Book Review: The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber by Ernest Hemingway

The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber by Ernest Hemingway

The narrative perspective of limited omniscience in the third person is adopted in this work. Through succinct dialogue, implicit narration, exquisite psychological description, ellipsis and repetition and other artistic means, the image of Wilson as a tough guy who is calm, sophisticated, assertive and confident has been successfully shaped. It expresses the theme that the meaning of life lies in the courage to defy death and fight bravely. The novel revolves around two hunting trips in Africa by American couple Francis Macomber and his wife Margaret with professional hunter Wilson. On the first day of hunting, the timid Macomber was scared out of his wits by the injured lion. For this, he was viciously mocked by his wife and despised by Wilson. That night, his wife went into Wilson’s tent. Macomber was devastated and in extreme pain. The next day, out of his usual way, he suddenly broke free from his long-held fear and charged at a wounded bison. At that very moment, Margaret shot Macomber in the back, ending his young life.

It can be said that only those brave people who face the tragedy of fate are the real tough men; those who face the pressure of fate and maintain human dignity, courage, and elegant demeanor are the real heroes in modern life. On the contrary, people who are trapped in the modern net of material pleasures and desires often lose the courage to face life and become the miserable wretches that everyone is ashamed of. “The Short And Happy Life of Francis Macomber” is clearly a profound and rich account of this transformation. In Hemingway’s case, the color of modern life is clearly not what human life needs, and people who indulge in it are trapped in it. On the contrary, only with human dignity, facing the tragedy and death of life, can one gain some kind of freedom and feel real happiness. Macomber has endured death, pain, and absurdity throughout his life, but his defiance and his courage in trying to escape the grip of nihilistic forces are enough to make him a hero.

Death is the greatest nothingness and the power to get rid of nothingness. Macomber’s death in nothingness and his rebirth in death are spiritual triumphs. The significance and value of Hemingway’s creation lies in that people living in such a nihilistic life should seriously consider their own living environment through death, pain, and absurdity and establish a new way of existence to challenge and overcome nihilism. “The Short And Happy Life of Francis Macomber” is a third-person narrative. Therefore, the narrator can travel flexibly and freely among the narrated objects, and has a relatively broad narrative space. He can stay outside the characters for external observation, or sneak into the characters’ interior for psychological perspective. In the novel, Macomber, his wife Margaret, and professional hunter Wilson, these three main characters’ image creation and story suspense setting are realized by the different functions of the third person narration.

It is worth mentioning that the novel also occasionally inserts the second person, which refers to the narrative receiver, namely the reader, as “you”, showing a strong emotional tendency, which greatly reduces the distance between the narrative receiver and the narrator and enables the reader to participate in the story. “The Short And Happy Life of Francis Macomber” is a masterpiece of skill. The author’s own subjective intentions are completely submerged in the plot. He doesn’t complain, he doesn’t lash out, the novel is exactly like a caricature with a touch of humor in it. Hemingway portrays the characters without any generalization or ambiguity. His implicit and concise style is usually simple on the surface, but with careful consideration, the profound meaning can be understood.

-Coreen C.

Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

Written in a time where topics such as mental illness were considered taboo, J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye was a revolutionary novel. Catcher in the Rye tells the story of a teenage boy named Holden Caulfield who struggles to find his purpose and place in society while grieving the death of his younger brother Allie. Allie had died when Holden was only 13 years old, and 3 years later, this traumatic event still greatly affects Holden’s cynical view of society and life itself. Holden’s experiences in an upper-class family and in the boarding schools he has spent most of his adolescence in have shaped his view of adulthood and the “phoniness” of society in general. He views childhood as something precious, and adulthood as a dark world of phoniness and monotony. Spending time in all-male prep schools has also caused Holden to question the meaning of masculinity and what it means to be a man.

