The Plight of the Code Hero in the Works of Ernest Hemingway
In his novels Ernest Hemingway suggests a code of behavior for his characters to follow: one that demands courage in difficult situations, strength in the face of adversity, and grace under pressure. Termed the "code hero," this character is driven by the principal ideals of honor, courage, and endurance in a life of stress, misfortune, and pain. Despite the hero's fight against life in this violent and disorderly world, he is rarely the victor. The code that the hero follows demands that he act honorably in this uphill battle and find fulfillment by becoming a man and proving his worth. Hemingway himself lived his life trying to show how strong and unlimited he was, a trait reflected in his novels as his heroes struggle through. They are all martyrs to their cause, suffering but triumphantly ending their lives because they do not falter and show no weakness. Destroyed, they are nevertheless winners because they do not give in. "Success is that old ABC -- ability, breaks, and courage" (Luckman n. pag.).
Hemingway's heroes succeed precisely because of these characteristics. Hemingway's heroes are not Marvel Heroes; they do not leap over tall buildings in a single bound, nor do they shoot spider webbing from their hands. They traverse life and endure the pain dealt them, surviving with a moral and spiritual, but not material, victory. They are not flat cardboard characters but real people who are heroes because they overcome a problem, not because they have a special ability. The key trait that they have is the retention of their dignity. The code heroes in TheOld Man and the Sea, The Sun Also Rises, and For Whom the Bell Tolls all suffer their share of indignities and manage a moral victory. Santiago, Jake Barnes, and Robert Jordan all endure suffering and defeat in what they do-accompanied by feelings of weakness and helplessness-but they prove themselves to be the strongest of the bunch, willing to muster the courage to accept their existence and to hold their chins up.
In the novella, The Old Man and the Sea, Santiago is an unlucky fisherman who has not caught anything in 84 days. Yet he sets out alone on the 85th day to try again. For three days he struggles with a large marlin which he finally kills; but, despite his best efforts, he loses the fish to repeated shark attacks.
Still, Santiago returns to his small fishing village with the skeleton of the fish. He achieves a spiritual victory instead of a material one, surviving the ordeal of battle, and arriving with proof of his struggle strapped to his boat-the skeleton of the fish. Rather than a huge profit from such a large fish, he gains the admiration of the town for his valorous fight. Violence and disorder prevail, but Santiago honorably defends his catch in the midst of what will be a losing battle. Oscar Wilde once said, "Ordinary...