The Tragic Vision of Ernest Hemingway [Archives:2003/647/Education]

July 3 2003

Dr. Bashar G. Askar
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Tragedy is exceptional suffering in life leading the protagonist to death. The hero suffers from a fault, a defect, an imbalance or a flaw leading to his downfall. The tragic hero may perish and may be destroyed but it is not possible to crush his soul easily. The novels of Ernest Hemingway fulfill most of these domains of tragedy.
Tragedy usually focuses on figures of stature whose fall implicates others such as family, an entire group, or even a whole society and typically the tragic figure becomes isolated from his group or society. Death, destruction, horror, sufferings are some of the major characteristics of a tragic hero.
The characters of “A Farewell to Arms” are only innocent victims of a war for which they are not responsible. They have nothing to do with its plans, slogans or objectives. However, the setting of the novel is the war itself with all its horrors and outcomes. The escape of the major characters Fredric Henry and Catherine Barkley softens to some extent the burdens of this bloody war. The escape represents a disgust at the failure of western civilization to achieve its objectives.
The vision of war is one of suffering, and destruction. War represents all the dark, diabolic powers and its quest is monomaniacal. Concerning the philosophy of love and war, one can see that Catherine and Fredric represent love and peace. Their escapism from war with all its vices and darkness softens the agony and burdens of war.
Hemingway has a message for mankind that we must seek a world devoid of wars. Life should continue within its continuum wheel for the welfare of the humanity
Tragedy presents situations that emphasize vulnerability, situations in which both physical and spiritual security and comforts are undermined, and in which the characters are pressed to the utmost limits – overwhelming odds, demonic forces within or without or even both. Against this tragic protagonist are the powers whether human or divine governed by fate or chance, fortune or accident, necessity or circumstances, or any combination of these elements.
Tragedy testifies to suffering as an enduring, often-inexplicable force in human life. In the suffering of the protagonist there is some human cause. Tragic vision implies that suffering can call forth human potentialities, it can clarify human capabilities, and that there is a spiritual progress achieved through this suffering. In fact, tragedy provides a complex vision of human heroism, a riddle mixed with glory and jest, nobility and irony. Tragedy presents not only human weakness and liability to suffering, but also its nobility and greatness. It is, therefore, understandable why tragedy does not occur to puppets or to people with little value.
According to Hemingway, the external forces of the war also doom Fredric Henry in “A Farewell to Arms”, which have left him alone after the death of Catherine. The philosophy is that the world breaks everyone impartially, and death falls on the earth without mercy. However, death in war is violent and catastrophic and it comes suddenly and unreasonably, it is not like one who dies on his deathbed. Hemingway has been conscious of the doom and of the unavoidable death, yet his works disclose a love for life. The world breaks everyone but those that will not break it kills.