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Hemingway's Wartime Ritual of Retreat Douglas Babington In Chapter 1 of Death in the Afternoon, Ernest Hemingway defends Spanish bullfighting as something "strongly disciplined by ritual." He uses other words, such as "tragedy" and "art," to convey his sense of inviolable wholeness and integrity at the bull-ring, but "ritual ," with its connotation of religious ceremony, is most indicative of his quest as a modern novelist. Along with such contemporaries as Woolf, Joyce, and Ford, Hemingway seeks meaning in an era of shaken belief and spiritual wildernesses. Both Hemingway's fiction and his nonfiction through the year 1932 studiously dramatize ritual, which I define as the conferral of extraordinary meaning on a repeated action through the premeditated refinement of that action. The bullfight is one of two Hemingway rituals wherein the young writer locates "the real thing, the sequence of motion and fact which made the emotion." ' If the sequence of motion and fact is extraordinarily meaningful, then the consequent emotion will also be, provided the witnesses to the ritual establish their emotive independence: "People will know the first time they go, if they go open-mindedly and only feel those things they actually feel and not the things they think they should feel, whether they will care for the bullfights or not."2 The independent witness, who goes to see for himself, can instruct others in the clarity of vision which has effected his clarity of feeling: I had her watch how Romero took the bull away from a fallen horse with his cape, and how he held him with the cape and turned him, smoothly and suavely, never wasting the bull. She saw how Romero avoided every brusque movement and saved his bulls for the last when he wanted them, not winded and discomposed but smoothly worn down. She saw how close Romero always worked to the bull, and I pointed out to her the tricks the other bull-fighters used to make it look as though they were working closely. She saw why she liked Romero's cape-work and why she did not like the others.3 85 86 Douglas Babington Brett Ashley learns from Jake Barnes not only what to see but also why she responds the way she does. Like all of Hemingway's firstperson narrators, Jake is saved from nihilistic fatigue by his apprehension of vital meaning in ritual: "Romero had the old thing, the holding of his purity of line through the maximum of exposure, while he dominated the bull by making him realize he was unattainable . . ."4 The second ritual which captivated the young writer is mentioned alongside bullfighting in the opening paragraphs of Death in the Afternoon: "The only place where you could see life and death, i.e., violent death now that the wars were over, was in the bull-ring and I wanted very much to go to Spain where I could study it." His study of wars, begun as an ambulance driver on the Italian front in 1918, reached fruition four years later, as Hemingway covered the grim struggle between Greece and Turkey for The Toronto Daily Star. In a series of articles written during October of 1922, he described the evacuation of Greek soldiers and civilians from the bitterly disputed region of eastern Thrace, which had been awarded to Turkey at the peace conference of Mudania. According to Charles Fenton, "this spectacle of refugee misery, beyond all the rest of what he saw in Asia Minor, left the most permanent scar on Hemingway."3 Decades later, the celebrated novelist would cite the Thracian experience as the ultimate spur in his nascent career.6 The wartime ritual of life and death was not, therefore, one of the battlefield. Instead, Hemingway's vision was absorbed by the march of evacuation and retreat: It is a silent procession. Nobody even grunts. It is all they can do to keep moving. Their brilliant peasant costumes are soaked and draggled. Chickens dangle by their feet from the carts. Calves puzzle at the draught cattle wherever a jam halts the stream. An old man marches bent under a young pig, a scythe and a gun, with a chicken tied to his...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-3265
Print ISSN
0738-1727
Pages
pp. 85-97
Launched on MUSE
2010-06-24
Open Access
No
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