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December 14, 1940 - Image 11

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 1940-12-14

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'PE S PE C TIY VES

P, F .

t, A- i r, uL 1,;

BOOKS,-T N SEASON

I

For Whom the Bell Tolls,.
By Ernest Hemingway.
Scribners, 1940, 82.75.
I have sat here and stared at the
typewriter for an hour now, and I still
have no idea how to start this review.
If only somehow I could get right into
the middle of the thing, and skip the
superlatives I'd be a lot better off, but
when you write a review you have to say
things like astounding and magnificent
and great and none of it means any-
thing because now anyone who buys
a book, no matter what the book may
be, fisnds those words pasted all over
the dust jacket. I can say For Whom
the Bell Tolls is as good as Grapes of
Wrath, but that will make people who
didn't like the Steinbeck book say, "oh,
more of the proletariat" and I want to
say here strongly no, you fools, not of
the proletariat with Steinbeck nor with
Hemingway, but of the nobility, not of
the moneyed people no, nor of the del-
icate intelligentsia, nor the palpitant
soul of the artist in his neurotic strug-
gle with life and himself, but the no-
bility as it has been in the Bible, in
barons and soldiers and martyrs and
farmers and sailors, the nobility that
does not always find the slick word or
phrase ready to say what it feels, and
so is regarded as unfit for literary con-
sumption by the fragile ones, who never
having seen bold artistic character de-
lineation, heave sighs of secondary crit-
icism for subtler, more intellectual over-
tones of human emotion. I can say For
Whom the Bell Tolls is Hemingway's best
book, but that only means something
to people who have read the earlier
books and short stories, and marvelled
that writing could be so tight and fine
and ever true. Or, without trying to
say anything general about the book, I
can use its publication as a chance to
argue the case of Hemingway and say
more or less at random some things
about himkthat seem to have bearing
on his work,
First, I think there is a change in
Hemingway as he comes through in
this book. I am not sure that it is
a change for the better where he him-
self is concerned, but it makes for tru-
er writing than he has been able to do
before. He has become humanized, he
has without losing any of the hardness
and precision of his thought, and with-
out oozing sentiment from the pores,
learned that such things as simple,
blind peace, and deep surrounding love
can exist, and finding that they exist,
he has been able in the character of
Robert Jordan to show that they cause
a conflict between two good things as
great as any conflict between good and
bad can be. And he is not always the in-
sistently virile muscle man he has some-
times been accused of being. He doesn't
exactly take a dive just because a pair
of nice gold flecked gray eyes look
at him the right way, but on the other
hand he and Jordan realize just what
a good life it would be to get back to
Missoula and teach Spanish and live
what the old Hemingway would perhaps
have called a dull life for a long span
of years with those eyes and the Maria
who goes with them. You can't call
Jordan weak b'ecause he figures this
way, because Jodan goes out and dies,
even knowing the attack he must help
by blowing up the nemesis bridge must
fail no matter what he does, dies for
a cause yet knows the cause is his death
and the death of many of the simple
people he comes to like and respect
during the three days in which the ac-
tion of the book takes lllace. You do
not call Jordan strong or weak, you call
him a man,and let it go at that, and*
maybe realize that there are not great
men, great figures or legends perhaps,
just as Jordan could become, but only

in the final judging of things, men.

