Below the Surface: Hemingway’s “Iceberg” Method in A Moveable Feast

Once, in a physical science class, my professor showed the students a picture diagram of the three-pronged iceberg that sank the Titanic. A peer of mine immediately said, “How did that small iceberg sink a huge ship?” My professor let the class debate back and forth for awhile before she zoomed out of the diagram to reveal a hulking mass of ice below the surface of the water. She then went on to explain that less than 10 percent of an iceberg rests above the water’s surface. Ernest Hemingway models his writing in the form of an iceberg. Hemingway’s style of writing, called the “Iceberg Theory,” divulges the facts essential to understanding the plot without explicitly stating the underlying structure, allowing the reader to sense the story’s details. Hemingway demonstrates the “Iceberg Theory” in his memoir Moveable Feast.

In one instance in Moveable Feast, Hemingway uses the “Iceberg Theory” to reveal a character’s disposition through symbolism. This theory prevails in Hemingway’s comparison of Scott Fitzgerald’s wife Zelda to that of a hawk. Hemingway says, “Zelda had hawk’s eyes …” (Hemingway 154). In this reference, Hemingway assists the reader in visualizing Zelda’s physical attributes and mental makeup without directly expressing her appearance or state of mind. Because hawks typically have beady black eyes, the eyes almost give the hawk a sense of emptiness; in the same manner, the reader can picture the gap in Zelda’s mind by visualizing the vacancy behind her eyes. After Zelda’s peculiar statement about a celebrity named Al Jolson being greater than Jesus, Hemingway says, “It was only Zelda’s secret that she shared with me, as a hawk might share something with a man. But hawks do not share” (160). In this passage, Hemingway provides the audience with vital information regarding Zelda’s character. However, the reader has to glance under the surface of Hemingway’s words in order to fully grasp his underlying message. The audience remains unaware of Zelda’s secret, but it proves clear from Zelda’s unusual comparison that her sanity seems to be in question. The reader then deduces Hemingway inferred Zelda’s secret to be her lack of mental stability. Since Hemingway portrays Zelda as a hawk, the audience can interpret the phrase “But hawks do not share” to also be translated as “But Zelda does not share.” In analyzing the chapter, one can see Zelda tremendously hinders Fitzgerald’s work, so the text could mean that Zelda selfishly distracts Fitzgerald from his writing, preventing him from sharing his work with the world. Using the “Iceberg Theory,” Hemingway effortlessly communicates Zelda’s character by simply comparing her to a hawk and leaving the reader to explore the depths of his words.

Hemingway also utilizes the “Iceberg Theory” to disclose concealed tones and messages significant to the story. The theory emerges in one of Hemingway’s discussions with Fitzgerald. After Hemingway and Fitzgerald’s conversation in a café, Hemingway notes, “We both touched wood on the café table and the waiter came to see what it was we wanted. But what we wanted not he, nor anyone else, nor knocking on wood nor on marble, as this café table-top was, could ever bring us. But we did not know it that night and we were very happy” (Hemingway 151). The audience seems left in the dark regarding what Hemingway and Fitzgerald desired, but the passage does emit a detectable sense of hopelessness. This feeling of hopelessness coincides with the emotions of the younger generation who came of age during World War I. Writers during this time period, like Hemingway and Fitzgerald, were deemed part of the “Lost Generation.” This generation was considered “lost” because of their disillusionment after the War and their unwillingness to settle down in the world. Hemingway perfectly captures this melancholy tone in a few sentences without specifically stating those feelings. The reader gathers from the fact that nothing or no one can quench Hemingway and Fitzgerald’s desire that the desire must be intangible, leading the two men to feel dispirited and restless. In this instance, the “Iceberg Theory” allows Hemingway to reveal the tone and message present beneath the text.

Since Hemingway wrote Moveable Feast as a memoir, he often acts as an observer, relating the events and characters he witnessed in terms the audience can digest and interpret. Without relinquishing too many supporting details, Hemingway uses the “Iceberg Theory” to illustrate Scott Fitzgerald’s attributes. In one particular section, Hemingway describes Fitzgerald’s talent for writing as “natural as the pattern that was made by the dust on a butterfly’s wings” (125). Hemingway knew his audience was likely familiar with the natural beauty of butterflies, so he equates Fitzgerald’s talent to that intrinsic beauty. Hemingway could have simply stated that Fitzgerald was a naturally good writer, but he chose to compare his talent to a butterfly so the audience can participate in the text by looking deeper than surface level and envisioning the butterfly as representative of Fitzgerald’s writing. Hemingway continues his thought about Fitzgerald’s talent by saying, “Later he became conscious of his damaged wings and of their construction and he learned to think” (Hemingway 125). Since the wings symbolize Fitzgerald’s talent, the reader can draw the conclusion that his natural talent was altered or damaged, but when he became aware of the damage, he learned to embrace his natural talent and enhance his writing. By applying the “Iceberg Theory,” Hemingway aids the audience’s perception of Fitzgerald’s writing style by conveying his thoughts on Fitzgerald’s talent through symbolism.