After being expelled from his third school, Holden decides to go to New York City alone and encounters characters he deems as “phony,” such as Sally Hayes, Bernice, Sunny, and Ernie. Holden resents these characters for their lack of authenticity and superficial interests. His search for someone who is innocent and genuine leads him to his younger sister, Phoebe. It is then revealed that Holden wants to be “the catcher in the rye,” or someone who is there to catch children playing in a field from falling over the metaphorical cliff to adulthood. Holden’s obsession with the preservation of innocence stems from the loss of his younger brother, Allie, and can be seen in his reluctance to see old friends and the museum he used to love as a child. Holden is scared of change, and of seeing those he once adored older, more mature, and, in Holden’s mind, “phony.” These experiences bring Holden to a point of emotional exhaustion and distress, which climaxes at the end of the novel when he watches Phoebe and other young children on a carousel at the New York Zoo. This display of pure innocence and joy brings Holden to tears, yet he feels truly happy for the first time in the story. The entire story is told from Holden’s perspective a year later, as he is talking to a therapist in a mental hospital. The reader never truly gains closure on Holden’s future but is left to finish the story in their own minds.

Thousands of readers have resonated with Holden’s character, and are grateful for the genuine voice of J.D. Salinger and the connection they feel with Holden. Many speculate that Holden is a reflection of Salinger himself, influenced by the traumatic events that plagued Salinger’s own life. This novel has forced readers to question societal influence and what is truly important in life. Salinger has given a voice to the cynical internal monologue many shares with Holden and brought to light countless issues that were never truly discussed or recognized in the time during which Catcher in the Rye was written.

-Katie A. 

The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

If I Stay by Gayle Forman

Seventeen-year-old Mia Hall has everything other teenagers her age would want; a loving and relaxed family life, great grades, a charming boyfriend, and a supportive best friend. As a cello-prodigy, Mia awaits her soon-to-be acceptance letter to her dream university.

One snowy day, Mia and her family jam to their favorite songs in the car on the road. They had planned the perfect day-off. However, all goes wrong when an incoming car skids and crashes straight towards them. The moment stops and the reader waits eagerly, with palms sweating, to know what happens next through all of the author’s heart-wrenching details.

The novel follows Mia, in an out-of-body experience, as she has flashbacks on her life and loses the ones she loves. Her flashbacks are followed by heart-breaking scenes of her family and friends visiting her in a hospital while she is in a coma. The unspoken love between the Mia and her close ones makes the novel much more emotional.

The author’s style of switching between the past and present unfolds the significant purpose of a human life. The importance of sacrifice, family, love, death, and life all wrap up to tell Mia’s story. The conflict between choosing to fight endlessly to stay alive or fading away to the afterlife remains a mystery until the end.

Overall, this novel really opened my eyes and made me realize that life can change in an instant. No matter who we are, what we are going through in life, or where we are, death can take its toll. The author truly makes an important point about how fast life moves for the youth and the old. We should never take life for granted because this is all we have and there is only one shot at it.

Mia’s story emphasizes the importance of living in the moment. Our problem are just as big as we make them. However, just like Mia, our worldly problems are nothing in the face of death. Not all the readers of this book can realize that, but anyone who can relate will find its meaning. The novel, as well as the movie of If I Stay, moved me to tears and is one that sticks with you forever.

-Zohal N. 

If I Stay by Gayle Forman is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive

Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor

Wise Blood by Flannery O'Connor

“Wise Blood”, the first full-length novel by American writer O ‘Connor, is a religious fable discussing salvation through faith. “Wise Blood” is set in The city of Taulkinham, Tennessee in the mid-20th century. The protagonist Hazel Motes tries to eradicate the influence of Jesus on him, and takes a path of spiritual disillusionment and conversion mixed with sadness and joy, which ends in failure. Hazel Motes, the protagonist, grew up in a family of village ministers and wanted to become a priest, just like his grandfather. His faith wavered during his years abroad as a soldier, and after his demobilization he tried to cast off his religious convictions. In Taulkinham, Hazel meets Hawks, a pseudo-believer who preaches-disguised as a blind man, his illegitimate daughter Lily, and an 18-year-old boy named Enoch. Hazel spoke to everyone about blasphemy as the only way to achieve truth, and publicly promoted a Protestant religion without Jesus. However, the public was indifferent to his words, and the Protestantism he preached was exploited by Hawks as a money swindler. After driving over Hawk’s fake prophet, Hazel blinded himself and fell into a gutter on a stormy night.

