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Re-reading Hemingway…

July 21, 2008

Heading off to the shore last week, I went to my bookshelf to select some reading material.  Scanning the options, my eyes settled on The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway.  I purchased the book in 1990 at a book fair when I was at EMU.  It was like reconnecting with an old friend, who happens to be a great story teller. 

I read “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber.”  A wonderful tale that contains the classically Hemingway elements–the big game hunt, Africa, tragically flawed humans.

Francis Macomber was very tall, very well built if you did not mind that length of bone, dark, his hair cropped like an oarsman, rather thin-lipped, and was considered handsome. He was dressed in the same sort of safari clothes that Wilson wore except that his were new, he was thirty-five years old, kept himself fit, was good at court games, had a number of big-game fishing records, and had just shown himself, very publicly, to be a coward.

I found myself rereading this story I had read long ago with new eyes. Life experience has a way of sifting us.  The beautiful risk of life.  And so we read the stories of an old companion with a greater appreciation for the flaws of human beings.  The pathos of the human condition that Hemingway represents so masterfully in his characters. 

Perhaps we see more of ourselves in the characters.  We are drawn into the story because we see our own weakness reflected in the flaws of the characters.  We see how flaws of character contribute to the unfolding plot and narrative of life.  We are not sure whether to laugh or cry, but we are gentler with our judgments then when we read the same story in our early twenties.

I also read “The Capital of the World: which connects with my experiences in Spain, the bullfight, and teaching at Ephrata High School.  How quickly Hemingway establishes an authentic setting with believable characters and plot.  I was in Spain again. 

Second-rate matadors lived at that pension because the address in the Calle San Jeronimo was good, the food was excellent and the room and board was cheap.  It is necessary for a bull fighter to give the appearance, if not of prosperity, at least of respectability, since decorum and dignity rank above courage as the virtues most highly prized in Spain, and bullfighters stayed at the Luarca until their last pesetas were gone.  There is no record of any bullfighter having left the Luarca for a better or more expensive hotel; second-rate bullfighters never became first rate; but the descent from the Luarca was swift…

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