I have a misguided friend.
He is smart, witty, funny and awfully cute, but tragically misguided.
He recently posted on his blog asking the question of who exemplifies more perfectly the “American experience,” F. Scott Fitzgerald or Ernest Miller Hemingway. He argues that Hemingway’s overly simplistic noun-verb structure simply will never be enough to bring him as a reader to true understanding of a moment. He feels eluded with Papa Hemmie. He then turns to a quote, (which he is known to whip out on sleepless nights trotting along the Seine in Paris. This was the first time we had this H v. F discussion) from Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby in which Nick, near the end, swoons over a girl who, when she played tennis, “a faint mustache of perspiration appeared on her upper lip.” How romantic.
Hemingway had what he called his iceberg theory of writing. He says, “If a writer of prose knows enough about what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of the iceberg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water. The writer who omits things because he does not know them only makes hollow places in his writing.” Perhaps Hemingway isn’t for those who lack the imagination to fill in the required seven-eights.
I realize a bias I present here, but let me return to the original question of the “American experience.” When I look at the love stories of the main characters in A Farewell to Arms and The Great Gatsby (Robert Jordan and Nick Carraway, respectively), I am approached by two very different reactions to initial attraction. Hemingway’s Robert Jordan is attracted to a young Spanish woman and within twenty pages of meeting her, has her in his bed, and continues with her there for the remaining 200 or so pages of the book. Fitzgerald’s Nick Carraway also meets his woman, Jordan Baker, early on, and then proceeds to pussy foot around her, insult her driving, and never quite seal the deal.
Nothing to me cries American experience more than the Revolution. The American experience has been defined by that initial defiance. They held truths to be self evident, that all are entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and fervently fought for these truths. And frankly, if freedom from tyranny, the pursuit of liberty, were a beautiful woman, Hemingway was in bed with her quick and Fitzgerald was lamenting over how to tactfully end the relationship-that-never-quite-was from miles away.