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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Hemingway’s later vision : acorss the river and into the trees and islands in the stream Fox, Louise Aviva


"Across the River and into the Trees" has been viewed with disfavour by most critics because it does not conform to their thematic preconceptions. They regard it as the beginning of a downhill trend in the quality of Hemingway's work which is only briefly mitigated by "The Old Man and the Sea". Yet rather than a failing novel, "Across the River and into the Trees" represents not only the penultimate stage of Hemingway's "early" vision (which culminates in "The Old Man and the Sea") but also the initial stage of a later vision (which is expanded upon in "Islands in the Stream"). This later vision involves the integration of love and the heroic code and makes heroism available to the common man. The altered heroic code is never more than an implicit lesson in the exploratory novel "Across the River and into the Trees" but is more explicitly stated in the later novel "Islands in the Stream". Although "Across the River and into the Trees" displays some atypical awkwardness of language, it lacks none of the technical brilliance of Hemingway's earlier works. The disparity in style stems not from Hemingway's incompetence in relaying an old concept, but rather, from his inexperience in explaining a new one. This later concept of the hero, as an ordinary man who achieves what he can with a competence which has certain practical limits, replaces the earlier vision of the hero as a special man engaging life with perfect competence. The later hero struggles with an altered code which teaches that a man need not be special and that he need not die alone to die heroically. Because critics were looking for yet another version of a familiar code, their condemnation of "Across the River and into the Trees" was based upon this novel's failure to meet their expectations. Hemingway's intentional variations went unrecognized as such, but were, instead, condemned as inexcusable flaws. However, the performance of the earlier Hemingway hero is not the standard by which to judge the new kind of heroism which Cantwell is trying to realize. If the evolution of the traditional hero, culminating in Santiago, can be likened momentarily to a tree, where Nick Adams is the primary root and Santiago the perfectly formed fruit, then Cantwell (and later, Hudson) are the slightly misshapen—but wholly edible— fruits, not of the tree itself, but of a scion off that parent plant. Richard Cantwell is a hero with the personal history of the earlier Hemingway hero, but with certain qualitative differences which reflect positive alterations to the earlier Hemingway code of behaviour. Although the hero in "Across the River and into the Trees" still performs with competence, he is now acting in response to the ordinary events of daily life rather than to the unusual demands of special circumstances. The later Hemingway vision of the hero is not fully realized in Cantwell: although he learns to value approximate success in day-to-day existence, he still feels the need for solitary death; Thomas Hudson, dying in the company of his men, comes much closer to achieving Hemingway's later vision. To differentiate between Hemingway's later vision and his earlier one is an intricate and controversial problem impossible to tackle in a short treatment. My main focus, therefore, will be on the narrative method in "Across the River and into the Trees" and "Islands in the Stream" in order to explicate the "thing left out," the actual subjects of individual scenes and of the novels themselves. Broadly speaking, the subject is (as it has always been) heroism, and "the thing left out" is that a man need not be special and need not die in solitude to die with dignity. Although this message, lost on Cantwell (although not on the alert reader) remains implicit in "Across the River and into the Trees", it becomes more explicit in "Islands in the Stream". Hemingway presented in Richard Cantwell, and more fully in Thomas Hudson, a courage less absolute, more complex, and infinitely more worthy of appreciation than anything he had presented to date.

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