Sin and redemption are the most important themes in O ‘Connor’s novels. In “Wise Blood” with strong religious color, both the narrative structure of the Bible and the image of the Bible are cleverly borrowed to highlight the theme of sin and redemption. The title “Wise Blood” symbolizes original sin in the Bible, and human beings are born with sin, which is also one of the most critical kernels in the humanistic concept of the Bible. In “Wise Blood”, Hazel’s sins are realized through violence. Violence against others became a means for Hazel to rebel against God. At the same time, he blinded himself with lime, tied himself with wire, and put on shoes filled with stones. Such violence against himself became a means of self-redemption. Hazel’s physical torture meant the death of his sins, bringing him back to the faith of his childhood, and giving him grace. The two world wars completely disillusioned people’s dreams, vanity of pleasure behind the appearance of concealing the human selfish hypocrisy, empty spirit, and withered soul. These people are immersed in the mire of crime and do not know, mankind is facing an unprecedented crisis of faith. O ‘Connor wants to make those who believe that God is dead realize their own defects and sins through violence.

-Coreen C.

Death in the Afternoon by Ernest Hemingway

Death In The Afternoon by Ernest Hemingway - Penguin Books Australia

“Death in the Afternoon” is a nonfiction novel written by Ernest Hemingway in the 1930s. It is a rather long article on bullfighting in Spain. The novel takes the Spanish bullfighting culture as the background, tells the origin of the bullfighting culture and the cruel and bloody bullring scenes. In the book, he made a very detailed and in-depth introduction and discussion of bullfighting, pointing out that the life and death performance of bullfighters in the bullring has a strong appeal. In “Death in the Afternoon”, through the introduction of bullfighting, the author expounds the problems in literary creation. In the book, in addition to the free and flexible use of narrative, description, discussion, lyric and other expression techniques, he also added terminology annotation, news interview, etc., forming a unique stylistic phenomenon: cross-style writing.

A bullfight is divided into three stages: the first act is the trial, in which the lancer on horseback enters the arena together with the sword killer on foot. The bull first attacks the lancer and kills the horse that the lancer is riding, while the sword killer coacts with the fallen lancer and draws the bull’s attention with a red cloak to protect the lancer, and then the lancer leaves. This scene is designed to fully express the character of the bull, allowing the audience to identify the strength of the bull and fatigue the neck muscles of the bull.The bulls, though superficially intimidating, were only superficially victorious. In the second act, the matador attacks with a short javelin, throwing three or four pairs of short javelins, which are either inserted into the muscles of the bull’s neck to weaken it, or hooked onto one side of the bull’s neck, forcing the bull to always attack that side. The bull is sluggish because of fatigue and injuries, making it easier for the matador to focus on his target.

In the third act, the sword killer performs the muletta act with his red cloak and sword, lowering the bull’s head, and then, taking the opportunity, bending over the bull’s horns, thrusting his sword between the bull’s shoulder blades and killing the bull. From the above three acts, we can see that there is only one theme of this tragedy, which is life and death.”Death in the Afternoon” is a cross-genre novel, which makes extensive use of the achievements of all disciplines including natural science. It takes literary interest and literary aesthetic value as the core and embraces as many language functions as possible.

-Coreen C.

Book Review: Ravelstein by Saul Bellow

Ravelstein (Penguin Great Books of the 20th Century): Bellow, Saul ...

