A Moveable Feast is written through a retrospective perspective, and Hemingway often emphasizes that the innocent and easy happiness he felt during his years in Paris was wonderful at the time, yet was doomed to end. Indeed, although he and Hadley repeatedly bask in how “lucky” and “happy” they are, there is a strong sense that Hemingway is distrustful of happiness and that he believes that the truth and reality of life is in fact sad. Hemingway’s embrace of the reality of sadness contrasts to the attitude of Gertrude Stein, who “wanted to know the gay part of how the world was going; never the real, never the bad.” Hemingway’s use of the word “real” here suggests disdain for Stein’s unwillingness to see the world as it truly is.
Hemingway’s happiness in the book is particularly dependent on his life with Hadley. When he sees Hadley again on his return from the trip to Lyon, Hemingway admits: “We were happy the way children are who have been separated and are together again.” This sense of romantic happiness is emphasized in the chapter entitled “Secret Pleasures,” which describes Hemingway and Hadley’s happiness together as a wonderful, private secret: “They knew nothing of our pleasures nor how much fun it was to be damned to ourselves and never would know nor could know.” The passages describing Hemingway’s relationship with Hadley give the impression of happy, “invulnerable” youth. This shifts, however, during Hemingway’s affair with Pauline. During this period, Hemingway’s experience of happiness changes; he admits that “the unbelievable wrenching, kicking happiness, selfishness and treachery of everything we did, gave me such happiness and un-killable dreadful happiness so that the black remorse came.” Here, happiness is tainted with moral transgression. As Hemingway loses his youthful innocence, happiness is no longer a pure, straightforward emotion: it becomes intermingled with negative emotions, including guilt, regret, and sadness.
Even before this point, however, sadness plays an important—if subtle—role in the book. Hemingway admits that “after writing a story I was always empty and both sad and happy.” The process of writing, then, is shown to be difficult and at times painful, and the association between creation and drunkenness further underlines the notion that creativity can be as destructive as it is constructive, and as sad as it is joyful.
Furthermore, a general atmosphere of sadness haunts the book, a product of the traumatic legacy of the First World War. This sense of sadness is captured in the notion of the “lost generation,” a generation that Stein claims to be full of young men who “have no respect for anything. You drink yourselves to death.” In a fragment from the end of the book, Hemingway confesses: “We, who had been at the war, admired the war crazies since we knew they had been made so by something that was unbearable. It was unbearable to them because they were made of a finer or more fragile metal.” Just as the act of writing inherently requires feelings of sadness, the madness of the “war crazies” indicates that they have emerged from the war with their sensitivity and morality—if not their sanity—in tact. Sadness is thus not always considered a bad thing, even as it haunts the narrative and leads the characters to self-destructive behaviors such as alcohol abuse.
Happiness and sadness are also closely associated with the seasons. The book opens with “bad weather,” a dreary description of rain-soaked streets and “a sad, evilly run café where the drunkards of the quarter crowded together.” Later in the chapter Hemingway argues that, “all of the sadness of the city came suddenly with the first cold rains of winter.” However, he also points out that the saddest part of the year is when, for a brief moment, it seems as though spring has arrived, only to be followed by more cold rain. Hemingway claims that, “this was the only sad time in Paris because it was unnatural,” and he compares this unexpected, unnatural rain to “a young person who died for no reason.” Here Hemingway makes an explicit link between the cold, rainy weather and the memory of war. This connection highlights the fact that the aspect of the war’s aftermath that is most difficult to deal with is the knowledge of its irrationality and pointlessness. Hemingway contrasts these cold rains with the warm spring and even the “happy and innocent” winter snow; the comfort and pleasure in these seasons is found in the fact that they occur in a predictable, logical way, thereby giving a reliable sense of meaning to life in the wake of the meaningless devastation of war.
Happiness and Sadness ThemeTracker
Happiness and Sadness Quotes in A Moveable Feast
No one emptied the Café des Amateurs though, and its yellowed poster stating the terms and penalties of the law against public drunkenness was as flyblown and disregarded as its clients were constant and ill-smelling.
