In Our Time
Hemingway’s Dr. Adams: An Analysis and a Diagnosis
The short stories of Ernest Hemingway are particularly renowned for their ambiguity and brevity, and the collection of short stories titled In Our Time contains many of these powerfully minimalistic stories. One character that appears in two separate stories is Dr. Adams, the father of Nick Adams, who is the main character in many of the other short stories. Dr. Adams in present both in “Indian Camp” and in “The Doctor and the Doctor’s Wife”, and Dr. Adams makes an impression in each of these stories. As Hemingway often leaves the character’s thoughts and actions open for interpretation, Dr. Adams is a prime candidate to be evaluated in a psychoanalytic criticism. Modern psychology, although a relatively new and largely still-debated scientific field, focuses on not how people do certain things, but why. Most people would agree that modern psychology began with Sigmund Freud in the early 1900s. Freud came up with many theories in the field, some of which are still adhered to today and some of which have largely been forgotten. Freud’s most important work involves his belief in the subconscious mind—a place that, although we are not aware of the impact, secretly plays a role in the things we say, do, and even dream. Since then, psychology has continued to grow and develop thanks to B.F. Skinner, Pavlov, Maslow, and other contributors that have continued to evolve Freud’s initial thoughts and develop major strides towards figuring out why humans act and react in certain ways.
One method of psychological criticism concerns the psychoanalysis of a character within the text. This will bring the motivations and desires of the character to the forefront and allow the readers a better understanding of the character. In order to effectively perform a psychological criticism in terms of a character within a text, the critic must be both creative and have a general knowledge of psychological terms in order to “diagnose” the character, which will ultimately bring the motives of the character into the foreground. Through a psychoanalysis of Dr. Adams’ actions and reactions, I will work to prove that Dr. Adams suffers from borderline personality disorder (BPD), characterized by his marital issues, problems with masculinity, and his anger and aggression issues.
Dr. Adams appears in two of Hemingway’s stories: “Indian Camp” and “The Doctor and the Doctor’s Wife.” For the purposes of my analysis, my primary focus will be on “The Doctor and the Doctor’s Wife,” although I will be using other Nick Adams stories to support my assertions throughout the diagnosis. “The Doctor and the Doctor’s Wife” opens with a group of Native American men, including Dick Boulton, coming to chop up logs for Dr. Adams. The logs had fallen off of a log boom that was carrying them from the mill. Dr. Adams says that this means they are driftwood, and therefore they are up for grabs. So he took them and hired the Native Americans to chop it up for him. When Dick Boulton sees that the logs are from a local logging company, he accuses Dr. Adams of stealing them. Angered, Dr. Adams tells Dick and the other men that they should just clear out if they wanted to accuse him of stealing. Dr. Adams then threatens Dick Boulton, “…. I’ll knock your eye teeth down your throat” (Hemingway 25). After this spat, Dr. Adam’s goes inside and into his bedroom (it is interesting to note that he does not share a bedroom with his wife), and he immediately begins to clean a shotgun. After a brief conversation with his wife, Dr. Adams goes outside, and he and his son, Nick, go for a walk to find black squirrels.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, borderline personality disorder is characterized by the following: Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a serious mental disorder marked by a pattern of ongoing instability in moods, behavior, self-image, and functioning. These experiences often result in impulsive actions and unstable relationships. A person with BPD may experience intense episodes of anger, depression, and anxiety that may last from only a few hours to days. Some people with BPD also have high rates of co-occurring mental disorders, such as mood disorders, anxiety disorders, and eating disorders, along with substance abuse, self-harm, suicidal thinking and behaviors, and suicide (NIMH 2016). The disorder is recognized by the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. The officially recognized personality dysfunctions are listed in the chart above. With these symptoms and criteria in mind, I will attempt to rationalize Dr. Adams’ actions and reactions in order to prove that Dr. Adams is suffering from an undiagnosed case of borderline personality disorder.
The first symptom displayed by Dr. Adams is his engaging in risky behavior. Dr. Adams does not own the logs that he has taken to be cut up by the Native Americans. Hemingway says that Dr. Adams “assumed” that he could take them, meaning that he knew that it was possibly stealing, which does, indeed, indicate participating in risky behavior. This indulgence in a risky behavior fulfills number 4 on the DMV’s list for diagnostic criteria. Next, Dr. Adams soon becomes angered when he is called out for taking the logs. His anger occurs quickly, and he soon threatens to get violent, promising to knock Dick’s teeth down his throat. His anger seems not only misplaced, but also excessive. According to The Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway, this occurrence calls into question the masculinity of Dr. Adams (Benson 35). Furthermore, when Dr. Adams goes into the house and explains that he has had an argument with Dick Boulton, his wife replies, “I hope you didn’t lose your temper” (Hemingway 25). The doctor’s wife’s response indicates that Dr. Adams is prone to losing his temper on a fairly regular basis. This type of quick and potentially violent anger fulfills number 8 on the list of symptoms. Symptom number 2 on the list involves a pattern of troubles in interpersonal relationships. There are several context clues within “The Doctor and the Doctor’s Wife” as well as clues elsewhere in In Our Time that indicate that Dr. Adams has a less-than-satisfactory home life. In “The Doctor and the Doctor’s Wife”, we learn that Dr. Adams and his wife do not share a bedroom, as Hemingway says she was “in her bed” while he was sitting “on his bed” (26). His wife also seems to belittle him, whether intentionally or not: first, by taking a motherly, authorities tone with him (“’Tell me, Henry. Please don’t try to keep anything from me’” ) and then by saying that his hypothesis is clearly wrong [“’Dear, I don’t think, I really don’t think that anyone would do a thing of that sort intentionally’” (26)]. Later, in “The Three-Day Blow”, Nick refers to Bill’s father as a “swell guy” and then immediately says that his “old man” is “all right” (Hemingway 44). The implication here is that Nick thinks higher of Bill’s father than he does of his own. While none of the short stories come out and openly discuss Dr. Adams’ relationships with his wife and son, there are several context clues that can lead us to the conclusion that neither relationship is necessarily a positive one. This could be an indication that Dr. Adams struggles with maintaining relationships, even with the people he should be closest with.
