Ernest Hemingway best exemplifies his hero code in his novels The Sun Also Rises and The Old Man and The Sea through his protagonists Jake Barnes and Santiago. The honor code for each of these characters means avoiding and struggling against the meaninglessness of life (nada) and instead embracing a passion for life which they demonstrate by means of their actions and feelings. The Hemingway code embodies principles that govern the actions of Hemingway’s main protagonists in his novels. They are “rules which if completed would become… the manual of conduct” (Waldhorn 26).
As Arthur Waldhorn says “the Hemingway code does not ask that a hero be fearless or entertain illusions about refuge or escape. But it insists that he discipline and control his dread and, above all, that he behave with unobtrusive though unmistakable dignity” (26). “The code that does concern Hemingway and his tyros is the process of learning how to make one’s passive vulnerabilities (to the dangers and unpredictabilities of life) into a strong rather than weak position, and how to exact the maximum amount of reward (honor, dignity) out of these encounters” (Rovit 92).
In advance, a character knows what is expected of him in the game of life, although he does not know what combination of challenges will be imposed on him at any one given time (91). Hemingway’s belief in the freedom of the individual to make responsible choices was paid for at the painful expense of having to constantly wage battle with the unpredictable future. Because a character does not know what will happen to him, he must endure whatever challenges are thrown upon him. This ability to react to a variety of differing challenges is only acquired through training and experience of each unique challenge (91).
Not only must Hemingway’s hero face the unpredictablilities of life with honor and dignity, but he must also face the challenges alone. “Each man faces his struggle alone… for only as solitary individuals can they assert their manhood” (Weeks 165). Robert Weeks states that a man must depend upon himself alone in order to assert his manhood, and the assertion of his manhood, in the face of insuperable obstacles, is the complete end and justification of his existence for the Hemingway hero (164).
While alone man can make promises to himself but if he fails he must be able to forgive himself for his mistakes and inadequacies (Rovit 97). If a man becomes unable to forgive himself for his past actions, he will become obsessed with them, resulting in the loss of his freedom to begin anew. His forgiveness liberates him from the past and allows him to make new promises in the future (97). For Jake Barnes living according to the hero code meant living passionately and without illusion, and finding value in what he did with his life.
According to Rovit and Gerry, “Jake’s most elaborate statement of his code occurs during the fiesta at Pamplona. It is also close enough to the Hemingway code … to stand as the value center of the novel” (Rovit 129-130). I thought I had paid for everything. Not like the woman pays and pays. No idea of retribution or punishment. Just exchange of values. You gave up something and got something else. Or you worked for something. You paid some way for everything that was any good. I paid my way into enough things that I liked, so that I had a good time.
Either you paid by learning about them, or by experience, or by taking chances, or by money. Enjoying living was learning to get your money’s worth and knowing when you had it. You could get your money’s worth. The world was a good place to buy in. It seemed like a fine philosophy. In five years, I thought, it will seem just as silly as all the other fine philosophies I’ve had. Perhaps that wasn’t all true though. Perhaps as you went along you did learn something. I did not care what it was all about. All I wanted to know was how to live in it.
Maybe if you found out how to live in it you learned from that what it was all about. ” (Hemingway, Sun 137) In book one of The Sun Also Rises, there is no great purpose to Jake Barnes’ life. Everyday he wanders from cafe to cafe drinking with his friends, many of whom are superficial and have no substantial goals in life. One of these friends was Lady Brett Ashley whom he was in love with. This was a futile relationship because of Jake’s wound from the war. “ Couldn’t we live together, Brett? Couldn’t we just live together? Hemingway, Sun 56).
His other friend was his tennis partner, Robert Cohn, a graduate of Princeton and former boxer, whose only goal was to win Lady Brett Ashley. Despite the intentions of these two men Brett’s only interest was to drink, meet new friends, and marry Mike Campbell. Even the Catholic Church failed to provide Jake with the security of religion. “The Catholic Church had an awfully good way of handling all that. Good advice, anyway. Not to think about it. Oh it was swell advice. Try and take it sometime. Try and take it” (35).
This conversation provides a transition to book two where Jake reveals what is important to him in life. In contrast to book one where Jake has very little direction and meaning in his life, book two portrays Jake as a man with purpose. He leaves France and heads to Spain to fish for trout in the Irati River, and to watch the bullfights in Pamplona. During the bus ride from France to Spain Jake becomes more enthusiastic about life because he has left behind the nothingness that haunted his life in Paris and now will be able to participate in activities that have meaning to him.
As Waldhorn says, “ in the second part of the novel the characters move eagerly and resolutely toward Spain” (96). He opens up because he realizes that soon he will be doing something that he enjoys. For Jake, his days at Burguete gave him great pleasure and satisfaction with life. He enjoyed the food, the wine, and the view outside his window, the companionship of Bill and Harris, and most of all the fishing in the dam. Moreover, he was removed from the company of Robert Cohn, Brett and Mike who were reminders of the emptiness of life.