All of the sadness of the city came suddenly with the first cold rains of winter, and there were no more tops to the high white houses as you walked but only the wet blackness of the street.
Then the cold rains kept on and killed the spring, it was as though a young person had died for no reason.
In those days, though, the spring always came finally; but it was frightening that it had nearly failed.
I knew how severe I had been and how bad things had been. The one who is doing his work and getting satisfaction from it is not the one the poverty is hard on. I thought of bathtubs and showers and toilets that flushed as things that inferior people to us had or that you enjoyed when you made trips, which we often made.
She did not like to hear really bad nor tragic things, but no one does, and having seen them I did not care to talk about them unless she wanted to know how the world was going. She wanted to know the gay part of how the world was going; never the real, never the bad.
"All of you young people who served in the war. You are a lost generation…”
"Really?" I said.
"You are," she insisted. “you have no respect for anything. You drink yourselves to death. . .”
"'Was the young mechanic drunk?” I asked.
"Of course not."
"Have you ever seen me drunk?”
"No. But your friends are drunk.”
"I've been drunk" I said. “But I don’t come here drunk.”
"Of course not. I didn't say that.”
"The boy's patron was probably drunk by eleven o’clock in the morning." I said. “That’s why he makes such lovely phrases. "
"Don't argue with me, Hemingway,” Miss Stein said. “It does no good at all. You're all a lost generation, exactly as the garage keeper said."
You got very hungry when you did not eat enough in Paris because all the bakery shops had such good things in the windows and people ate outside at tables on the sidewalk so that you saw and smelled the food. Then you were skipping meals at a time when you had given up journalism and were writing nothing that anyone in America would buy, explaining at home that you were lunching out with someone, the best place to do it was the Luxembourg gardens where you saw and smelled nothing to eat all the way from the place de l'Observatoire to the rue de Vaugirard. There you could always go into the Luxembourg museum and all the paintings were heightened and clearer and more beautiful if you were belly-empty, hollow-hungry. I learned to understand Cezanne much better and to see truly how he made landscapes when I was hungry. I used to wonder if he were hungry too when he painted; but I thought it was possibly only that he had forgotten to eat. It was one of those unsound but illuminating thoughts you have when you have been sleepless or hungry. Later I thought Cezanne was probably hungry in a different way.
Outside on the rue de l’Odeon I was disgusted with myself for having complained about things. I was doing what I did of my own free will and I was doing it stupidly. I should have bought a large piece of bread and eaten it instead of skipping a meal. I could taste the brown lovely crust. But it is dry in your mouth without something to drink. You God damn complainer. You dirty phony saint and martyr, I said to myself. You quit journalism of your own accord. You have credit and Sylvia would have loaned you money. She has plenty of times. Sure. And then the next thing you would be compromising on something else. Hunger is healthy and the pictures do look better when you are hungry. Eating is wonderful too and do you know where you are going to eat right now?
The winter of the avalanches was like a happy and innocent winter in childhood compared to that winter and the murderous summer that was to follow. Hadley and I had become too confident in each other and careless in our confidence and pride. In the mechanics of how this was penetrated I have never tried to apportion the blame, except my own part, and that was clearer all my life. The bulldozing of three people’s hearts to destroy one happiness and build another and the love and the good work and all that came out of it is not part of this book. I wrote it and left it out. It is a complicated, valuable and instructive story.
Until then I had felt that what a great writer I was had been carefully kept secret between myself and my wife and only those people we knew well enough to speak to. I was glad Scott had come to the same happy conclusion as to this possible greatness, but I was also glad he was beginning to run out of the speech.
In Europe then we thought of wine as something as healthy and normal as food and also as a great giver of happiness and well-being and delight. Drinking wine was not a snobbism nor a sign of sophistication nor a cult; it was as natural as eating and to me as necessary, and I would not have thought of eating a meal without drinking either wine or cider or beer.
They knew nothing of our pleasures nor how much fun it was to be damned to ourselves and never would know nor could know. Our pleasures, which were those of being in love, were as simple and still as mysterious and complicated as a simple mathematical formula that can mean all happiness or can mean the end of the world. That is the sort of happiness you should not tinker with but nearly everyone you knew tried to adjust it.