Each of the main characters has in
him a personal conflict, in Pablo a
conflict between bravery, leadership,
and wounded pride, unscrupulousness,
knowledge that his band will be lost in
Jordan's project; in Pilar a simpler yet
a more complex battle, between rough
goodness and old age, loss of attraction;
in Anselmo there is hatred for killing
always warring against necessity for
killing; Maria lacks this conflict, Jor-
dan's life is too much hers for there to
be another side to her. She is basic
woman; Pilar is not. Pilar carries the
honors away from everyone, but re-
alize she is not a type, not in the
strict sense of the word a woman. She
is strange, but real as Hemingway has
done her. What makes her real is her
desire and her jealousy, revealed brief-
ly but importantly. Otherwise she would
be freakish.
In each minor character, the mem-
bers of the guerilla band, the Russian
army men at the Hotel Gaylord, El
Sordo and his men, there is told or felt
a similar straining, between universal
cowardice in the face of death, and duty,
resignation, Spanish death-hypnotism,
or between the earnest and the cynical
approach to the necessities and injus-.
tices of warfare and discipline and the
part even of a general that makes him
wonder about things sometimes, and the
part in these Russian generals and
newspaper men which makes them won-
der if they are not selling out the things
they are fighting for.
But when you get down to cases,
though each person in this book would
be a separate story, the greatness of
the whole comes when there is no long-
er any conflict, when as a group, these
people whose complexity you have
come to know during the first
three fourths of the book, suddenly re-
solve under the terrific strain of the
job they have to do, into simple, one-
sided machines, all working together
toward the demolition of the bridge,
none allowing what would be the weak-
ness in the whole group effort to creep
in even though each may still know that
id tu(,f
In the Money.
By William Carlos Williams.
New Directions Books, $2.50
If In the Money were merely the story
of master printer Joe Stecher's struggle
to establish himself in business against
the forces of corrupt combines, it would
be the year's best evidence of the fact
that most doctors should stick to the
ward rounds and leave fiction to the
writers. But fortunately, both for Dr.
Williams and his readers, the essence
of the book is quite removed from the
politics of trade and competition. Its
heart is in the picture Williams draws
of the daily family life of America's
average people-the middle class.
Whether or not what seems to me to be
such a sustained diary of little events is
worthy of the name of novel depends
more or less upon the reader's taste
and outlook. At any rate, In the Money
is a fairly engaging book for those who
are interested in ,people for the sake of
people, and in characters who are con-
sistently and livingly presented.
The remarkable factor of In the Mon-
ey is Williams' adept use of conversation
and incident. It is entirely by means of
conversation that he describes Joe and
his wife, Gurlie. It is largely by present-
ing the small happenings of a child's de-
velopment that he convinces the reader
of their children, brunette Lottie, aged
five, and blonde, hellion, completely lov-
able two-year-old Flossie. I recall o-
where in the book that Williams resorts
to a calculated use of the adjective. He
doesn't tell you what the Stecher family

the weakness is not really weakness.
And it is in this subordination of self to
an ideal, in the face of death and pain
and even wondering about the worth
of things, that makes this book of Hem-
ingway's a triumph, a tragedy per-
haps in Robert Jordan, in Maria,
but a victory above any two people,
no matter how much the reader may
like them, a victory above the death of
old Anselmo, above the loss of the Span-
ish civil war or the single battle, for
returning to the idea I started on ear-
lier, this book shows humanity as noble,
with all the hokum and mush removed,
without pleading a Portia case for any-
one, the part Hemingway leaves is noble.
And too, for sheer power of writing,
I don't know anything that will match
the way those last pages grab onto your
physical senses, make your breath come
faster, you heart skip beats, your eyes
strain at the page to swallow it all fast-
er than an eye can read. The style of
the book is noticeable until the last
fifty pages, perhaps the only adverse
criticism I have to make, but when old
Hemingway cuts loose and starts her
rolling, he's pretty colossal, let me tell
you. People are saying they liked Fare-
well to Arms better. If they can find me
a piece of the earlier book that can
match the suspense of the final chapters
of For Whom the Bell Tolls I'll eat the
pages. The suspense is not that of what.
is going to happen; it is sheer well-here-
we-go-and-may -God- go -with-us sus-
pense of just what form physical vio-
lence is going to take, and when the
blow will come, the bomb fall, the bul-
let whine, the flash blind.
As to Hemingway's translation of the
Spanish idiom, I'll have to take his word
for it. It's bothersome as far as style
is concerned, but on the other hand it
gives rise to some of the most gorgeous
and colorful swearing I have ever seen,
yet could at the same time be read to
that aunt of yours who tats. You may
like your Hemingway with style; I like
him plain, maybe just a drop of vine-
gar. For Whom the Bell Tolls? Magni-
ficent. - Jay McCormick
is and does; rather he writes of their
daily life and from it you come to know
them far more intimately and complete-
ly. German-born Joe is quiet, calm.
steady, capable and unimaginative. Our-
lie is sharp, outspoken; selfish, acutely
acquisitive and unreasoning. Lottie is
plain, serious and quiet. just beginning
to read and never away from a book.
The baby Flossie, with her awakening
realization of the scope and possibilities
of her world, is, in many respects, the
outstanding character in the book. Upon
her, Williams has lavished all his ob-
vious love and knowledge of children,
fostered in the pediatrician's close as-
sociation with human life at its impres-
sionable stage, and strengthened by his
inherent appreciation of the true nature
of man as a social animal.
The children-but especially Flossie-
steal every chapter, every scene, in which
they appear. And the handling of Joe's
attitude towards his children, the ap-
proach to his admiration and love and
wonder at having produced these lives,
will live to Dr. Williains' credit so long
as there is in mankind that inexplicable
harmony with the mystery of young life
and growth. It is but rarely that we find
a man clearly and completely in sym-
pathy with the relationship of very young
children to the world of their elders.
And it is even more rarely that such a
man has the facility of communicating
his feelings to others as Williams has
done. For this, and for the picture he
creates of average parental preoccupa-
tion with the problems and demands of
children, In the Money deserves high
praise.