In his solitary moments in the river, Jake as described by Hemingway, is one who fished with dignity. While carefully baiting his hook, he observed the “lovely arc “ of the jumping trout (Hemingway, Sun 112). After catching the trout he carefully washed them in cold water, picked ferns to pack them in, and placed them in the shade of the tree. With these actions Jake shows his reverence for nature and life. In Pamplona, Jake talks with the innkeeper Montoya about aficion. “Aficion means passion. An aficionado is one who is passionate about the bull-fights” (Hemingway, Sun 123).
According to Montoya this is a special quality that all the great bullfighters possess, and only one American possesses it: Jake Barnes. Montoya says, “ But he’s not a real aficionado like you are” (123). By watching Jake in his actions, Montoya has discovered that he does have this unique quality. Although Jake has shameful friends that corrupted Pedro Romero, the preeminent bullfighter, Montoya is able to forgive Jake because he is an aficion. This passion about the bullfights captures much of Jake’s attention; he has turned the nothingness in his life into something that he is truly passionate about.
This change classifies him as an aficion and shows that he embodies the honor code. Constantly some people that encourage him to find meaning and fulfillment in life also surround Jake. “ These exemplars understand the values either from long hard experience, like Count Mippipopolous, or intuitively and automatically, like the bullfighter Pedro Romero” (Magill 548). These exemplars are positive influences because “ the people in The Sun Also Rises fervently want meaning and fulfillment, but they lack the ability and the equipment to find it” (Magill 548).
Santiago, the protagonist in The Old Man and The Sea, also lives by the honor code. He lives with unmistakable dignity and abides by rules that govern his life. Although everything about him was old, his eyes were “cheerful and undefeated. ” Manolin tells Santiago that his father hasn’t much faith that both he and Santiago will catch fish: “It was papa made me leave. I am a boy and I must obey him. ” Santiago replies: “I know, “ the old man said. “It is quite normal. ” Manolin states, “He hasn’t much faith. No,” says Santiago, “But we have. Haven’t we? ” (Hemingway, Old 10).
Other men have declared Santiago Salao, the worst form of unlucky; however, Santiago has not lost faith in himself: “They sat on the Terrace and many of the fisherman made fun of the old man and he was not angry” (11). Santiago is able to forgive himself for his failures. This act is very important because, if he had not, he would become “forever caught up in that old played out moment of time which would prohibit him from beginning anew each day” (Rovit 97).
Santiago still believes that he has the ability to catch fish; he leaves the harbor every day intending to return home with a catch. On the eighty-fifth day Santiago decides to fish far off shore, despite the risks that could accompany this long journey. It is believed that “to risk more invites disaster, but the risk is worth taking, the joys to be savored, the agony to be endured with the courage and dignity that demonstrates ‘ grace under fire’” (Waldhorn 28-9).
Santiago initially takes the risk of fishing far from shore and because he has made that decision he deals with the consequences. He must endure the pain of the ropes cutting his hands, lack of sleep, food and water, and the emotional pain while watching the sharks destroy his marlin. During all these trials he is able to maintain his composure, an eminent sign of a heroic man. Hemingway sets Santiago alone on his fishing expedition because “ for only there, and with only himself to fall back on, can he work out his destiny and come to final terms with life” (Riley 228).
Since Santiago is alone and can only rely upon himself, he must assert himself against all the unpredictable odds and react in an honorable fashion. “He is ‘a strange old man’ with unquestioning trust in his own skills and in the folklore of his trade; with almost superhuman endurance and noble acceptance of the limitations forced upon him by age” (Magill 362). This trust in his own skills and the realization of his limitations allows Santiago to take the risk of fishing so far offshore.
The trust in his skills enables Santiago to become a teacher also, showing Manolin the ways to “ make a living… and how to behave as well, giving him pride and humility necessary to a good life” (Weeks 162). “Santiago belongs among those who have the strength and dignity to fight against great odds and to win moral victories, even though the tangible rewards may be lost in the battle (Stephens 341). Santiago does this when he catches the marlin; in his heart he has successfully caught a great fish although he lost it to the sharks that terrorized him on his return voyage.
He is proud that he hooked and followed the fish for so long and risked his well being although all he has left to show for his struggles is the backbone of the marlin. This is enough to prove to himself that he is still a great fisherman. Afterall according to what Rovit has discovered “the best fisherman is not one who brings in the biggest or most fish, rather one who plays the fish according to the rules that impose the highest degree of challenge on the fisherman with out canceling out chances for success” (92).
This year, 1999, marks the one-hundredth year since the birth of Hemingway. Because of this anniversary, Hemingway’s greatness as an American writer is being especially celebrated this year. The two works considered in this paper- The Sun Also Rises and The Old Man and The Sea- are representative examples of his greatness. They not only tell interesting stories but they treat an important human theme – the hero code.