After Dr. Adams’ brief argument with Dick and his conversation with his wife, Dr. Adams retires to his room where he takes his time first cleaning his shotgun, and then he sits and pumps all the shells out of it, only to load it and then pump them out again. There are two possibilities for what this could mean, and either of them would fit into the category of impulsivity and potentially risky behavior. The first possibility is that having easy access to the gun and the fact that this is the first place he turns when angered is proof that Dr. Adams may be mentally unstable. He immediately leaves an argument and goes to get his gun: this could be seen as a sign not only a sign of aggression, but also possibly the possibility of a threat of violence. On the other hand, it is possible that Dr. Adams’ shotgun ritual is a euphemism for masturbation. According to the article “Trophy-Hunting as a Trope of Manhood in Ernest Hemingway’s Green Hills of Africa”, the pumping of the shells out of the shotgun is a “masturbatory display of phallic power” (Strychacz 168). This theory does make sense: bare in mind that Dr. Adams has not only been humiliated by Dick Boulton, but he has also just been emasculated by his wife. What better way to remind himself that he is a man than by performing as only a man can do? In addition, Hemingway uses several word choices that could indicate the possible double-entendre at work here. For example, Hemingway gives the reader an image a Dr. Adams “pumping” the rifle and the shotgun shells “scattering on the bed” (26). Hemingway also makes sure to tell his readers that Dr. Adams is “very fond of it” (26). Whether it is a sign of aggression or a genteelism for masturbation, Dr. Adams’ actions in this scene are clearly questionable and leave plenty of room for interpretation. He either is so angry that he has notions of shooting Dick Boulton, or he is so emasculated that he impulsively goes directly to self-stimulation, a possible vice of his.
As it stands, there are sufficient instances of personality impairment to satisfy that category of the DSM’s guide to diagnosis. However, that is just the first step. The next step in being able to properly establish that Dr. Adams is struggling with borderline personality disorder is accessing any impairments in interpersonal functioning. The way to discover interpersonal impairments is to see if either of the following are present: lack of empathy or lack of intimacy. Although only one interpersonal skill must be impaired to get a diagnosis, Dr. Adams is subpar in both of these categories, which is typical for somebody with borderline personality disorder. According to the DSM, empathy is defined as “the ability to recognize the feelings and needs of others”, an interpersonal skill that Dr. Adams undoubtedly lacks. The best example of this shortcoming can be seen in the short story “Indian Camp.” In this short story, Dr. Adams is heading to the Indian reservation to help a young Native American that has been trying without success to deliver a baby for days. Dr. Adams and Nick arrive to help the woman. Dr. Adams soon find that the baby is breech, so he performs an emergency cesarean-section on the young lady without any anesthesia. He used a jack-knife to cut her open and tapered gut leaders to sew her back up. Dr. Adams tells Nick that he does not hear the woman’s screams because “they are not important” (16). Dr. Adams is unaffected by the event, even after he discovers that the baby’s father has committed suicide in the bunk above his wife. He is proud of his surgery and even jokes about it on the way home. Hemingway says that he felt like “as exalted and talkative as football players are in the dressing room after a game” (Hemingway 18). It is clear that Dr. Adams not only feels bad for the pain he caused the woman, he also is unaffected by the suicide victim that he discovered. The second interpersonal impairment is a lack of intimacy, which we have already briefly discussed in the previous explanation of Dr. Adams’ unsatisfactory relationships. It is clear that he and his wife do not share much intimacy because they clearly do not share beds, or even bedrooms. If the shotgun scene is a euphemism for masturbation, that may imply a dissatisfying sex-life or even some form of sexual dysfunction. Whatever the case, we can see through Mrs. Adams’ speech as well as the couple’s sleeping arrangement that there is something lacking in the intimacy department of their relationship.
According to what Hemingway tells us in In Our Time, what we can ascertain based on context clues and other research, and the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, it is very possible that the reason the Dr. Adams acts and reacts in the ways that he does is because he is suffering from an undiagnosed case of borderline personality disorder. He meets the criteria on every level, and it is plain to see that he is not “neuro-typical” in the ways that he acts, in his family’s dynamic, and in how he lacks emotions when they are necessary but then is overly emotive in unnecessary circumstances. Ernest Hemingway’s short stories, as ambiguous and open-ended as they usually are, invite psychological criticisms to be performed upon his seemingly-simple characters. However, with a little research and reading between the lines, it becomes clear to see that Hemingway gave us much more than what we may find on our first read-through. Perhaps if this much care was taken by every reader with all of Hemingway’s work, more and more people would come to realize that, while some of these stories seem to be about nothing, there is just as much in what Hemingway does not say than there is in what he tells us.
