Ringside in Spain

Ernest and Pauline Pfeiffer Attend a Bull Fight, Pamplona, Spain
 Hemingway, standing ringside

The stadium is packed. The crowd yells “Olé” as the bull and the matador dance.  The matador teases the bull with his red cape as a red-hilted sword plunges into the bulls neck.  “Olé.” Ringside, you see the fatigue and fear in the sweat on the matador’s face.  The bulls is confused and frustrated by his multiple wounds and the crowd yelling.  It would not end well.  One of them would die. Three matadors had already suffered fatal blows from this bull.  It was now down to the last matador.

Despite Hemingway’s fascination with bullfighting in Spain, it is a tragic sport. Many articles for The Toronto Star narrate the thrill and tragedy of bullfighting at ringside.    From this vantage point, Hemingway also concludes In Our Time.

Hemingway overtly turns bullfighting into a fiction by comparing its structure and drama to that of a tragic play in three acts.  In “Bullfighting is Not a Sport- It is a Tragedy”  the first act is the entry.  Hemingway describes the ceremonial entrance of all the characters who have roles in the bullfighting.  They parade safely in the ring and then the bull enters. The second act begins the violence with the planting of the banderillos into the bulls hump.  The third act is the death of the bull, “the tragedy is the death of the bull.”  This is a highly organized ritual in which the Matador “masters the bull with the muleta and kills him.” In the audience, Hemingway has his eye on “the chubby-faced Kid,” who, in the “final set it would be him or the bull.”


Ernest Hemingway Fighting a Bull, Pamplona, Spain

Hemingway in the Bull's sights

In one of the last chapters of In Our Time, “the kid came out and had to kill five bulls.”  He was the last matador.   The first two matadors were impaled by the bulls horn.  The kid kills the bulls but it wasn't pretty. “He tried five times and the crowd was quiet because it was a good bull and it looked like him or the bull and then he finally made it.  He sat down in the sand and puked and they held a cape over him while the crowd hollered and threw things down into the bull ring.”

This is the final act of the tragedy and there are no winners.  In particular, Hemingway connects the bull to the kid because “it looked like him.”  Hemingway confuses subjects in this sentence purposefully to blur the distinction between man and beast.  Hemingway suggests that we are all beasts or that the differences between enemies is lost amidst violence.  

This has profound implications in understanding the structure and message of the collection of short stories in In Our Time as an archive The narrative (recent history) is a tragedy of three parts.  First, before the war, Hemingway introduces characters like Nick who enter the war.  Second, Nick and many others are agents of violence, slowly causing pain to others and themselves in the war arena.  Third, some survive, tired and sick with blood on their hands but nevertheless cheered by the audience. 

Reading Hemingway’s journalism not only provides the content and characters for the last chapter of In Our Time, it also informs the narrative structure of the body of work. Hemingway’s message seems clear:  Retelling the history of this time is a tragic narrative.  Bad news can not be mediated by any good news in this editorialized version of history.  The message Hemingway is disseminating is a tragedy in which, all over the world, characters flirt with the line between good and bad, violence and peace, and the real and the fiction.