“You could always come back,” said Hemingway about the American culture he had renounced to stand in exile among the green hills of Africa. And it is with a writer who left us and returned that we must deal. The center of Hemingway’s work until 1937 is the renunciation of social responsibility, the separation of the artist from all the deeds of his time, the acceptance of a profound and complete isolation as the basis for the artist’s achievement.
The Lieutenant Henry of “A Farewell to Arms”—deserting the Italian army at Caporetto, leaving his friends, his duties as an officer, the entire complex of collective existence, in order to pursue his individual happiness—is only too prophetic of his author’s future movement, and indeed of the movement of a generation. “You and me,” says Nick to the Rinaldi of “In Our Time,” “we’ve made a separate peace.” Hemingway’s separate pact was to embrace, in turn, the woods of Michigan as well as Caporetto, the activities of normal times along with those of battle, the purposes of society as a whole, and even at last the purpose of the individual’s life within his society. The implications of such an attitude appear throughout Hemingway’s writing. His work has little significance, in fact, without the framework of revolt which gives it unity. In “Green Hills of Africa” Hemingway gave a somewhat more explicit view of the matter:
If you serve time for society, democracy, and the other things quite young, and declining any further enlistment make yourself responsible only to yourself, you exchange the pleasant, comforting stench of comrades for something you can never feel in any other way than by yourself.
As with similar phrases Hemingway leaves behind him the European systems, he also abandons his own American earth:
Our people went to America because that was the place to go then. It had been a good country and we had made a bloody mess of it and I would go, now, somewhere else as we had always had the right to go somewhere else and as we had always gone. . . . Let the others come to America who did not know that they had come too late.
What a tremendous negation of human effort, what a supreme and final contempt for the common existence of humanity, our customs, songs and land, lies in these acrid and desolate pages.
It is the general view to attribute Hemingway’s rebellion to the post-War reaction, and we can’t deny the importance of the first World War upon him. It is my belief, however, that this interpretation of Hemingway is in some respects limited. I intend to show that Hemingway’s renunciation of society is more complex, deeper, and is antecedent to the war. “The day of death,” the Preacher tells us, is better “than the day of one’s birth.” Perhaps no American writer has explored the truth of Ecclesiastes as fully as Hemingway. It is indeed the day of death which preoccupies him steadily, a day of torment and of dissolution which for Hemingway was to endure over a decade. And thus consigning us and our works, our victories, our discoveries, and our loves to the unfathomable waters of oblivion, Hemingway was to set out upon a solitary excursion into the final questions and shadows of existence. What are the truer causes, and the consequences, of his single-handed safari into the psyche’s darkness?
We notice, first of all, how often the sociological patterns of Hemingway seem to indicate a particular temperamental stress. The passages which are used to establish the writer’s war frustration themselves show an internal crisis more acute than the war’s action:
It was a frightfully hot day. We’d jammed an absolutely perfect barricade across the bridge. It was simply priceless. . . . They tried to get over it, and we potted them from forty yards. They rushed it, and officers came out alone and worked on it. It was an absolutely perfect obstacle.
Yet the “absolutely perfect barricade” reappears so continually in Hemingway’s work, before this passage of “In Our Time” and after it, sometimes changing its shape but hardly its meaning, that we may wonder if life itself, for the writer Hemingway, isn’t some sort of larger but still absolutely perfect obstacle. Again, the post-War disenchantment which Hemingway expressed in “Soldier’s Home”— the living along “without consequences,” this looking at things from a porch, as Krebs did, rather than walking in the streets of life—corresponds to a deeper belief of the writer. In this respect, we may hazard the speculation that the secret of “The Sun Also Rises” lies in the exact and rare meeting of the artist’s temperament with the demands of his subject. Is there any portrait of the lost generation more convincing, accurate, and full of sympathy which never softens its perceptions? Has it been questioned, as Thomas Wolfe was to question and turn the phrase in a new direction, whether there ever was in fact such a lost generation? After “The Sun Also Rises” there had to be one. All of us have known our own Lady Bretts and Jakes, gifted and despairing souls who revealed their dilemma with a variety of nuances in the vain hope that they also were out of Hemingway. Vainly we say, for it was only in a novel that a generation could feel its plight with such intensity and live it out with magnificence. Yet the novel was so real it took us another generation to discover that being lost was a delicate art in itself, and our own Lady Brett Ashleys, so beguiling in literature, were apt to be boring in life.