Works Cited Benson, Jackson J., ed. The Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway: Critical Essays. Duke University Press, 1975, p 32. “Borderline Personality Disorder.” National Institute of Mental Health, 2016. “Criteria for Personality Disorders.” Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th ed., American Psychiatric Association, 2012, pp. 6-7. Hemingway, Ernest. “The Doctor and the Doctor’s Wife.” In Our Time, Simon & Schuster, 1925, pp. 23-7. Hemingway, Ernest. “Indian Camp.” In Our Time, Simon & Schuster, 1925, pp. 15-9. Hemingway, Ernest. “The Three-Day Blow.” In Our Time, Simon & Schuster, 1925, pp. 39-49. Lynn, Steven. Texts and Contexts: Writing About Literature with Critical Theory, Pearson, 2017. Strychacz, Thomas. “Trophy-Hunting as a Trope of Manhood in Ernest Hemingway’s Green Hills of Africa.” The Hemingway Review, vol. 13, no. 1, Fall 1993, pp. 36-47.
“Cat in the Rain”: A Psychological Criticism
Modern psychology, although a relatively new and largely still-debated scientific field, focuses on not how people do certain things, but why. Most people would agree that modern psychology began with Sigmund Freud in the early 1900s. Freud’s most important work involves his belief in the subconscious mind—a place that, although we are not aware of the impact, secretly plays a role in the things we say, do, and even dream. Since then, psychology has continued to grow and develop thanks to B.F. Skinner, Pavlov, Maslow, and other contributors that have continued to evolve Freud’s initial thoughts and develop major strides towards figuring out why humans act and react in certain ways. Freud asserted that literature itself was a type of “day-dream” and that the author could be psychoanalyzed based upon their writings (Lynn 200). According to Lynn, the critic must “go beyond biological facts to expose the underlying motivation” (200). Furthermore, a critic could also psychoanalyze a character within the text to try to bring to the surface what the character’s true motives are, which can also give some insight into the author. In order to effectively perform a psychological criticism in terms of a character within a text, the critic must be both creative and have a general knowledge of psychological terms in order to “diagnose” the character, which will ultimately bring the motives of the character into the foreground. For the purposes of psychological criticism, the short fiction of modernist Ernest Hemingway—particularly his relationship-oriented narrative “Cat in the Rain”—is especially instructive.
Ernest Hemingway’s short story “Cat in the Rain” tells the tale of a young American couple traveling in Italy after the war. The married couple is the only Americans at a small hotel near the ocean. It is raining, so they are stuck together in their small hotel room, and the wife is looking out the window when she notices a cat hunkered under a table trying to keep dry. The wife tells her husband, “It’s no fun to be a kitty out in the rain” (Hemingway 93). The wife goes out to rescue the cat, but when she goes around the building, the cat is gone. The wife returns to the hotel room, where her husband George is still reading. He continues to ignore her as she tells him about all the things she wants: a cat, long hair, silver, a table, and new clothes (Hemingway 94). George tells her to shut up. At the end of the story, the maid at the hotel brings a cat to the room, although it is unclear whether or not it is the same cat from outside. The American woman manages to give many aspects of her psyche to analyze, despite the story being only three pages long. There is evidence of both isolation and displacement, both of which are coping mechanisms that the woman uses to deal with the fact that she is being ignored by her husband and longs for a stable, more domestic life. Ultimately, the cat in the rain become a symbol for what the woman really wants—a domestic life—and the woman’s isolation and displacement.
Throughout the course of the story, the American woman is ignored repeatedly by her husband George. The first instance occurs when the woman first says she wants to go out and help the kitty. Her husband does offer to go get it for her, but he never looks up from his book or makes any sort of motion to get up (Hemingway 91). The woman says she wants to go and ventures into the rain to retrieve the cat. Upon seeing the cat is no longer their, the woman returns to her hotel room, where her husband is still reading in bed. He does ask if she found it, but returns to reading before she answers him. When she muses about letting her hair grow out, he simply says that he likes it the way it is (Hemingway 95). The wife then goes on and on about all of the things that she wants: “And I want to eat at a table with my own silver and I want candles. And I want it to be spring and I want to brush my hair out in front of a mirror and I want a kitty and I want some new clothes” (Hemingway 96). George’s response is simply, “Oh, shut up and get something to read” (Hemingway 96). The wife resumes insisting that she wants a cat, but Hemingway makes it apparent that the husband is not listening to her musings. It is apparent in this story that the marriage is clearly lacking something and that the wife is not dealing with it in a mentally sound and healthy way. Despite being repeatedly ignored and even once insulted, the wife never seems to directly to react to her husband’s mistreatment. Psychologically, this is known as isolation, which is “understanding that something should be upsetting but failing to react to it” (Lynn 205). The fact that the wife fails to react to the rudeness of her husband implies that she is perhaps immune to this behavior, which means it is a common occurrence. In “We Are All Cats in the Rain”, White describes the husband’s behavior as “[refusing to indulge] her the child in her” (White 253). The wife should call out her husband’s behavior or at the very least, show some physical sign off annoyance. Instead, though, she never even reacts at all. However, her lack of reaction is enough evidence to show that she is using isolation as a coping mechanism. She is clearly unhappy in her marriage and seems to be accustomed to his behavior.
