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His contemporary, T. S. Eliot, eulogized “The Waste Land.” F Scott Fitzgerald depicted another kind of “waste land” on Gatsby’s Long Island. Yes, there’s death and destruction, but love and beauty are also almost everywhere in Papa’s books and stories, from “Big Two-Hearted River,” published in In Our Time (1925) to “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” (1936), where the mountain itself seems to embody eternity and transience, life and death.
Green Hills of Africa
When it suited him, he cared about the planet Earth, and all living things, including humans. Papa identified with the Greek refugees from the Turks who were stripped of their homes, their country and their livelihoods, many of them slaughtered in the early 1920s. In his non-fiction book, Green of Hills of Africa (1936), Hemingway took on the persona of an environmentalist and observed that “A continent ages quickly once we come. The natives live in harmony with it. But the foreigner destroys, cuts down the trees, drains the water and in a short time the soil is cropped out. But the earth gets tired of being exploited.”
In his own books, nature is often man’s adversary and man is nature’s foe. He didn’t seem to realize that killing lions, which he did for sport, and to prove something to himself, wasn’t good for the lions or the savannas, or that fishing in ocean waters, which he also did with a vengeance wasn’t good for the fish population or the deep blue sea. Maybe he knew it and didn’t want to face it or change his modus operandi. Always, he seemed to be half-conscious and a kind of spectator in the movable feast of his own life. But that’s not unusual. Writers are often better at unraveling the motives of their characters, than their own.
In Green Hills of Africa Hemingway also noted that in America writers had “to write to keep up their establishments, their wives, and so on, and they write slop.” He might have been thinking of himself. In his own country, he added, writers were harmed by “politics, women, drink, money, ambition.” Again, he seemed to have himself in mind. Hemingway could have added that American writers were all too often their own worst enemies. He certainly was.