For in the meeting of Hemingway’s temperament with the post-War attitude, it is the writer’s convictions which, however subtly, control his people’s convictions and dominate his setting, Why should these modern lovers continually nourish the passion which tortures them? Reversing, in a manner, the ancient fable of Pygmalion, Lady Brett is the sometime perfect woman who has turned to marble, for Jake at least. But then why must Jake continue molding this marble; why must all the personages of the novel, torturing and self-torturing, constantly emphasize the modes of their own destruction? We see, in fact, that this lost generation is in the end much more than lost. Just as none of us could live up to the disillusionment of Hemingway’s people, few of us could be so overwhelmingly ineffectual Hemingway’s post-War generation is frustrate with such an intensity and cunningness of purpose, with so natural a knowledge of the best means to defeat itself, with an almost diabolical sense of frustration. If these people are meant to be representative, they must derive not merely from a disorganized society but, so to speak, from an entire genealogy of frustrated ancestors, from a race of the disillusioned. What we have in “The Sun Also Rises,” rather than an objective history of the post-War generation, is the objectifl-cation of an imagination tormented as well as tormenting, which in the actions of its characters is revealing the depths and shades of its own anguish. “The Sun Also Rises” is a beautiful treatise on such anguish, physical and spiritual, profound and light, intentional, accidental, delivered upon others and self-determined. Towards this end every episode, almost every line of the book contributes its exact weight, the most careless gesture of Hemingway’s people seeming to provide the one stroke of the pattern hitherto missing. That is what the novel is, really; and as we know, reality is neither quite so accurate nor artistic. There is in* deed only one thing the matter with “The Sun Also Rises.” It is not like life.
That it was like Hemingway, however, the years following it were to show. After this work Hemingway’s thesis becomes even more sharply defined. We must agree with many objections raised by the critics to “Death in the Afternoon,” Here certainly are the imperfect attributes of Hemingway: the braggadocio; the rather sophomoric smartness which marks his lesser work; the uneven tone, perverse, heavy, denying, and accusing; and yet again the book is often rich and amusing, and includes some of Hemingway’s sharpest studies of the human constitution. But what sort of constitution? It is the concept of the matador, we may say, that has caught Hemingway’s admiration: the dignity, courage, discipline, and honor of the fighter. But in the final moment of decisiveness in the bullfight, which evidences the grand style of man, the bull is equally important. As the matador gains his dignity by facing death, and in the end almost inevitably succumbing to it, the bull even more surely has less chance to escape, and so in a way gains an even greater sense of crisis and tragedy. The bull is the victim, the sacrifice, the sufferer. He dies the death not remotely or by chance but through design, here and now. Thus the actors of “Death in the Afternoon” are in fact double, the matador and the bull, but united in the moment of dissolution, becoming one. Here is the fusion of the suffering and the making suffer (to use the phrase of Edmund Wilson, who has written the most discerning studies of Hemingway): the active and passive elements of Hemingway’s fundamental thesis, the matador who gains his power by killing and the bull who gains his power through being killed. And beneath the curiously formalized murder which joins these curious lovers lies the true protagonist of the book, death itself—”death uniting the two figures in the emotional, aesthetic and artistic climax of the fight.” As “The Sun Also Rises,” despite the appearance of realism, was in fact a single treatise on the destructive instincts of the human temperament, “Death in the Afternoon,” ostensibly a text on bullfighting, is another such treatise on these destructive instincts carried to their ultimate conclusion. The “death” which Hemingway is describing here, often with skill and brilliance, is not merely the good but very often the evil death; not merely physical but spiritual death too; and not of course the final death alone but all the little deaths we die from moment to moment—those of cowardice and frustration, of hatred, guilt, and expiation; of all our obscure longings for defeat and destruction which, like an immense and submerged antiphony answering and guiding all our life instincts, run through the human temperament.