Another coping mechanism we see the American wife employ several times is displacement, which according to Lynn is “shifting an emotion from the real target to a different one” (203). The woman practices this defense mechanism in two instances. The first one is with the cat itself. She becomes fixated on wanting the cat she sees out in the rain. In fact, she mentions wanting the cat verbally ten times in the three-page story. The cat becomes a symbol for what she really deeply wants: something to care for. Many past critics have surmised that the cat represents a baby, but I remain unconvinced. The woman simply wants something to care for and something to receive affection from. The other instance occurs with the hotel owner at the beginning of the story. She likes him a lot—a concerning amount—when all he does is his job. The text repeats the redundancy used with the cat: “She liked the deadly serious way he received complaints. She liked his dignity. She liked the way he wanted to serve her…. She liked…. She liked…. She liked… (Hemingway 92). It is his job to make sure she has a pleasant stay, but rather than acknowledging he is doing a good job, she over-reacts to his service, mistaking it for affection. She misplaces his attention because she is starved for affection and just wants to be heard and treated as though she is important. Ultimately, the key symbol of the story is the cat. The cat triggers in her the idea that she could have something to take care of and receive affection from and that idea clearly resonates with her. She longs for stability—for her table and her long hair, things she associates with a domestic lifestyle. Hemingway’s Theatre of Masculinity describes her obsession with the cat as a result of “the lack of physical and emotional support from George” (Strychaz 67). She identifies with the cat because she too is a cat in the rain—trapped in a small space that she does not want to be in.
“Cat in the Rain” thus gives us a glimpse into the marriage of a young, American couple traveling Europe after the war. The wife is feeling neglected to the point where she no longer reacts. She yearns for a stable, domestic life in which she can grow out her hair, have her own fancy mirror and silverware, and perhaps even a baby. She wants to feel affection and wants something to take care of. It is clear, brief as this glimpse into these lives is, that this is an unhappy marriage that may ultimately end in failure. This can be implied into the life of Hemingway himself: an unhappy marriage, a neglected wife, a cat, and the strife of a baby. He has written it over and over again. Perhaps Freud is correct: we truly are looking into Hemingway’s day-dreams when we read his stories. Maybe Hemingway’s wife is the true cat in the rain.
Hemingway, Ernest. “Cat in the Rain”. In Our Time, Scribner, 2003, pp 91-4. Lynn, Steven. Texts and Contexts: Writing About Literature with Critical Theory, Pearson, 2017. Strychaz, Thomas. Hemingway’s Theatres of Masculinity. Louisianna State University Press, p. 65-72. White, Gertrude M. “We’re All Cats in the Rain”. Fitzgerald/Hemingway Annual, 1978, pp 241-6.
Promotion of Performative Utterances in In Our Time
Words are important. But, as is commonly said, ‘actions speak louder than words.’ In speech-act theory, there are two types of utterances, constative and performative. Constative utterances can be identified as true or false. Performative utterances perform some action through the act of being spoken, or as John J. Austin writes, “to state that I am doing it: it is to do it” (Austin, 6). If actions do hold more influence than speech, speech-action would be the most influential type of speech. This is why, in Ernest Hemingway’s In Our Time, Nick is shaped by the performative utterances of authority figures more than he is shaped by constative utterances. In order to show the utility of performative utterances and how they are promoted in the English language over constative utterances, a close reading is required.
The performative utterances of Nick’s father in “The Doctor and the Doctor’s Wife” influence Nick for the book’s entirety. At the end of the story, Dick, Nick’s father, leaves the house and his wife for a walk. His wife asks him to send Nick inside to speak with her. He does not. The dialogue, “All right. Come on, then” (Hemingway, 76) is a performative utterance, one that grants permission with its usage. And, with its usage, Nick learns that it is acceptable to retreat from human interaction and connection, especially in favor of nature and the outdoors. Readers can gather from Dick’s character and behavior that this utterance is not an anomaly, that performative utterances highlighting the acceptability of isolating oneself in nature are frequent in Nick’s childhood. This type of utterance becomes a part of Nick’s identity, as is evident in the next story, “The End of Something.” It is fitting that this story follows immediately. The stories’ order underlines the connection between Dick’s performative utterance and his son’s isolation from people in favor of nature. In this narrative, Nick goes on a camping trip with his girlfriend and a close friend. Following his father’s lesson, Nick isolates himself from both. “Isn’t love any fun?” asks Marjorie. And Nick replies “no” (Hemingway 81). With this, their relationship ends and Nick seems to be left alone with nature. This is where readers first see Nick isolate himself according to his father’s teaching through the influence of performative utterance. But Nick is not alone. Again, the part of his identity that prefers nature to man is evident: “Oh, go away, Bill! Go away for a while.” And with that, Nick is finally alone with nature. This preference for nature over people is shown in “Big Two-Hearted River” as well. The phrase “The coffee according to Hopkins” suggests that Nick does have a longing for human interaction. But due to his father’s performative language, and to how that language has rooted itself in Nick’s identity, he chose to go on the trip alone.
