The world breaks everyone? Not quite

“The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.”

Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms

I came across this quote in a movie recently,1 and puzzled it over for a few days. It’s great copy ’cause it sounds good, but it just doesn’t make much sense. It’s easy enough to think of a counterexample for the first sentence,2 and even Hemingway admits as much in the second sentence: there are people whom the world doesn’t break—the good, the gentle, and the brave.3 Not being broken, comes with a price however: the world will kill you just a bit sooner than it will kill everyone else.

Despite the messy logic, I still like the quote. It sounds like it makes perfect sense. It’s effective rhetoric, all the more so because, when you read it aloud, it makes you sound world weary and aged, like a gifted, drunk storyteller holding court in a bar, even if no one can quite figure out what the hell you’re talking about.

When I was in high school and college it was very popular to read about the Lost Generation (in Britain and the continent they went by the more artisitic, less sociological name Modernists). I spent the intervening years reading older stuff (Murakami aside), and it should be good to get back to Hemingway and his indecorate prose. I swing between writers who play with elaborate artifice and those who want very much to get to the heart of the matter as simply as possible. It seems like it’s time to get back to the Hemingway side of things.

1Croupier, Clive Owen’s first entry onto the international stage; it’s a nifty British crime flick and I recommend it.

2The world doesn’t seem to have broken Paris Hilton, though it seems that many people are waiting, should it happen, to read about it in supermarket tabloids.

3Assuming that Ms. Hilton has not been broken by the world, she must be one of these three; very gentle seems to be the closest fit, though it doesn’t come near enough to the word I most associate with her. I have to admit that “the very good and the very gentle and the very insipid,” does not sound nearly as majestic as the original quote.

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