Hemingway successfully employs the “Iceberg Theory” in various instances throughout Moveable Feast. Hemingway’s method of concealing the underlying structure of his story permits his messages and characters to be perceived more clearly. By actively engaging the reader’s mind in the text, Hemingway warrants the audience’s attention and encourages the audience to become a part of his story. All words hold more meaning than what prevails above the surface. In order to fully grasp the context of words, it proves important to explore the depths and stretch below the surface.

Characterization of Hadley

Ernest Hemingway remembers his time in Paris fondly in his memoir A Moveable Feast. The book tells about his writing process and other fond memories in Paris with his wife, Hadley. Hemingway often refers to Hadley strictly as his wife, but he eventually makes a transition from calling her his wife to Hadley. Throughout the book, Hemingway characterizes Hadley as a fun-loving, supportive wife. While Hemingway’s book has no chronological order, he uses this subtle transition to mark a divide in his and Hadley’s relationship.

Hemingway tells the reader about his experiences in Paris and about his encounters with other famous authors. The first chapter of the book starts out with Hemingway describing his cafe where he prefers to write. At the end of the chapter, he mentions a brief conversation with his wife about a vacation that they want to take. He describes her, “She had a lovely modeled face and her eyes and her smile lighted up at decisions as though they were rich presents” (Hemingway 19). With a simple description of his wife, Hemingway allows his dialogue to be the center focus rather than elaborately describing his wife. The imagery Hemingway uses to describe the way she responds to a decision to go on a vacation shows how she sees the vacation; she thinks of the vacation as a rich present that she does not often get. Since Hemingway is so set on going on this trip, his wife delights in going. She supports Hemingway’s decision to leave Paris, so he may write about Paris.

Hadley also supports Hemingway when he decides to grow his hair out long. She even decides to cut her hair to the same length as Hemingway has his, so they may grow their hair out together. One of the bigger decisions Hemingway makes during this Parisian time is to bet on horse races. Hadley asks Hemingway, “Do we have enough money to really bet, Tatie?” (42). At this point in Hemingway’s career, he is still writing for newspapers, and he has submitted some short stories to be published. The Hemingways are nowhere near being rich, but they do not think themselves poor either. They certainly do not have the spare money to gamble on horse races, but Hadley supports Hemingway anyway: “I think we ought to go… We haven’t been for such a long time” (43). Hemingway even says that he has been tight with any income that they have, so when he wants to gamble what little surplus, if one could call it that, that they have, Hadley still supports him.

Hemingway conveys how deep his and Hadley’s relationship is in a specific scene, “It was a wonderful meal at Michaud’s after we got in; but when we had finished and there was no question of hunger any more the feeling that had been like hunger when we were on the bridge was still there when we caught the bus home” (49). He shows in this scene that their hunger was not only a physical feeling, but it was a longing for something more. Hemingway knew his wife so well that he could tell that she felt hungry in the same way he did. Hemingway shows with this scene that he and Hadley had a strong bond which only makes their divorce more tragic.

In the sixth chapter of the book, Hemingway uses Hadley’s name for the first time instead of referring to her as his wife. While this may seem insignificant, it has a deeper meaning behind it. The chapters of A Moveable Feast are not in chronological order, so this switch in reference to Hadley could symbolize the beginnings of how Hemingway and Hadley’s relationship started to deteriorate. In chapter sixteen, Hemingway closes the chapter with a discussion about the end of his relationship with Hadley. He states, “Hadley and I had become too confident in each other and careless in our confidence and pride” (123). He starts this brief discussion with saying that they had grown too relaxed in their relationship. Later on he states, “ Hadley … came well out of it and married a much finer man than I ever was or could hope to be and is happy and deserves it” (123). Hemingway intimately knows Hadley, and he recognizes that she was not to blame for their marriage ending. He still cares for her happiness because she was his wife and mother to his first child. From chapter six to chapter sixteen, Hemingway rarely calls Hadley his wife. These chapters take place during the time that they had “become too confident in each other.” Hemingway distances himself from Hadley through work, and his marriage falls apart.

How does Hemingway see Hadley completely? He sees her as a dedicated wife who supports him in his writing career, someone with whom he can relate to on a deeper level, and ultimately as a woman who deserves someone better than Hemingway himself. He captures her true personality through the conversations he includes in A Moveable Feast. Since his marriage to Hadley ended in divorce, Hemingway could have skewed the reader’s perception of Hadley into a spiteful woman, but he chose to remain mostly unbiased in his characterization of her. Hemingway remembers his time in Paris with Hadley as a mostly happy time in his life, and he wants the reader to experience Paris as he did. He approaches his memories with Hadley free of noticeable bias, and he provides the reader an accurate description of his first wife. Hadley Hemingway was incredibly supportive of Ernest during his years as a struggling author, and she appreciated the simpler life they led compared to the richer lives that some of Hemingway’s friends lived. Ultimately, Hemingway knew Hadley deserved better than he was or could provide for her at the time. He still cherished their time together, and he did not want to taint those memories with the bitterness a divorce can bring. He loved Hadley and only wanted to show his readers how much life she helped him lived in Paris during those five years of marriage.