Going backward to “Indian Camp” can show that constative utterances, even seemingly important ones, hold less influence on the forming of identity than performative utterances. In example, the dialogue exchange at the end of “Indian Camp,” which only contains constative utterances and seems to be a formative experience for Nick, holds no influence over him. Though his father tries to reassure him about the nature of death (with utterances that could be identified as true or false), Nick denies the notion of his own death. A lesson opposite the intended one is learned because of the usage of constative utterances and the demotion of constative utterances in the English language. Not only do they appear to hold less influence than performative utterances on the formation of an identity, but they may also have the reverse effect. Whereas performative utterances influence along the lines of the utterance (Nick is given permission through speech and he applies that permission to his identity), a constative utterance from authority figure may cause an identity to absorb an antithetical lesson (Dick states that death is easy and Nick feels he won’t die) (Hemingway 70).
Jonathan Culler puts the promotive quality of performative language a different way: “performative language is… bringing things into being, organizing the world rather than simply representing what it is” (Culler 101-102). Culler is saying that performative utterances shape the world around us, including identities within that world. One reason that performative utterances might be more influential than constative utterances is that they cannot be false. Perhaps the possibility or suspicion of falsehood could drive one away from a lesson taught through constative utterances. Performative utterances cannot be false since they themselves constitute the sole authority on that utterance. So, when Dick utters “alright,” he grants permission and at the same time makes the utterance the only evidence as to whether Dick grants permission or not, since it created the permission. In cases like this, a performative utterance commits the specified action of the utterance and confirms the utterance itself. This factor increases the utterance’s ethos by making it more reliable, thus causing the subject, in this case Nick, to absorb the lesson.
Austin, J. L. How to Do Things with Words. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1962. Print. Culler, Jonathan D. Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1997. Print. Hemingway, Ernest. The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway. Finca Vigía Ed., 1st Scribner Trade Pbk. ed. New York: Scribner, 2003. Print.
The Universal Human Experience of In Our Time
The voice of his generation, Ernest Hemingway, captured the many complex emotions of Americans during the World War I era and provided clarity to his peers through his famous collection In Our Time. Through the stories and vignettes, Hemingway sheds light upon World War I by depicting very moving, real snapshots from before, during, and after the war. Hemingway explores the devastating affects of war on society by telling the stories of Nick Adams and others. By using a number of diverse characters in similar life situations, Hemingway emphasizes the generality of the human experience and highlights the issues of his generation. In the concluding stories of In Our Time, Hemingway ties together themes of survival in the world and how universal the human experience is.In Our Time is essentially the story of the life of Nick Adams as a boy growing into a man. Many critics have disputed whether the work is a “bildungsroman” book or not, but the development of Nick’s character throughout the stories ensures that it is. The compilation of stories and vignettes must fall under the category of bildungsroman literature, considering how they show Nick’s- and perhaps every boy’s – progressive right of passage. The reader watches the naÃ¯ve boy who “felt quite sure that he never would die” in Indian Camp gradually grow into to the man we later see come back from war. Along the way, Nick Adams matures in the successive stories: he regrets his decision to break up with Marjorie in “The Three Day Blow,” prepares himself to be tough in “The Battler,” degrades the war as a wounded soldier in Chapter VI, and eventually attempts to recover from and reflect on all his encounters in “Big Two-Hearted River.” The story of Nick Adams (and that of other soldiers who fill in as the protagonist) is told by Hemingway sequentially as Nick becomes a man. In “My Old Man,” Hemingway revisits the theme of the father-son bond and the maturation of a young boy that was established earlier in “Indian Camp” and “The Doctor and the Doctor’s Wife.” At this point in the stories, however, the reader knows that Nick is preparing to return home from Europe. Because our protagonist is older and returning from war now, this story seems to break the flow of the book at first. Its placement just before “Big Two-Hearted River” is interesting for this reason. In hearing the story of young Joe and his father, the reader instinctively may assume this is a parallel to Nick’s youth, as they both must have the experience of losing their father.Whether or not Nick is the actual protagonist of “My Old Man,” we as readers realize that Nick has shared the same experience of this substitute protagonist. The reader understands at this point, thanks to Hemingway’s conditioning, that the identity of the character himself is basically unimportant. Joe is simply filling in as a substitute for Nick, as many of the other characters of the story are, to reinforce the theme of universality of the human experience. As in many of the other stories, the experiences of these characters are seemingly interchangeable. The reader sees poor little Joe lose his beloved father in a brutal racing accident in “My Old Man,” stripping him of everything he has in the world. When the innocent Joe hears men calling his father a crook, he is deeply hurt. This changed Joe notes, “I don’t know. Seems like when they get started they don’t leave a guy nothing” (p.129). In the accident he has lost his father, but when the men were talking he lost more: he lost the memory of his father, he lost his role model, and his hope. By the end of “My Old Man,” Hemingway has created the lasting feeling of being all alone in the world and without hope, as we are led back into the life of Nick Adams in “Big Two-Hearted River.”Accordingly, in the next (and final) story of In Our Time, we find Nick alone in the wilderness. “Big Two-Hearted River” introduces the reader to a new set of problems for Nick, who has of course returned from the war, but not unaffected. Although we may have expected Nick to return to his family as a glorious war veteran would, this