In his earlier work, Hemingway’s meaning came clear, but here there are evasions. What Hemingway could admit about these negative impulses in their lesser forms, he could not altogether acknowledge about their extension. It is this uneasiness as to his own purpose, I believe, which brings forth the self-justifications, the evasions and denials giving “Death in the Afternoon” its broken tone. These are unhappy evidences of a morality which is disputing by all sorts of indirection its own moral values. Yet despite the uncertain realization of his theme, as Hemingway’s conflicts thus condition his volume, “Death in the Afternoon” is nevertheless a central work in Hemingway’s development. In it he has accepted his true metier. During the period of his war writings there was around Hemingway the pressure of his immediate environment, forcing destruction upon him and, so to speak, legitimizing it. “The only place where you could see life and death, i. e., violent death,” Hemingway says, “now that the wars were over, was in the bull ring.” We have seen that in effect Hemingway’s “life” is the brief prelude to his death. And now, in the nineteen-thirties, seeking this death of his own wish, affirming it from his own convictions, he makes it his own. Certainly the World War affected Hemingway. But with him the impression was so deep, so natural, and so final as to make it seem that the war experience released his energies rather than inhibited them. We may almost say, to recall Voltaire, that if there had been no war, it would have been, necessary for Hemingway to invent one. And if destruction no longer generally existed, he must seek it out; the wars being over, he thought, the bull ring must do, or the jungles of Africa, the matador or the kudu.
That he did seek destruction, and found it, all of Hemingway’s work from this time on bears witness. “Green Hills of Africa” contains the same central trinity of the hunter, the hunted, and death as the only resolution. Within this space I may quote only one passage to illustrate many:
It was funny to M’Cola to see a hyena shot at close range. There was that comic slap of the bullet and the hyena’s agitated surprise to find death inside of him. It was funnier to see a hyena shot at a great distance, in the heat shimmer of the plain, to see him go over backwards, to see him start that frantic circle, to see that electric speed that meant that he was racing the little nickelled death inside him. But the great joke of all, the thing M’Cola waved his hands across his face about, and turned away and shook his head and laughed, ashamed even of the hyena; the pinnacle of hyenic humor, was the hyena, the classic hyena, that hit too far back while running, would circle madly, snapping and tearing at himself until he pulled his own intestines out, and then stood there, jerking them out and eating them with relish.
“Fisi” M’Cola would say and shake his head in delighted sorrow at there being such an awful beast. Fisi, the hyena, hermaphroditic, self-eating devourer of the dead, trailer of calving cows, ham-stringer, potential biter-off of your face at night while you slept, sad yowler, camp-follower, stinking, foul, with jaws that crack the bones the lion leaves, belly dragging, loping away on the brown plain, looking back, mongrel dog-smart in the face; whack from the little Mann-licher and then the horrid circle starting. “Fisi” M’Cola laughed, ashamed of him, shaking his bald black head. “Fisi. Eats himself. Fisi.”
A magnificent passage again, of which we may say, as with all the best of Hemingway, that almost any amount of rationalization or evasion, and the projection of this outward to soothe his readers, while hardly deceiving the author, is worth its price. For we notice how this “comic” hyena seems to compress into one the trinity of destruction which Hemingway has been describing, this view of man’s hidden motivation which in the Spanish arena had elements of dignity at least, and here seems more dubious. The hyena is at once the killer and the one killed. And caught, traveling in his “frantic circle,” impelled by “the little nickelled death inside him” (which I suppose we also carry in one form or another), he performs his ironic role, eating himself out in the fond illusion that he is nourishing himself. We often hardly do better.
The self-devouring hyena is typical of many other such dark and brilliant passages which form the core of Hemingway’s work over this period. Of Hemingway’s major stories, almost all the later ones confirm this; it is certainly true of the last four in “The Fifth Column and the First Forty-Nine Stories.” If it is profitable to isolate the best of these, we may notice “The Snows of Kilimanjaro.” Very likely no story of American origin has a more profound and pervasive sense of dissolution than this one. Here, more directly than before, Hemingway gives us—in an incomparable burst of human guilt, anxiety, hatred— the diseased emotions which are the truer elements of the destructive patterns he has been recording. And here his protagonist admits that for him, throughout his life, death has been an obsession.
