Sometimes students will insert an editorial comment in their essays for my class. One student placed in parentheses the fact that she was going to begin typing a characters name differently because it was just too long and hard. While I expect that from 8th and 9th graders from time to time, I was taken aback to see Hemingway do it. I suppose the whole novel comprises Jake’s voice in telling the story, so I shouldn’t be surprised when he inserts a random comment like this: “I went to the Ayuntamiento and found the old gentleman who subscribes for the bull-fight tickets for me every year, and he had gotten the money I sent him from Paris and renewed my subscriptions, so that was all set. He was the archivist, and all the archives of the town were in his office. That has nothing to do with the story. Anyway, …”
I go back and forth between that being rather hilarious and it being rather odd. The irony here is all the other odd details and conversations that at first glance appear to also have nothing to do with the story, but he includes those too. The whole book so far reminds me a bit of Seinfeld: a book about nothing. Nevertheless, I marvel at Hemingway’s ability to carry the story along from seemingly trivial detail to trivial detail.
I’ve noticed a pattern. Drink. Talk. Drink. Talk. Cab ride. Drink. Talk. Talk. Drink. Cab ride.
This sums up the plot in The Sun Also Rises through 8 chapters. And what about the talk? Hemingway reveals a great deal about relationships based upon drink! The conversations are shallow. Don’t get me wrong. Hemingway is a master at dialogue. Just read “Hills Like White Elephants” to see what he can do through dialogue alone. Here, he reveals through his craft a series of relationships that run no deeper than a puddle in the street after a brief rain. Even between Brett and Jake, no deep conversations take place.
Lest I become too self-righteous here, I have to admit that I have had many relationships based upon the trivial. I have had relationships based upon sports, girls, a particular class at school, a job, and even theology. All of them no deeper than a puddle in the street after a brief rain.
One of my teachers in high school said that if we could fill up one hand with true friends we were blessed. I thought she was crazy at the time: I had lots of friends. I had lots of shallow relationships. I did have some deep ones, but not as many as I thought. Today, I am not sure I can count five deep relationships. Two immediately come to mind: my wife and a dear friend who is on the other side of the world. I’ve always thought it interesting that my best friend besides my wife lives several thousand miles away. We keep in touch via e-mail, some of which are surfacy to be sure (we are both rabid Longhorn fans), but many are not, and it is the shallow and deep that make the relationship so enriching. The trivial and life changing can sit a paragraph apart. For that I am blessed.
At the end of the trial in To Kill a Mockingbird, Lee writes,
I looked around. They were standing. All around us and in the balcony on the opposite wall, the Negroes were getting to their feet. Reverend Sykes’s voice was as distant as Judge Taylor’s:
“Miss Jean Louise, stand up. Your father’s passin’.”
Why were they all standing? This wasn’t a case of the black man having to stand for the white man. No, they wanted to. What compelled them to treat this one with respect who was on the same side of humanity’s pigment lottery as the ones they had known all their lives who treated them like dirt? They knew he gave his all for them. They knew he loved them. Now, if you asked Atticus if he loved them, you might not get that out of his lips, but the fact remains: they knew he valued them, not for their money or their position or the color of their skin. He valued them because they were human. To Atticus, that made you valuable.
He earned their respect. He didn’t demand it, force it out of them, or care whether he received it or not. His actions were performed not for their approval but because they were the right actions to take.
All this analysis of Atticus Finch is fine and well, but if it doesn’t lead to some analysis of me, it is really a waste of time. Two questions have been running through my head since I read this. One, do I honor those who deserve honor, unashamedly? Two, do I perform and make decisions for the approval of others or because it is the right thing to do?
Jenna and I are reading To Kill a Mockingbird together. The other night we came across a passage that held me up to the light and showed some deficiencies. Miss Maudie and Scout are discussing the saneness of Boo Radley and Scout says,
“You reckon he’s crazy?”
Miss Maudie shook her head. “If he’s not he should be by now. The things that happen to people we never really know. What happens in houses behind closed doors, what secrets—
“Atticus don’t ever do anything to Jem and me in the house that he don’t do in the yard,” I said, feeling it my duty to defend my parent.
“Gracious child, I was raveling a thread, wasn’t even thinking about your father, but now that I am I’ll say this: Atticus Finch is the same in his house as he is on the public streets.”
Well, that got me thinking. Am I the same in my house as on the public streets? Would I do anything or say anything in the house that I wouldn’t do or say in the yard? What’s my behavior like when no one is watching or when just certain people are watching? We have a word for that kind of consistency: integrity.
At the end of chapter four in The Sun Also Rises, Jake is ruminating on Brett and their frustrated relationship. He says, “It is awfully easy to be hard-boiled about everything in the daytime, but at night it is another thing.”
Why is it that night brings out our fears, our insecurities, our doubts? What brings out the real us? Does darkness reveal who we really are, or does the morning light show our true nature? Why the polarity? Or does the fact that the polarity exists show something about us? If it is well with our souls, are we impervious to the dark shadows and what they reveal?
The night, not the bright light of day, reveals our true nature. We can manage to hold up under the light of day because we trust it will blind others to what ails our souls. Sleep is not hindered by a clear conscience and a settled soul.