Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Le Monde 100: For Whom The Bell Tolls

The closest thing I have had to a Hemingway Experience was with my friend M in Eastern Europe. We stumbled upon what I'm pretty sure was a murdered body in the dark, just outside the reach of one of two street lamps on the clay street outside the tenement house where we were living in the basement. At the same moment, the other streetlamp framed the lurking shadows of two men whose demeanor smacked of the all-pervasive Russian Mafia and who we were fairly sure were the murderers of said body.

They were looking right at us.

As our friends encountered the same situation, having to go so far as to sell their cars and move out of the city, we were waiting for this exact thing to happen.

For Whom The Bell Tolls was included in the Le Monde 100 for the impression it made on its readers, which, in this case, impressed them with the theme of man's relationship with death. Hemingway could speak of death so intimately because he was, no doubt, quite acquainted with it due to the fact that, not only was he an ambulance driver and a soldier who was seriously injured, he also miraculously survived a plane crash. When you look death in the face so often, it may become a friend or, at least, a respected acquaintance. The fact that Hemingway ended up killing himself testifies to his recognition of the usefulness or the lack of fear of death.

Thus, his characters in For Whom The Bell Tolls face death as a necessary part of life. Robert Jordan, the main character who meets the love of his life 24 hours before he is fairly certain that he is going to die, is commited to living the embodiment of an entire lifetime in that one day. The gypsies and mountain people, both men and women, are committed to dying in the name of duty against the fascists and in the name of the common good.

This is an amazing mirror of the viewpoint of Hemingway. However, it also counterpoints my complete estrangement with death. M's coping skills and my own were revealed as we hid in the dark hallways of a completely strange house while waiting for morning, cursing each other and ourselves in this new and strange face of death.

Our coping skills had come to light and found severely lacking. My only hope is that the next time I come so close to death I will recognise and be much more comfortable with its presence.

1 comment:

  1. There's no shame in being afraid of death. The real shame is in being afraid of life, which Hemingway evidently was.