Then why must Hemingway often deny his fundamental concern with the darker elements of human nature—with this suffering and torment, with these annihilating impulses common to us all, and commonly vented from moment to moment—unpleasant, perhaps, but powerful? Always seeking the nature of death in life, Hemingway has seldom given us its fuller meaning. His truths do reach us in his work. But they break through it. They are seldom directly faced and dealt with. The negative human emotions around which Hemingway centers his work have their logic as well as their phenomena. Though we do not yet know very much about them, we know more—and every big writer dealing with these impulses has told us more—than Hemingway tells us. Our long and uneasy historical development, the inching evolution of the race, the sad story of man under civilizational restraints, the modern study of human maladjustment, all show us that the death instincts of Hemingway are not quite so broken and causeless as he would seem to have them. Though we seek to destroy more often than we would choose to believe, we do not destroy without reasons: some very good reasons. If Hemingway’s destructive element, very much like “the little nickelled death,” resides in all of us, making us, along with the animal, both hunters and hunted, unlike the animal we have a somewhat fuller consciousness of our devouring and self-devouring actions. If modern man is still governed by these deep, irrational, fatal feelings, his little triumph, at any rate, is that of recognition. Only in “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” does Hemingway make such a sustained and whole attempt to reach into the death impulses he has embraced as his own. Hemingway’s people—so engaged in torment, as in “The Sun Also Rises,” so obsessed with destruction, as in “Death in the Afternoon” and the major stories—these people and their creator give us no adequate motivation for their dominating concern. So apparently real, so full of life, however inverted, so convincing in all their outward movement, they are nevertheless automatons; driven by forces which neither they nor their author reveal. With Hemingway the destructive instincts are dominant. Yet pretending to such omnipotence, they are also impotent to portray themselves.
In his descriptions of the submerged factors of the human constitution, Hemingway is easily comparable to the big moderns before him—the Ibsen of the later plays, Kafka, Proust, Joyce, and particularly, perhaps, Dostoevsky. But we see that Hemingway describes these depths in a repor-torial sense, without the comprehension of the Europeans, without their freedom of analysis and speculation. And if among these writers Hemingway seems closest to the Russian, playing upon the similar themes of guilt and expiation, he is a sort of Nordic Dostoevsky whose reportorial writing seems almost compulsive. The absence of Hemingway’s revealed knowledge as to his theme is less significant, I believe, than his apparent wish not to reveal, or even know, his knowledge: less significant than the fact of his writing seemingly as if against his own will. Much in Hemingway appears to be emblematic of a conflict between his desires and his rejections. A portion of the artist is unwilling to deal with the other parts of his creative temperament. So we have the series of evasions, the rationalizations and protestations we have already noticed in his work—and the spirit’s true visions, nevertheless, slipping and breaking through these restraints, to emerge ambiguously, equivocally, themselves perplexed and in torment The word, as Thomas Mann has lately reaffirmed, should be a catharsis. With Hemingway it is a weapon of coercion. In his work, the reasoning faculty of the artist or his conscious or moral standards appear to struggle against these visions of catastrophe, rather than work with them; or they retreat from them; or again, in a burst of frenzied effort, they attempt to destroy them. The boy in “God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen” who mutilates himself to end his sexual desires is symptomatic of the many other Hemingway protagonists who eliminate their problems rather than solve them.
