"There's no one thing that's true; it's all true": language and identity in Ernest Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls

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University of Alabama Libraries

Few critics have investigated the way in which Hemingway addresses the act of translation within his 1940 novel, For Whom the Bell Tolls. In “‘There’s No One Thing That’s True; It’s All True:’ Language and Identity in Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls” I utilize For Whom the Bell Tolls to explore Hemingway’s method of translating Spanish to English. I argue that Hemingway simultaneously espouses and eschews language as a medium to convey the daily struggles and culture of the disenfranchised Spanish people. By keeping certain words and phrases in Spanish, Hemingway imposes a sense of foreignness onto the text, and I argue that keeping the original Spanish helps the audience to identify with another culture and to enrich the target language of English. Hemingway also seeks to alienate the reader from understanding Spanish culture by portraying the Spanish language as a distinct, untranslatable medium of regional identity. The entirety of the conversations written in English involves an invisible, but palpable, translation from Spanish, and I explore the way that this invisible translation adds a layer of ambiguity and uncertainty to the text as a means of conveying the untranslatability of culture except through the lens of an ‘insider’ narrator. My analysis further complicates the idea of an ‘insider:’ is it possible to be an insider to another culture so much so that the insider can ‘translate’ culture for a foreign audience? Following this reading, I assert that translation plays a powerful role in Hemingway’s presentation of events and characters insofar as he repeatedly acknowledges the power of language in defining personal identity while underscoring the failure of language to define experience. “‘There’s No One Thing That’s True; It’s All True:’ Language and Identity in Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls” addresses scholarly lacuna by demonstrating that Hemingway sophisticatedly represents Spanish translation, and lack thereof, to both invite the reader into Spanish culture during the Spanish Civil War and also to exclude the reader from true cultural understanding because of the reader’s lack of personal experience with the Spanish people.

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English literature