is far from reality. Interestingly enough, Nick Adams is secluded from society throughout the final story, fishing, camping, and observing the nature around him. Perhaps he is alone so that he can regain all that he has lost during the war, most importantly, his sanity. In Part I, it is evident that the war left Nick empty, disillusioned, and unable to function in a normal society. Hemingway reinforces this feeling of isolation by portraying Nick as alone in the woods, secluded from society yet free from it at the same time. In an attempt to recover from the war, Nick spends his time alone in the woods of Northern Michigan, where he can become one with nature and free his mind from the complexities of American society. Nick is similar to Krebs from “Soldier’s Home” in this way: both experience the same disillusionment upon returning from war and neither can muster up the energy to deal with the “consequences” of the world around them. At this point, Nick clearly “did not want any consequences. He did not want any consequences ever again. He wanted to live along without consequences,” which is why he returns to the woods where he can be alone and free (p. 71).Hemingway’s stark prose is famous for its straightforwardness and lack of emotion, but “Big Two-Hearted River” is noticeably drier than the rest of In Our Time. Especially in Part I, Hemingway does the unimaginable: he simplifies his writing even more than the reader has grown accustomed to while reading this collection of stories. The purpose for this oversimplification is most likely to emphasize the state of mind that Nick is in. Nick simplifies every move that he makes, as he has returned to his boyhood. Nick has even abandoned all his needs except for those that are purely physiological: “Nick felt happy. He felt he had left everything behind, the need for thinking, the need to write, other needs. It was all back of him” (p. 134). The only things Nick does in Part I of “Big Two-Hearted River” are to satisfy the basic needs for food and shelter. He clearly has put the need for thinking behind him, as he forgets simple things such as water for his coffee.Much of Nick’s surroundings in “Big Two-Hearted River” represent his inner psychological state. The reader has the chance to see the world through Nick’s eyes as he methodically sets up camp along the river. Throughout the story, the reader becomes Nick’s psychologist, and can easily analyze his extensive description of the surrounding nature, which he observes endlessly in Part I. Like the town of Seney that he passes, Nick is burnt out when he returns from war. Seney and its charred remnants represent Nick’s emotional scars after World War I. First, Nick is amazed as he watches the fish remain steady in the current, and observes their behavior intensely. Nick tries to imitate the steadiness of the fish throughout the story, as he meticulously sets up camp, cooks food, and gradually walks up the river. Just as the grasshopper that Nick picks up is blackened, Nick, too, has been deeply scarred by the war. While inspecting one of the many black grasshoppers he sees, Nick “wondered how long they would stay that way” (p. 136). On a deeper level, he is wondering about himself, wondering how long he will remain damaged by the war. Nick’s psychological state in Part I of “Big Two-Hearted River” should come as no surprise to the reader, especially after reading “Soldier’s Home.” Surely Nick is not the only veteran who feels that his home is different upon return from war. Veterans are known to feel this exact sense of disappointment after experiencing the horrors of war, known as “shell shock” since World War I. Hemingway paints a very realistic picture of this shell shock in both Nick and Krebs, who is also numb upon returning to the states in “Soldier’s Home.” Like Krebs, Nick cannot stand to do anything that might complicate his life. Every veteran deals with the trauma of war differently in spite of this shared reaction. While Krebs sat at home without motivation to we see that Nick reminisces of his boyhood by camping out in the woods and fishing.In between the two parts of “Big Two-Hearted River” is an interesting anecdote about men who are once again in the face of death in Chapter XV. As five men are prepared for their hanging, they are scared out of their minds, understandably. Somehow the priest insensitively tells the most frightened one, Sam Cardinella, to “be a man, my son.” By saying this, the priest implies that it is childish for him to be afraid, and a real man would not be so scared of death. This leads us into the final story, the second part of “Big Two-Hearted River,” in which Nick seemingly learns to “be a man” and “stand things.”As we return to Part II of “Big Two-Hearted River,” the reader finds Nick waking up to a new day in the Northern Michigan woods. Nick shows improvement psychologically, as he “was excited. He was excited by the early morning and the river,” in which he wants to go fishing (p.145). Nick even eats breakfast in spite of his excitement, because he knows he should, indicating that he is beginning to think about things again rather than mindlessly go through the motions of life as he was in Part I. Nick savors everything: the flapjacks he ate for breakfast, the camp, everything about fishing in the cold river. Nick slowly develops and recovers while fishing on the river. He battles with the largest fish he has ever heard of in an intense battle scene. Similar to Maera the bullfighter’s story, in this battle man and animal become one. These two “hearts” of the river are battling each other in a unifying fight, until Nick loses the fish. Nick’s prior disillusionment upon returning home from war is beginning to fade as he rejoices in his fishing. “Slowly the disappointment left him. It went away slowly, the feeling of disappointment that came sharply” (p. 151). Although he refers to the disappointment of losing a fish, Nick also could be acknowledging that his feeling of disillusionment from the war is now slowly going away. After catching two trout, Nick looks into the swamp and has an inner debate over whether to go into such a “tragic adventure.” Nick’s decision not to enter the swamp and to postpone it until a later -but undeclared, of course- date shows his newfound maturity. At the end of Part II, Nick has instilled hope in the reader by showing signs of recovery. Since the war, Nick has put his complex issues behind him and learned to stand things so that he can function in society. Nick, and the other interchangeable protagonists of the novel, have either learned to “stand” their world or have gotten lost in it or died. Through In Our Time, Hemingway has, like Nick Adams, pieced together his revelations in a meaningful way that provides understanding of the human experience.