Once we have reached the source of Hemingway’s disturbed creation, we may see the significance of his two recurrent artistic effects. There is first the emphasis on virile and violent action which runs through his work. The Robert Cohn of “The Sun Also Rises,” answering all criticism with an uppercut, is another typical Hemingway hero. But with Cohn, as with the other Hemingway people, this virility is not a rational value so much as an emotional weakness. The action in Hemingway’s work is so utterly self-engrossed, so heedless of consequences, so ultimately self-destroying, as to suggest it is a confession, not an affirmation, a method of desperation rather than of consideration. It at once reassures the Hemingway characters as to their fear of thinking through their troubles, and removes, obviously, the opportunity to think. Henri Bergson advised his pupils to think like men of action and act like men of thought; with Hemingway the axiom has been somewhat simplified. His people act as if thought were unthinkable. We notice, also, how the other recurrent effect of Hemingway fits into the pattern—the scenes of blank despair which run parallel to those of pure action. How many protagonists there are in Hemingway’s stories like the punch-drunk “Battler,” or the condemned victim of “The Killers,” or the befuddled veterans of “To Have and Have Not”—all those whom “circumstances” have placed beyond the possibilities of thinking. Reflection and now even this unreflective action are impossible for them. They may only await their fate with a quite splendid but powerless resignation. We remember the Billy Campbell of “A Pursuit Race” who, abandoning his effort to keep up with things, has shot himself full of dope and retired to his bed. “They got a cure for that.” says his manager. “No,” says Billy Campbell. “They haven’t got a cure for anything.” The Hemingway figure, his moment of blind and frenzied struggle against the forces of life having dropped away, places himself in his true position of drugging himself against a knowledge of these forces. Hemingway’s emphasis on action is, of course, a sort of drug; here it emerges without evasion. And how full, indeed, of opiates is Hemingway’s work; this complementary emphasis is summarized so eloquently by Frazer in “The Gambler, the Nun, and the Radio.” The Marxists are right, Frazer concludes: religion is the opium of the people, and music, and economics, and patriotism, and sexual intercourse, and drink, and the radio, and gambling, and ambition, and bread. “Would he remember that and would it make sense in the daylight? Bread is the opium of the people.”
Thus Hemingway’s stress on virile action is merely the masculine counterpart of the emphasis on opiates, until all forms of life are seen as drugs to soothe us, rather than as any sort of stimulant to intelligent behavior. Whatever we may try to be or do is in the end an action to avoid the fact, And Frazer’s remark anticipates the final “solution” of Hemingway, caught as he is between the major working of his temperament towards the destructive instincts of man and the restraints, the inhibitions of his spirit which apparently prevent him from following through this effort to any full conclusion. In “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” Hemingway reaches his solution in another of those magnificent despairing passages:
What did he fear? It was not fear or dread. It was a nothing that he knew too well. It was all a nothing and a man was nothing too. . . . Some lived in it and never felt it but he knew it all was nada y pues nada y nada y pues nada. Our nada who art in nada, nada be thy name, thy kingdom nada thy will be nada in nada as it is in nada. . . . Hail nothing full of nothing, nothing is with thee.
But this “nada” is not of course a clear or positive answer. It has been the considered verdict of a good many writers that life is vain. Yet it has hardly been with the others so causelessly, so completely, so helplessly vain; a nothingness so blind and blank; a despair without history or future. For the truer and total illumination of the death impulses in life, Hemingway has substituted the stress on often meaningless action, the reliance on the drugged consciousness to avoid thought, and now the final nada—the emptiness which covers the frustration of the mind not realizing its material. We must conclude that the artist could not follow through his direction. Here is the opiate of the spirit which, unable to reach a solution for its own turmoil, projects itself outward to declare that the world itself offers nothing to be solved: the nada which denies meaning because it has been unable to discover meaning. In this sense the nada is a final spiritual death of the artist who for so long has been searching for the secrets of death.
In the next novel Hemingway carried his dictum to its logical end. “To Have and Have Not” presents a nothingness turned callous, a portrait of suffering in which the author has given up his attempt to understand suffering. It is a sort of apotheosis of stale horrors, a Walpurgis night of delirious and sadistic orgies within a strictly irrelevant setting. It might be difficult to reconcile such a novel with the careful and sensitive work of Hemingway at his best if we did not realize that “To Have and Have Not” represents the last point of the long isolation and rebellion which sur-sounds Hemingway’s creative conflict. The novel is the release of a blocked and despairing temperament—but the release is a surrender. The all-consuming sense of nothingness has at last struck at the art which has been projecting it; as if his craft itself, so brilliant, so much the product of an iron will, had now crumbled before the advancing corrosion of the artist’s thesis. Why should it not? Certainly the nada which applied to all life must apply to the art which records life.
