How Conversations Convey Things

Source: Hemingway, Ernest. A Farewell to Arms. Scribner, 2014.

Record

…I wondered if America really got into the war, if they would close down the major leagues. They probably wouldn’t. There was still racing in Milan and the war could not be much worse. They had stopped racing in France. That was where our horse Japalac came from. Catherine was not due on duty until nine o’clock. I heard her passing along the floor when she first came on duty and once saw her pass in the hall. She went to several other rooms and finally came into mine.

    “I’m late, darling,” she said. “There was a lot to do. How are you?”

    I told her about my papers and the leave.

    “That’s lovely,” she said. “Where do you want to go?”

    “Nowhere. I want to stay here.”

    “That’s silly. You pick a place to go and I’ll come too.”

    “How will you work it?”

    “I don’t know, but I will.”

    “You’re pretty wonderful.”

    “No I’m not. But life isn’t hard to manage when you have nothing to lose.” (119)

Analysis:

While there many things to discuss about Hemingway’s simplistic writing style in his series of brief, simple sentences in the first paragraph, I only included this prose part of the book in order to provide context for the conversation after it, which, I believe, is the gem of this whole passage. After all, Hemingway is not only famous by writing understated proses; he is also good at conveying his ideas through the characters’ conversations. Like the proses, the conversation in this particular passage is neat, simple and lack of emotions – Hemingway’s style, but once we realize that the two characters are talking about how they plan to live on in the World War II era, our way of reading the passage completely changes. We now know that this conversation doesn’t lack emotions: the emotions are already dead. Indeed, in the mist of war’s haunting miseries, Catherine’s statement, “But life isn’t hard to manage when you have nothing to lose,” becomes even more desperate when she unconcernedly says it as if it is a matter of fact – as if she has lost her feelings. This brevity, together with contractions, simple diction and avoidance of complication the punctuation, creates an understatement effect for the conversation, making such a casual conversation distant from us readers. It is truly a struggle to read this passage, as we readers have to witness the characters becoming numb living through the war – it is always hurtful to watch somebody losing his or her soul. 

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