A Prairie Tale: Atmosphere and Social Environment in Setting of Ernest Hemingway’s “Soldier’s Home”
In “Soldier’s Home,” Ernest Hemingway makes use of a small-town setting to provide his readers with insight into the troubled, young mind of Harold Krebs. Harold Krebs struggles to adjust to life in Hemingway’s lifeless Oklahoma town shortly after his late return from combat in World War I. Hemingway’s social environment in “Soldier’s Home” contributes to its family-based, yet dull atmosphere, with which Krebs must attempt to cope. Hemingway utilizes many aspects of setting, constructively pairing place and time, along with the social environment present in “Soldier’s Home,” to develop a monotonous atmosphere that parallels Krebs’ sentiment.Hemmingway produces a place for the reader: an Oklahoma town during a 1920s boom to which Harold Krebs returns after serving his country in World War I, only to find that most everything is the same, with only few changes to its setting. Krebs finds Hemingway’s world much too complicated underneath, for its simplicity on the surface; Krebs particularly notices the young girls of the town, mainly from the comfort of his home porch:Nothing was changed in the town except that the young girls had grown up. But they lived in such a complicated world of already defined alliances and shifting feuds that Krebs did not feel the energy or the courage to break into it. He liked to look at them though. There were so many good-looking young girls. Most of them had their hair cut short. When he went away only little girls wore their hair like that, or girls that were fast. They all wore sweaters and shirt waists with round Dutch collars. It was a pattern. He liked to look at them from the porch as they walked on the other side of the street. (171)Upon return, Krebs finds that Hemmingway’s town is unchanged; the young girls grow up with their own issues, too many for Krebs to care about any one in particular. Watching the good-looking girls from the shelter of his porch becomes a pastime; they dress indistinguishably and still bear shortly cropped hair. The unvaried girls grow up in Hemingway’s setting, bringing Krebs’ youthful memories back to life with them, a long time after Krebs lives them. Short hair and Dutch collars have become commonplace for young girls. Krebs sees girls wearing collars as he himself became accustomed to wearing with his fraternity brothers: “There is a picture which shows him among his fraternity brothers, all of them wearing exactly the same height and style collar” (170). Time does not change anything. Hemingway’s character spends much of his time at home as well as the pool hall: “…to spend the hottest hours of the day in the cool dark of the pool room. He loved to play pool” (171). The pool room, a second home to Krebs, is cool and dark, much like the feelings that reside within Krebs. Much like Hemingway’s flat, uniform Oklahoma prairie setting parallels Krebs’ unchanging present time existence, the pool room creates a blunt atmosphere applicable to a homogenous civil backdrop. The details of Hemingway’s social environment and the atmosphere that they create have a negative effect on the protagonist, causing him much difficulty with readapting to his surroundings. Krebs uncomfortably resides in Hemmingway’s town, whose residents only open their ears to dramatized tales of the war, driving Krebs to speaking half truths and whole lies in an ineffective attempt at pleasing his audience, as at the pool room, a beloved venue for the young man:His lies were quite unimportant lies and consisted in attributing to himself things other men had seen, done, or heard of, and stating facts certain apocryphal incidents familiar to all soldiers. Even his lies were not sensational at the pool room. His acquaintances, who had heard detailed accounts of German women found chained to machine guns in the Argonne forest and who could not comprehend, or were barred by their patriotism from any interest in, any German machine gunners who were not chained, were not thrilled by his stories. (170)In seeking his acquaintances’ approval, Krebs revises his war stories at the pool room in a shallow attempt to thrill his peers; they, however, remain unswayed. There is no change in their emotion, Krebs does not fit in. Hemingway bases his primarily middle class town, where most families own a single car, on a strong value system, wrapped in a religious lining. Love, a common theme professed throughout Hemingway’s story, makes Krebs uncomfortable. Krebs’ sister, who loves her brother and looks up to him asks: “Do you love me?” (173). His mother as well loves him very much in her motherly way and questions Krebs: “Yes, don’t you love your mother dear boy?” (174). Krebs replies “no” to his mother, and this brings her to tears. Krebs discomfort with Hemingway’s social environment becomes quite evident. Once Krebs comes to apologize to his mother, she requests to pray with him. He declines, and upon his refusal she asks, “Do you want me to pray for you?” (174). Hemingway’s town possesses a peaceful yet indifferent aura; bacon and eggs are an everyday breakfast, not just a meal for Sundays. The story represents the 1920’s time period very well. Krebs’ father works in the real estate business and never makes an appearance on Hemingway’s pages: “His father was noncommittal” (171). The time’s social standard of men settling down and marrying is ever-present in Hemingway’s writing. This causes Krebs’ mother to distressfully confront him in the way of a veiled nag, explaining to him: “Charley Simons, who is just your age, has a good job and is going to be married. The boys are all settling down; they’re all determined to get somewhere; you can see that boys like Charley simmons are on their way to being really a credit to the community.” (174) Bringing evidence of Krebs’ displeasure with Hemmingway’s value system are some of Hemingway’s last remarks: “He would go to Kansas City and get a job and she would feel alright about it. There would be one more scene maybe before he got away” (174). Krebs evidently wants to get away. The civil environment in Hemingway’s story troubles Krebs very much, despite the peaceful, indifferent atmosphere of the town. He does not want to love again, he has no drive for life, living in the wrong place at the wrong time.With the setting of a peaceful Oklahoma town, Ernest Hemingway, once a soldier himself, places the reader in the shoes of troubled young man who struggles to adhere to the social backdrop of his conservative town after returning from the front lines of World War I. Hemingway provides Krebs with an unchanged social environment in a monotonous place where he does not want to spend his time. As Krebs uncomfortably plods through the complications of Hemingway’s indifferent atmosphere, unpleased with the social backdrop, its abstruse details become too problematic for Krebs to appreciate. One can only be left to wonder what Hemingway’s intent for Krebs future may be, whether he will move on and in time find happiness in another place, or be damned to struggle with his social problem as long as he may exist.Works CitedHemingway, Ernest. “Soldier’s Home.” In The Bedford Introduction to Literature. Michael Meyer Ed, 7th Edition. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin, 2005. 170-175.