We notice, however, that after these many years of social revolt and solitary struggle, “To Have and Have Not” is placed within the setting of the United States of social crisis. “You could always come back”—and the biographer of the matador, the artist of continental cafes, the stalker of the kudu has returned from foreign boulevards and southern jungles. And with this return to the boundary of society, to all the civilized complexity Hemingway had deserted, we realize that “To Have and Have Not” is a crucial document: this novel of negation is both a death and a resurrection. The story of the book’s protagonist, Harry Morgan, is symptomatic of the change in Hemingway’s values. Single-handed, Morgan fights against the encroaching forces of the depression, playing against the odds, living out in his own struggle both the individualistic motivation of the nineteen-twenties and the solitary rebellion of his author. But the individualistic motivation fails him. His jobs grow more reckless. Defeat becomes inevitable. Shot in a fight, Morgan pronounces the final words, in a scene saturated with the orgiastic destruction marking the novel, on his own career:
“A man,” Harry Morgan said, looking at them both. “One man alone ain’t got. No man alone now.” He stopped. “No matter how a man alone ain’t got no bloody . . . chance.”
In these words, of course, Hemingway might have been defining his own decade of social revolt and isolation. Like Morgan, Hemingway has been the man alone. And if it has taken him a long time to deliver such a verdict upon his single-handed defiance of country, culture, and the continents of man’s works, he may almost say with Harry Morgan that “it had taken him all of his life to learn it.”
It is no coincidence that Hemingway’s return to society in “To Have and Have Not” occurred simultaneously with his recording of the end of the prosperity era which marked the American ‘twenties. To Hemingway and his successors the depression of the ‘thirties, changing the face of our culture within a decade, came as a sort of salvation. Making our writers aware of the transience of the materialistic ethics, inimical to creative values, the crash of ‘29 gave them new directions. Like Hemingway they returned to a land in social chaos where, in one form or another, they had fled from its aspect of commercialized permanence. Rather like the insulin treatment of modern therapy, the shock of the depression brought our artists back from the shadows of apathy or hostility to a more fruitful share in our common heritage.
But with the return of the expatriate artist and the rebellious individualist to the land of his birth and the patterns of society, we may ask ourselves how much of the frustrated “nada” which marked the end of Hemingway’s isolation was emphasized by the solitary nature of his search. In themselves, as we know, all such explorations as Hemingway’s of the negative and death impulses of human nature are very delicate. Our normal ignorance and our normal desire to remain in ignorance of these forces are perhaps dictated by nature’s long-tried wisdom. For most of us it is safer here, as elsewhere, to know too little rather than too much. Moreover, when such explorations are conducted as they were by Hemingway, with no balancing forces of country and culture, little wonder that the stress upon the artist becomes acute, the despair more pronounced, the feeling of human weakness in the face of such enigmas greater. How much of Hemingway’s nada, the lack of all meaning in human experience, was the product not merely of his own inability to reach these meanings, but of his conviction that there was no purpose in reaching them? How much of the emptiness he saw before him in man’s life was in fact the cultural emptiness he felt behind him in his own life?
Saying this, however, we must look for a moment at the society which the artist renounced. We must remember that, however imperfectly he has penetrated them, Hemingway is one of the few writers of the depths—of the buried forces of guilt and of annihilation, of the primitive impulses and psychic inversions we have been treating—to emerge from the American culture. In our literary heritage there are few writers to compare with Hemingway in his intention and achievement. Of our past, perhaps Hawthorne is closest to Hemingway, Hawthorne with his own “cloudy veil” stretching, as he tells us, over “the abyss of my nature.” In the present, O’Neill’s basic conflict often parallels that of Hemingway; a play like “Mourning Becomes Elec-tra” is permeated with Hemingway obsessions. We can name Poe, Melville, perhaps Faulkner, and, rather ostentatiously, Vardis Fisher among the prose writers; and there are few others. By and large the American background denied Hemingway the values he needed for his work. He is the writer concerned with the depths of man’s life, arising from the pioneer and commercial order—tougher and more elementary in its standards, little concerned with the areas of human motivation with which Hemingway deals, more “practical,” perhaps more sensible in its view, and less truthful. He is the writer close to the final mysteries of creation who comes out of the society which has exploited the Indian and exalted the Engine.
