Hemingway’s Modernism

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In comparing the Big Two-Hearted River and Soldier’s House, war is fundamental to the main characters’ lives, and it induces major shifts in their attitudes and personalities, unveiling different facets of modernity. If Krebs seeks solitude by staying silent and uninvolved in Soldier’s House, Nick seeks regeneration by walking away from civilization to the natural world that appears soothing in Big Two-Hearted River. Krebs and Nick’s personalities have obviously altered as a result of the fight. Nick began as a young man in need of his father’s protection, but he grows into a man capable of seeking his own protection and renewal by nature. Krebs, on the other hand, started off as a focused, admirable and enviable young man. However, the war made him disillusioned, withdrawn, and disinterested in people and things that mattered most to him before the war.

Soldier’s Home is a short story told through the protagonist, Krebs, a young man who leaves his home to enlist in the First World War. His experiences in the war change his ideologies so much that when he returns to the society, he is not as comfortable as he was before the war. His parents and family have no understanding of him and will not grasp the reality of the metamorphosis that has occurred. As such, he chooses to live his individualized life and not to share his war experiences. Notably, the personality and persuasions of Krebs change greatly in throughout the war season.

After returning from the war Krebs his interest and ambition in life seem to wane off. Krebs life’s desire is to get back to normalcy and smooth progression, but he does not put effort into anything. He realizes that the girls he left had then grown up to women, but he does not pursue them since he had changed to realize that they are not worth his effort are complicated beings (Petrarca 665). Krebs chooses to seat on the porch just to observe them walk away from a distance and not utter a word. He is detached from them and desires them to be outside his social circle of interaction, and he states that he dislikes seeing them in the ice cream parlor interactive session. Hemingway notes:

the world they were in was not the world he was in […] they lived in such a complicated world of already de-fined alliances and shifting feuds that Krebs did not feel the energy or the courage to break into it. (210)

It is the wars that disillusioned his perception of women, and he does not seem capable of overcoming the new worldview he had adopted.

Like in Soldier’s Home where the reader draws conclusion from the few ideas presented, in Big Two-Hearted River the same continues where Hemingway offers a glimpse into a situation, and the interpretation is left to the reader. For example, the wound that Nick suffered remains unnamed. In addition, Nick does all that is within his control to make sure he does not get out of his mind but manages the difficult situation successfully. For example, despite the significant suffering and difficulty that Nick experienced, he found tranquility, rebirth, and peace through nature. In Big Two-Hearted River, Nick leaves the burned down town, trails to the wood, and remains unharmed by the fire. His pursuit of regeneration from the river is two-fold and thus referred to as two hearted. This river provides redemption for the weary spirit and it offers food in the form of fish. It is nature that offers the rejuvenation that Nick needed particularly the chapel like trees where he finds quality sleep. The next day, the experience proves different since the fishing is not as easy as the river produces strong and frightening currents that leaves Nick in an awkward position. The meadow with the dew is also an excellent place for sustenance since food is availed by the wet and brown grasshoppers that he catches before the sun rises and they hope away.

Similarly to Big Two-Hearted River, the reader is also left to make interpretation of the various occurrences and draw conclusion from the experiences of Krebs in Soldier’s Home. Krebs appears peculiar to his parents especially to his mother because he is not interested in pursuing any career path. Her mother does not understand the inner battle and frustration that Krebs is going through as he tries to adjust and attempts to assist her son. She suggests that God has work for everyone in His kingdom including Krebs’s. Shockingly, Krebs responds by asserting that he was not in God’s kingdom. Such blatant statement to his mother adds his sense of purposelessness in his character. The mother proceeds to ask him whether he loved her and is blatant again suggesting that he does not love her. In fact, he adds he does not love anyone. Later Krebs confesses to the mother that he loved her and stated that the prevailing circumstances of their earlier discourse made him declare his dislike for the mother. This hatred would be emanating from the fact that the mother is mounting too much pressure to Krebs suggesting the need to conform to social constructs and live his life like any other person. From Krebs new life, the only person he seems to show affection is the young sister who looks up to him as a perfect example. This little girl exhibits innocence and sincerity and thus on the right pages of Krebs as opposed to the mother who never appreciated ad regarded Krebs effort. The difference between his individual life and that of the society depicts how much the gap between him and the other had widened, creating a situational irony. While other, like the mother feared something was wrong, Krebs felt content and had formed his ideals different from the societal. This paradox, is also depicted in Hemingway’s life who during his last few days wrote to a sick son of a friend suggesting that he was very cheerful and happy about life in general (Creighton 454). However, the next thing that happened was him committing suicide which, in a typical set up occurs in lives of those who are not happy. It is possible that Hemingway, like his character Krebs, had become disillusioned about life and created their own worldview and its interpretation different from others.

