any particular flavor; the balance of his life, with intimations and then assertions of decline, is more briefly summarized. Overall the tone is critical/analytical -- of the man himself and of the man as revealed in his writings. The former is presumptous and distancing; the latter involves a fallacy which the young may absorb unknowingly; that a writer writes what he believes should be (rather than what he sees to be). Thus, Mr. Gurko spends considerable time excoriating Hemingway for ""nastiness"" generally, for the Jew-baiting of Cohn specifically, in The Sun Also Rises. The central flaw of the discussion of each of the major novels, of the minor novels, of the short stories and non-fiction, is, however, dogmatism: of A Farewell to Arms, ""Hemingway deliberately wrote it to the plan of Romeo and Juliet,"" a highly dubious assumption without documentation; of The Old Man and the Sea"" -- ""disengagement from the social world and total entry into the natural,"" which is controverted by Santiago's sense of solidarity with the boy, with the village, with Joe DiMaggio. Interpretation is, ultimately, what Hemingway said -- ""the measure of what you bring to the reading""; and, together with pleasure it is the reward of the reading, which is why Mr. Gurko's pronunciamentos seem particularly unfortunate for a young audience. Let them try Baker (or Wilson or Cowley or Beach. . .) for interpretation that's more open and no more abstruse; let them meet his work through the man in George Plimpton's justly famed interview.

Pub Date: Aug. 16th, 1968
Publisher: Crowell