The first two parts of Ravelstein, a biographical novel, are mainly about the last and most important stage of Ravelstein’s life. He was terminally ill, but he fought against the disease until his death. The latter part is mainly about the narrator, Chick himself is on the verge of death due to food poisoning, but he has deep thoughts about life and death at this time. Ravelstein was born in a small city and had a very unhappy childhood. His father had been poor all his life and was a tyrant in the family. Ravelstein, who grew up in the shadow of his father, came into contact with society at an early age and went out on his own. After struggling hard for many years, he finally got rid of the poor people’s life being a famous university professor. He taught students from all walks of life, many of them in important positions, including students who played an important role in the Gulf War. He maintained close contact and frequent intercourse with them. Taking advice from his good friend Chick, he turned his teaching research into a best-selling book attacking the theory of relativity, the American education system, and its declining international status and influence, and became a guest of the president of the United States and the prime minister of Britain. From then on, he became a successful member of the upper class of the affluent society in the United States and lived a luxurious and decadent life. While he was enjoying a life of fame and fortune, he found himself terminally ill. Towards the end of his life, he asked Chick to write an autobiography for him.

Ravelstein is a charming and paradoxical Jewish intellectual. he embraced life with the indulgence and intoxication of Dionysus and the dream and aspiration of the god of the sun. He questioned the contemporary American social value and education system but highly praised the classical culture of ancient Greece and Rome and loved classical music. He fell in love with Armani suits, Cuban cigars, pure gold Montblanc gold pens, and so on. He was an advanced intellectual in American society, but his manner was vulgar. When attending various celebrity social occasions, he would often splash coffee or other drinks on expensive clothes and drink them directly from a coke bottle, which even made T.S. Eliot stunned. He is a conservative who does not worship the free market, but uses his talent to produce valuable goods and become rich overnight. He advocates aesthetic, free love, but has gay friends; he grew up trying to escape his Jewish father, the tyrannical king of his family, but in his life he played his father’s role to his students and friends. The unique historical background, social situation and ethnic characteristics of the Jewish people make Jewish writers in the American culture face embarrassment in their creation. Jews in America (especially the upper-class intelligentsia), reluctant to abandon their traditional religion and unable to resist the American way of life floundered in this confusion, searching for their identity with both desire and disappointment.

-Coreen C.

Book Review: Mr.Sammler’s Planet by Saul Bellow

Mr. Sammler's Planet, by Saul Bellow – 1969 (1977) [Roy Ellsworth ...

“Mr. Sammler’s Planet” is the work of American writer Saul Bellow. The novel describes in great detail a three days trip to New York of a Polish Jew who survived the second World War. He attended lectures, was threatened by black pickpockets, his daughter took manuscripts, and his nephew died. The story is interspersed with untold personal and painful memories of the concentration camp’s dark days—the experience of being buried alive, his wife dying, and him trembling in the tomb. The story has a strong sense of painting the protagonist’s real life in front of the reader. “Mr. Sammler’s Planet” is filled with Mr. Sammler’s musings on such weighty questions as humanity, history, religion, the past and future of mankind.

Mr Sammler’s eyes give the reader a unique perspective on the world. Mr. Sammler had only one eye, and he could see the outside world from only one angle. The beginning of the novel presupposes Sammler’s specific ethical standpoint. Mr. Sammler was blind in one eye, but that did not prevent his interest in the outside world. He still had a special interest in books and papers, implying that he was a man of learning. The author apparently reminds the reader again of Mr Sammler’s patient status. In addition, in this description, the author adds some new information, suggesting that Mr. Sammler is a man of insight, and that his observations of the outside world are worthy of the reader’s expectation which prepares the author to express his views later through what he sees and feels. The description of Mr. Sammler as a patient creates a good foundation for plot development in the novel.

-Coreen C.

Book Review: The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot

Six Reasons to Not Like “The Waste Land” by T. S. Eliot | Tony's ...

“The Waste Land” is a long poem by English poet Thomas Eliot. “The Waste Land” consists of five chapters: The Burial of the Dead, A Game of Chess, The Fire Sermon, Death by Water, and What the Thunder Said. Eliot used a large number of allusions, including legends and myths, classical literature such as Dante and Shakespeare, religious elements such as Buddhism and the Bible, and even linguistic, anthropological and philosophical information. These allusions are not only the objective counterpart of the poet’s emotions, but also bear the whole structure of the poem through various metaphors. This collection of poems expresses the spiritual disillusionment of the Western generation and regarded as an epoch-making work in modern Western literature.

