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Old Man at the Bridge: a Hybrid Text

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Being one of the most renowned figures of “The Lost Generation”, Ernest Hemingway proved a high sense of experimentation at the level of form and style in “The Old Man at the Bridge”. For a simple glance at this short story, provides us with the fact that there is an obvious deviation from the conventional narrative standards. In this essay, I intend to demonstrate how the text reflects the state of mind of the modern man. I will also explore the hybrid nature of Hemingway’s text.

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That is its weaving between fiction and history. With the eruption of WWI, the American people were greatly disillusioned. They turned to be skeptical of all their traditions, and questioned all their established beliefs. Traumatized by war and devoid of all morality and hope, the American writers reproduced their fragmentariness, fear and isolation through their texts. In “The Old Man at the Bridge”, the reader is put before a different style of writing.

While trying to seize the progression of the text, the focus of the reader is distracted by a question, an explanation or a repetition.

In fact, the natural flow of ideas and events is replaced with a disrupted and fragmented narration. This short story in particular, reflects the shattered mind of men in the war aftermath through the form and the content. As far as style is concerned, Hemingway’s text embodies a number of deviations. To begin with, the story can be considered as an extended dialogue between two strangers who are the narrator and the old man.

In this dialogue, the narrator expresses concern about the safety of the old man because of the advancing of the fascists, while the latter is worried about his animals which he left at his hometown. While reading the exchanged words of both men, one notices a sense of miscommunication. As the discussion goes forth, the old man gives abridged answers about his political concerns, since his mind is caught up with his animals. The narrator seems to be more concerned about the old man’s fate than himself.

This miscommunication is further accentuated by the repetition of the same utterances of the old man. For instance, however the narrator changes of subject, he still goes back to talk about the animals. In the beginning of the dialogue, he introduces his animals:” There were three animals altogether – There were two goats and a cat and then there were four pairs of pigeons” Then he adds “A cat can look out for itself, but I cannot think what will become of the others. ”(Hemingway, 2) In the end of the dialogue about the trucks heading to Barcelona, the old man repeats words about his animals again.

This lack of ordinary emplotment is related mainly to the recurrence of the same replies of the old man reflects his traumatic state of mind. Fear and longing to leave for a better place affected considerably the writings of the young generation of writers in America during the First World War. Like “The Old Man at the Bridge”, Hemingway produced hybrid texts which represented the psychological state of men in that period with the combination of the historical with the fictional.

Therefore Hemingway blended the historical and the fictional in order to build a symbolic and more allusive image. In this very context, Ruth Leys, a major scholar of psychoanalysis argues in her book Trauma: A genealogy :“The overall effect achieved by the hybridization and juxtaposition – creates a sort of puzzle narration, a complete narrative experience more likely to satisfy a reader’s curiosity and needs rather than a straightforward linear plot. ” (Leys, 61[1]) So rather than delivering a coherent neat plot, the writer opts for a inimalistic but highly symbolic style, whereby the reproduction of the common experience of war, damage and destruction. This bitter experience led to the fragmentariness and the shattering of the subjects. The old man in Hemingway’s short story can be considered as a perfect embodiment of the lost, amnesiac and helpless subject during war times. The choice of the old man not to leave in the end may symbolize the inevitable fate of dying. This sense of nihilism and self-destruction can only be grasped with retrospection on the epoch of war and its colossal damage.

As a matter of fact, Hemingway’s symbolism conveys a lot of meanings that are related to the humanitarian catastrophes caused by war like hopelessness, dispossession and the demolition of all morality. The wavering between the historical that is the conditions of war, and the fictional that is the meeting of the two characters of the story is a way to review the outcome of war and to lay bare its sharp psychological damages. “The Old Man at the Bridge” is considered to be one of the stories which reflect the most the state of mind of man after the war time.

The representation of the amnesia and the trauma of men are reached in this short story mainly through the distinctive narrative. A style of writing which is fragmented same as the depicted troubled psychological state of man after war. Being a figure of ‘The Lost Generation”, Hemingway made use of ‘Historytelling’[2] as a way to reproduce the unbearable and tragic conditions that led to the disappearance of all ethics and morality from the modern man’s mind.

Cite this Old Man at the Bridge: a Hybrid Text

Old Man at the Bridge: a Hybrid Text. (2017, Jan 24). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/old-man-at-the-bridge-a-hybrid-text/

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