Hemingway’s American environment, furthermore, was not only unequal to his demands; it was often in direct opposition to them. It not merely withheld from him the spiritual techniques he needed for his central purpose; it increased, as I believe, the actual conflict noticeable in his work—the tone of defiance and rationalization we have mentioned, the halting and evasive tone of his artistic realization. The repressions which seem to block the writer from a full comprehension of his subject have, of course, a particularly American ring to them. They too echo a culture which, with its accent on material conquest, has had little time for these disturbing factors of the spirit—and even some antagonism towards them. American society has pushed Hemingway’s problems away from its own consciousness in the hope, often similar to the behavior of Hemingway’s people, that perhaps by ignoring our troubles we may solve them. Hemingway is thus in a state of creative ambivalence. His break from his native tradition was almost inevitable. But that his society had already conditioned him possibly more than he realized, and that working in exile he could only reach his ultimate purpose in fragmentary, if sometimes quite superb forms, seems almost as inevitable.
But now returning to all the human works he had condemned, this social rebel will henceforth deal with the crucial aspects of the contemporary world he has so often, and often so very persuasively, negated. Hemingway’s latest novel and the play which formed its prologue show, of course, a major reorientation in his thinking. The sudden and belated transformation has its price, to be sure. When we compare “For Whom the Bell Tolls” with the revolutionary work of Andre Malraux, for example, or Ignazio Silone, the difference in quality becomes apparent. The conversion of a writer in crisis isn’t so simple. We can hardly remold the emotional habits of a lifetime by a single declaration, however insistent. Yet the true sense of man’s destructive and death impulses, of his depths and his tragedy—the tragedy of Ecclesiastes, which at his best Hemingway reaches— is possible only within the framework of man’s effort. The supreme renunciation of the Preacher himself was a verdict on our struggle—not on the absence of struggle. With his return to the common fate and common lot, Hemingway, I believe, is enriching the potentialities of his work. And if as yet much of Hemingway’s transformation manifests itself merely in intellectual pronouncements, what surprising pronouncements they are. It is Anselmo, in “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” who most sharply contrasts the old and the new Hemingway. Anselmo, believing in life and representing the essential tenderness of Hemingway which is so often betrayed, rebukes the egoistic rebel Pablo:
Now we come for something of consummate importance and thee, with thy dwelling place to be undisturbed, puts thy fox-hole before the interests of humanity.
A strange statement to issue from our own rebellious individual: the tormented follower of fiestas who eschewed the stench of comrades for his African fields; who consigned all our victories and discoveries and loves to the everflowing waters of oblivion; the despairing spectator of our meaningless struggle; the hunter in the lonesome hills who fled to his own fox-hole of pure art.
The crisis of the new age, though better suited to Hemingway’s capacities than the industrial fiesta of ‘29, has caught him well along in his career. Can he discover, who has discovered so much and left much unsaid, the method of unifying his work and his times, the fusion of the “I” and the “we” which will further illuminate the tragic impulses he has made his own? We recall the phrase which summarized Hemingway’s solitary position: “a way you’ll never be.” With such native capacities, the inheritance of wisdom and eloquence, the sense of bottomless intuitions we often have with Hemingway, the prophetic texture which marks his talent as supreme, will Hemingway now find a way to be? For what a marvelous teacher Hemingway is, with all the restrictions of temperament and environment which so far define his work! What could he not show us of living as well as dying, of the positives in our being as well as our destroying forces, of “grace under pressure” and the grace we need with no pressures, of ordinary life-giving actions along with those superb last gestures of doomed exiles.
"No One Is Alone" is a song from the musical Into the Woods, performed toward the end of Act II as the piece's penultimate number.