(Continued on Page Twelve)

Marxism is it Science
By Max Eastman
W. W. Norton & Company, $3.00
The signing of the Soviet-German
pact has brought to an end the period of
the popular front, and at the same time
turned away from the Communists a
very considerable number of the middle
classes, especially the liberals and intel-
lectuals, for whose benefit the popular
front had been originally devised. The
revulsion caused on the part of the lib-
erals and intellectuals as to why they
had been attracted to Communism in
the first place and gradually led to
a re-examination of the whole doctrine
of communism. To be sure, not all the
articles devoted to the topic approached
the problem in the spirit it deserved;
nasty gloating, personal animosities, and
cries of betrayal composed more than
half of the re-examinations: still, of
the mass of material a few articles and
books have stood out for their serious-
ness of purpose, depth of analysis, and
sobriety of approach. John Chamber-
lain, Max Lerner, Granville Hicks, John
Strachey, Edmund Wilson, Reinhold
Niebuhr, and Sidney Hook have each
contributed toward the beginnings of a
new understanding of Marxism. Max
Eastman's Marxism is it Science is an
important addition to this re-evaluation
of Marxism now going on.
The line taken 'in Marxism .is .it
Science is nothing new with Eastman.
He has for a long time been carrying on
an attack on the scientific pretensions
of Marxism, and, though at one time os-
tensibly a Trotskyite, was excommuni-
cated by Trotsky himself for this very
fault; just before Trotsky's death a split
had taken place in the Fourth Inter-
national, one of the major causes of
which was the severe criticism of dialec-
tical materialism made by Burnham and
Eastman. In his role as the truly orth-
odox Marxist, Trotsky regarded any at-
tack on dialectics as an attack on the
whole of Marxism; in this respect at
least, he was in agreement with the Sta-
linists.
Eastman's argument may be simply
stated as the accusation that Marxism.
for all its pretensions to be scientific,
is at bottom a religious movement since
it predete'mines the end it wishes to
achieve and then professes to find that
the world inexorably moving toward
that end. It is Eastman's contention
that dialectical materialism is ultimately
nothing more than a refurbished con-
temporary eschatology, since it assumes
that which must be demonstrated and
then turns around to seek for examples
which will substantiate the original
assumptions. The world is seen as sym-
pathetic to human aspirations and the
whole movement of history proceeds in-
evitably to the fulfillment of those as-
pirations; salvation for the individual
comes only as he identifies himself with
the march of history.
According to Eastman, Hegel's dialec-
tical method was a highly sophisticated
attempt to preserve the mysteries of re-
ligion in the face of growing strength of
science, and when Marx made dialec-
tics the cornerstone of his method he
took over the chialistic implications of
the dialectics as well. Nor was this unin-
tentional, says Eastman, since Marx
wished to show that the emancipation of
the proletariat was not only just but an
integral part of the order of things. Con-
sequently, the Marxist approach to the
different disciplines is shot through and
through with the desire and determina-
tion to see in them confirmation of
what has already been decided on be-
forehand. Marx in truth stood tegel on
his feet but the purpose of the two re-
mained the same:
(Continued on Page Twelve)

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