“The Waste Land” presents a big leap in thinking; the cohesion between images and scenes is often abrupt. The poet’s emotions lie behind strange images and symbols because these images and symbols correspond to the poet’s feelings. With many quotations, allusions, dialogues and scenes, it forms a colorful picture. The picture has different levels and contains an atmosphere that can fully arouse the reader’s imagination. The wilted wasteland — vulgar and ugly people who have died — the hope of resurrection running through the bleak and hazy picture of the whole poem composes the motif of “The Waste Land”. It profoundly shows the original appearance of the western society, which is full of human desires, moral depravity, despicable and dark life.

It also conveys the general disgust, disappointment, and disillusionment of westerners towards the world and reality after WWI. It shows the psychopathy and spiritual crisis of a generation, thus negating the modern Western civilization. At the same time, the poem attributed the depravity of western society to the sins of human beings and regarded the restoration of religious spirit as a panacea in saving the Western world and modern people. “The Waste Land”, a song lyric poem, has an eclectic style of expression, personifying symbolism and even metaphysics. It exhibits a riot of statements and sighs, of lyric and irony, of description and epigrams, of stately and elegant verses, of laughing and urban slang.

-Coreen C.

For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway

For Whom the Bell Tolls (film) - Wikipedia

“For Whom the Bell Tolls” is a novel created by American writer Ernest Hemingway in 1940. This novel tells the story of Robert Jordan, a young American who teaches Spanish in a university and has deep feelings for Spain. He volunteered for the Spanish army to blow up behind enemy lines. To cooperate with the counterattack, he was ordered to contact with the local guerrillas and complete the task of bombing bridges. He enlisted the support of Bilal, the wife of the guerrilla captain Pablo, and the rest of the team. He then isolated the demoralized Pablo, and arranged each man’s task in a step-by-step manner. In the midst of the flames of war, he heals the trauma of Maria, the girl whom Bilal has taken in because she was raped by his enemies. In these three days, Robert experienced the conflict between love and duty and the test of life and death while human nature continues to sublimate. When the bridge was bombed, Robert was wounded in the thigh and left alone to block the enemy. In the end, he sacrificed his young life for the Spanish people.

In “For Whom the Bell Tolls”, efforts are made to achieve a universal sense of harmony between nature and man, and man and woman. This harmony, Hemingway tells us, is the most difficult type of struggles. To understand one’s intimate relationship with nature and one’s co-existence with others requires breaking the consciousness of the human ego, overcoming the arrogant sense of domination and understanding the ethics of interconnectedness, interdependence and care.

-Coreen C.

Soldiers’ Pay by William Faulkner

Soldiers' Pay by William Faulkner · OverDrive: eBooks, audiobooks and videos for libraries

Soldiers’ Pay is the first book written by William Faulkner in 1926. The story revolves around Margaret Powers, a widow whose husband died in World War I. She met Joe Gilligan, a discharged soldier who was on his way to home. Together, they decided to send Donald Mahon, an aviator who was released from a British hospital because he was not only going blind but was also going to die soon. Sympathetic about his experience, the two decided that they were going to send him home and spend his last time with his father.

Donald’s father is a pastor. Originally, Donald was actually engaged to Cecily Saunders, a voluptuous girl who can’t accept Donald’s injury and scars when he came back to her. She secretly has a lover named George Farr, who is crazy about her, but Cecily merely treats him like a toy. Not remembering anyone, Margaret and Joe were the only people who could take care of him besides Emmy, the housemaid whom Donald took her virginity.

Eventually, Cecily broke the engagement and eloped with George. Margaret, seeing that Cecily never loved Donald, decided to marry him herself. In the end, after he died, Joe told Margaret that he has loved her all the time. Before Margaret left, she asked him if he will go with her and he said no due to his religion. Changing his mind shortly after, Joe did not pursue Margaret but decided to stay in the pastor’s house while thinking about his future.

-Coreen C.