115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

Fighting War and Seeking the Divine in Hemingway’s War Fiction

Tim Pingelton, University of Missouri, Kansas City

Contrary to the popular notion that Ernest Hemingway’s war characters are atheists, my research reveals that these characters, in times of tumult, turn to nature as a hierophany to connect with the divine. These same works show war battling nature. These soldiers fight in wars to end war because war is contrary to nature, which is the divine.


Please accept this submission for the 115th annual PAMLA conference in Honolulu, HI.  I am an interdisciplinary (literature and religious studies) scholar at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.  My research on the war fiction of Ernest Hemingway these last several years has taken me to the main depositories of Hemingway manuscripts, to deliver papers at several conferences, and to write a biography on Hemingway for middle- and high-school education.

 I am studying the war fiction of Ernest Hemingway because I want to find out the meaning of the final scene of For Whom the Bell Tolls in order to help my reader understand the meaning of Robert Jordan’s action of placing his palm against the forest floor and how this action speaks to his and other soldier characters’ ethos.  This disposition runs through specific ideas of war, religion, and nature and adds to conceptions of Modernist values.

I focus here on Hemingway’s war fiction because it is a tidy, consistent, and long-running part of his large body of work and because, as Hemingway wrote in a 1925 letter to F. Scott Fitzgerald, “Well the reason you are so sore you missed the war is because war is the best subject of all.  It groups the maximum of material and speeds up the action and brings out all sorts of stuff that normally you have to wait a lifetime to get.”

Looking at other of Hemingway’s war fiction, the idea of war being unnatural becomes evident.  Snow falls in a supposed attempt to forestall battle in For Whom the Bell Tolls, snow does not fall until the battle was over in A Farewell to Arms, and dust raised by machines of war obscures minute flowers along the road (referring to the allusion to Mungo Park and his communion with God via such flowers) in "A Natural History of the Dead." War is inimical to nature.  Therefore, the anti-religiousness so often discussed in this opus does not originate from the soldiers (who seek the divine) but from war.  The soldiers are fighting in wars to fight war.