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Posted : 2009-09-24 17:57
Updated : 2009-09-24 17:57

Grace Under Pressure

By Kwon Bong-woon

"Grace under pressure" is Ernest Hemingway's term.

It signifies courage.

The first published use of the term appeared in a letter between Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

The term is not used anywhere in Hemingway's fictional works, but nearly all of his characters attempt to live by the credo.

In `` The Old Man and the Sea," for example, while Santiago is struggling to fight off the sharks who are tearing apart the magnificent fish he has caught, he thinks to himself: ``Man is not made for defeats. A man can be destroyed but not defeated."

Whenever Santiago thinks of baseball, there inevitably appears the figure of DiMaggio. He is a great baseball player and worthy of the old man's admiration. But the most important factor in DiMaggio that attracts the senior's attention is the bone spur that DiMaggio is supposed to have. It is precisely this bone spur that has transfigured DiMaggio into something more than a mere hero.

It comes to have a symbolic significance in the mind of the old man. To him, DiMaggio symbolizes a man who both endures suffering and achieves greatness.

Jake Barnes in ``The Sun Also Rises" says, ``I did not care what (the world) was all about. All I wanted to know was how to live in it."

Robert Jordan in ``For Whom the Bell Tolls" also knows that death is not to be feared if he can live his life to the fullest during the 72 hours he has with the Spanish Loyalists; it could mean the same as a full life of 72 years.

Likewise, Richard Cantwell in ``Across the River and into the Trees" struggles to maintain dignity in the face of impending death.

All of these characters have grace under pressure.

Essentially, Hemingway is a philosophical writer. His main interest in representing human life through fictional forms was to consistently set man against the background of his world and universe, to examine the human situation from various points of view.

But for Hemingway and his heroes, this merely emphasizes the need to live each moment properly and skillfully to sense the judicious texture of very fleeting acts and perceptions.

``Maybe if you found out how to live in it you learned from that what it was all about," says Barnes.

In "For Whom the Bell Tolls," Jordan fights off an impulse to kill himself to end the anguish of a badly broken leg and avoid possible capture. ``You can do nothing for yourself but perhaps you can do something for another," he tells himself. We are led to believe that he died not just because of his sacrifice, but because he has not abandoned the principle of grace under pressure (courage).

In the image of crucifixion, which haunted Hemingway from ``Today Is Friday" to ``The Old Man and the Sea," it is the unique courage of the forsaken and crucified man, God, that takes his attention.

Notice that it is almost always when the old man faces crises and hard trials that he remembers DiMaggio. He has become not only a source of Santiago's strength and vitality but also an absolute criterion and directing source of his action. The old man decided that he must be worthy of the great DiMaggio who does all things perfectly even with the pain of the bone spur in his heel. Whatever he does, he wishes to follow the example of DiMaggio. His past memory of a hero now becomes part of himself.

Hemingway's style is seen in part as an attempt by the author to provide the reader with enough detail of a character's experience that the reader feels that experience himself.

Many incidents in his fiction are lifted directly from actual experience, and many actual experiences are fictionalized ― or at least exaggerated ― in his nonfiction.

Much of Hemingway's seemingly macho stance, then, his own or that of his fictional characters ― courage in the face of death, whether in war, in bullfights or in hunting.

Experiencing Africa's big game was the author's attempt to examine life more closely so that he could write better about it, similar to a scientist examining organisms with a microscope so that he can get closer to the truth.

Hemingway's great works are worthwhile to read. Most of all, we learn things from them.

In times of difficulties, it is natural for people to question what life is and what it means to us ― and this can be found through courage for life.

Nothing can replace the pleasure of reading great works that remind us of these precious points.

The writer works for a company in Seoul. He can be reached at youngogi@haver.com.

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