Notably, in Big Two-Hearted River is evident in the unique style of writing adopted of saying so much with the least. The supporting facts behind the claims that Hemingway makes like symbolism and irony are out of sight. This style of omitting some concepts and allowing the reader to mutter and engage with the content is incredible in this text. Hemingway, also offer some excellent details on some encounters in the novel that may seem trivial. For instance, the elaborate account of Nick catching and losing a big trout, brewing coffee or gathering grasshoppers. Nonetheless, such eventful moment makes Nick betrays his inner conversations, by taking a break. Notably, although Hemingway provided enough details regarding the fishing trip and the experiences, the motivating factors to such a trip are just alluded. The reader could be able to find the implication that Nick went to seek solace because of the emotional turmoil following the traumatic event.

Krebs perception of life is marked with disillusionment depicting the modernist ideology that there are no absolutes and each person can create their own experiences uniquely and differently. For instance, Krebs claims that he loved his life in the war in German and he did not want to return home. Such a statement goes against the conventional ideology that America is a great nation of happiness and freedom and is the best place to live. It is possible that the claim is a reflection of Hemingway experience in the United States. Krebs illustrates this claim by showing the girls symbolically suggesting that he found great delight in looking at the girls in America as they seemed better off than those in French or Germany. However, the world of the girls and his world were separated by a chasm such that none would interact with the other. The symbolism would further illustrate the reality of the American situation that looks incredibly awesome and admirable at face value but in reality less substantive and lost in complexities.

Similarly, in the Big Two-Hearted River, Nick crafts his own experiences and implicitly suggest that absolutes do not exist although for him this uniqueness is presented trough complex art. Beall (63) asserts that Paul Cezzane’s artistic work had great significance in Hemingway’s writing and Big Two-Hearted River details that profoundly. In that regard, the novel appears to have a comprehensive foreground and a vague background that offers the substratum. For instance, the description of the countryside and that of the river are highly artistic. The description of the hill that Nick climbs is non-existent since no mountains exist in Michigan and Hemingway suggestion of Nick seeing dead fish floating on the pools is a remembrance his experience of seeing corpses that were floating on canals during the war. The details of the landscape in the Big Two-Hearted River do not offer enough information to know where they would be found geographically. Additionally, Hemingway states that ‘we sense trees vertical forms and dark colors alone’ alluding to space, form, and light in the particular environment (Petrarca 665). Hemingway chooses to use symbolism because the novel would not be written in paint and brushes. It is also notable that the camping site is well-illustrated presenting a landscape that is visual and connected with spatiality while the menace swamp is just mentioned in passing. The river seems central in this visual painting since it changes throughout the book sometimes being shallow and other times being deep, different times slow and others fast. The river is central to this art. Hemingway states:

In the swamp the banks were bare, the big cedars came together overhead, the sun did not come through, except in patches; in the fast deep water in the half-light, the fishing would be tragic […] Nick did not want it (Hemingway 60).

It is evident that the Big Two-Hearted River does not follow the usual plot and character descriptions in other forms of literature.

The same way, Nick realizes significant recognizes that the society had changed greatly while he was away and Krebs also faces the differences surrounding the perception of war among the residents. The residents of his home have created their views about war and any soldier returning is forced to affirm these ideologies of war and horror instead of narrating their individual and actual experiences. People’s disinterest about the war led these individuals to resist Krebs’ stories. In fact, most of his acquaintances were not thrilled by his involvement in the war since they were against what they had always heard and believed in. For instance, the common belief was that Americans would chain German women on machine guns, but when Krebs did not confirm their common belief, they show discontentment and find his stories, not the best. Such a persuasion heightened his frustrations. The Americans in Hemingway’s Soldier’s Home have a subjective view of their nation as the conqueror and the savior and not the defeated victim.

In conclusion, by a close reading of Big Two-Hearted River and Soldiers Home, it is evident that Hemingway was a modernist. He utilized complex arts in the descriptions, and his major characters seem to be removed from the social constructs following their war experiences. For example, Krebs in Soldier’s Home, after his homecoming he fails to fit in the society he left and is shocked that the girls remained unchanged by the war. In Big Two-Hearted River, art is central in depicting modernism.

Works Cited

Beall, John. “Hemingway’s Formation of In Our Time.” The Hemingway Review, vol. 35, no. 1, 2015, pp. 63-77.

Creighton, Lindsay. “Hemingway’s Nexus of Pastoral and Tragedy.” CLA Journal, vol. 43, no. 4, 2000, pp. 454-478.

Petrarca, Anthony J. “Irony of Situation in Ernest Hemingway’s” Soldier’s Home.”” The English Journal, vol. 58, no. 5, 1969, pp. 664-667.

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