During the show's tryouts at the Old Globe theatre, this song was absent. The LA Times recounts: "At that point, there was simply a spot in the 'Woods' script that said 'quartet for Cinderella, Red Riding Hood, Baker and Jack.' During intermission at a Wednesday evening performance, Sondheim showed up with 'No One Is Alone.' He played it for the cast after the show that night, and it was part of the score by Friday. The next day Sondheim and Lapine left for New York." There was initially an issue over whether the song had been inspired by a preexisting poem. James Lapine explained to LA Weekly that he killed the Baker's Wife in Act II because in real life tragedies happen to human beings, and quoting "No One Is Alone," "Sometimes people leave you halfway through the woods". Stephen Sondheim liked the duality of the title, which trumped the alternate title of "No Man Is An Island".
In 1994, lyrics from the song was emblazoned on a signed charity t-shirt for the Minnesota AIDS Project.
Rob Marshall recounted a story where he heard President Barack Obama quote the song during a speech at the 10th anniversary of 9/11, which inspired him to direct the film version of the stage musical. Half of the number was cut for the film.
In the musical, this song is sung during Act II, as the four remaining leads (Baker, Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack) try to understand the consequences of their wishes, and begin to decide to place community wishes over their own.
The song serves a dual purpose to demonstrate that even when life throws its greatest challenges, you do not have to face them alone and there are still people who love you, and secondly that each of your actions are not made in a bubble and that you are not guaranteed to be the protagonist of your own story.
Critical reception and analysis
In 1987, Frank Rich of The New York Times described the song as "cathartic" and "beautiful", and thought the song's "terrifying opening admonition" of mother cannot guide you as a callback to the frantic rant in the Gypsy number "Rose's Turn". In 2014, the publication's Stephen Holden suggested that the song was a " double-edged lullaby" due to "acknowledg[ing] that everyone is ultimately alone" while asserting that the "shared understanding of that isolation makes life bearable". The LA Times thought the song was "remarkable". While claiming that the song has the potential to come across as "unearned sentimentality", Vanity thought the crew of the original stage version managed to turn the song into an "affirmation of the newfound society of sorts that represents a clearing in the woods".New York Magazine thought the song was the closest to being a self-contained tune, as opposed to the others which come across as musical "foreplay". The Cambridge Companion to the Musical suggests the song is a "benevolent anthem to outsiders".
The LA Times also commented on the switch from "individually sought wish-fulfillment" to "togetherness" that becomes realised in this song. Chris Bay described the song as a "magnificent double duet" in his essay A Look Behind Into the Woods. In Don Whittaker and Missy Wigley's essay Once Upon a Time to...Happily Ever After, cited the song's universal theme that permeates throughout Sondheim's work, from Bobby in Company to George in Sunday In The Park With George to Fosca in Passion. Into The Woods cinematographer Dion Beebe asserted that the song accurately sums up the struggles and challenges of life: "you will lose people in the Woods as you go and your expectations will change as you experience the joys and sadness of life." The book You Could Drive a Person Crazy: Chronicle of an American Theatre Company stated that the second meaning of the reassuring and positive song, which is a warning and caution for how one's actions affect others, "raises this show out of the ordinary". The book Sondheim and Lloyd-Webber: The New Musical and New York Magazine both suggest the song has an aural resemblance to The Candy Man. The song has the form of AABA. The song is frequently compared with You'll Never Walk Alone from Carousel, which You've Got to Have a Dream: The Message of the Musical rejects. In analysing how the second act relies on a sense of accumulated community wisdom, Reading Stephen Sondheim: A Collection of Critical Essays draws ties between this song and an earlier number called It Takes Two, which was originally included as a reprise in the Act II finale in the pre-Broadway tryouts.
Bustle ranked the song at #2 in a ranked list of songs from the film version. The book Walking in the Wonder: A Memoir of Gratitude for a Lifetime of Miracles' states the number is the "hit song" of the show.
The song was covered in the Glee episode "Bash", in which Kurt's friends rally around him after he is the victim of a gay bashing.
Jazz artist Cleo Laine recorded a version of the song for her album Cleo Laine Sings Sondheim, which secured Jonathan Tunick the 1988 Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist(s)/Best Background Arrangement.
The film version of the song was nominated for a OFTA Film Award for Best Music, Adapted Song, along with two other numbers from the production.
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