Hemingway’s Continued Relevance
Despite recent questions concerning Hemingway’s future relevancy in mainstream Modernist studies, there can be little doubt that the man with the shotgun carries a hefty literary load well past beyond his grave. While it is true that he never managed to reach beyond his perceptions of a world that served merely as the solar system to his sun, he still managed to capture an important slice of Americana with his portrayals of an era of decay and hopelessness. To complain that he is not a Whitman or a Faulkner is to miss out on some fascinating details. In order to grasp the truths behind In Our Time, one must first observe the historical context from which it sprang. Hemingway’s generation witnessed the very apex of nihilism during the Great War. None of the ancient institutions such as romanticism or duty could repel the merciless batterings of that all-consuming spiritual void. As a result, soldiers and hospital drivers alike returned home with shattered expectations and a need to find something, anything else to believe in – thus the previously unheralded obsession with a chronologically-based lifestyle. Others, such as Hemingway and Eliot, sought refuge in mythology and the ritualistic qualities therein. This, and a desire to defy any and all “outdated” conventions such as narrative flow and coherence, gave rise to what we know as Modernism. Whether this is in reality a case of the “poor me’s” (as America played Johnny-come-lately in the war) or not depends on one’s perspective. Hemingway exemplified this ideal with his barren vignettes of a generation stranded in a desert and forced into introspection. In “Soldier’s Home,” Krebs mopes about because he has lost, as his mother puts it, “your ambition . . . you haven’t got a definite aim in life” (75). When she asks him if he still loves her, he says simply, No. When she recoils and starts to cry, he tries to comfort her by explaining that “I didn’t mean it. I was just angry at something.” This “something” is the cause of Krebs’s angst, but it is never expressly stated. This is because, like so many others of his generation, he didn’t know what to be angry at. This unexpressible emotion, this free-floating guilt complex, has left him destitute and unwilling to return to the life he was once comfortable with. Krebs, however, appears only in one chapter, as do the majority of characters. The only recurring person is Nick, who undergoes an interesting transformation throughout the pages and ultimately serves to bind the otherwise unrelated vignettes into something that isn’t so much a story as it is a series of scattered photographs from a by-gone era. At the outset, we are given a glimpse of Nick as he loses a sense of innocence about the world when he finds a man who has committed suicide. Rather tellingly, when he asks his father if dying is hard, he answers, “No, I think it’s pretty easy, Nick. It all depends” (19). From there we follow Nick go through various stages in life and through the repercussions from his stint in the war. Like Krebs, he loses his romantic notions of the importance of women in a man’s life, as demonstrated in “The End of Something.” This chapter paints a poignant contrast between the pre- and post-war periods. Marjorie represents the age of unspoiled innocence and all that Nick believed valuable before being exposed to the terrors of the war (and is also proof enough that Hemingway was indeed capable of creating romantic characters, especially with the line, “She loved to fish. She loved to fish with Nick.”), while Bill can be seen as the reality at present. Nick, meanwhile, is caught in the middle as he initially divorces himself from his relationship with Marjorie – without having any tangible cause, much as Kreb had no tangible reason to not love anybody – only to feel pangs of sadness as he realizes what he just gave up. The chapter closes with him contemplating whether to march ahead with an uncertain life as Bill suggests, or to return to the comfortable bosom of a past in which he no longer believes. We soon realize that Bill’s will prevailed, but it is debatable as to which path would have better served Nick or, for that matter, which path Hemingway himself would have seen as the most beneficial. Once Nick has forsaken a romantic life, his options are decidedly limited, and Hemingway plays with this. In “Cross-Country Snow,” he gives us a glimpse at the tenuous faith in the future that people had, while simultaneously showing the necessity of just such a faith. When George suggests that “Maybe we’ll never go skiing again, Nick,” Nick argues that “We’ve got to. It isn’t worthwhile if you can’t” (112). Even now, Nick is still searching for something to put faith into, even it is something as simple and inconsequential as the promise of a skiing trip. Finally, Hemingway details the generation’s last resort, according to him: a return to ritual and nature. In “Big Two-Hearted River,” Nick returns to a river whose surrounding areas have been torched and demolished during the war. The nearby town was destroyed, but the river was still there, and is the lone thing in which Nick can place any faith. Women have disappointed him, his friends have disappeared, and he has no real future but, just as a New Yorker could set his watch and know when he is if not who he is, Nick can at least know what he can come back to. The fishing, then, symbolizes the importance of maintaining ritual amidst vacuous chaos. This is how Nick manages to pull himself from the war’s ashes and feel at peace once more, and when you get right down to it, that’s all that anybody in the Modernists’ time could hope for: peace of mind and peace of soul. And maybe a bottle of Sion.
Ernest Hemingway’s Pared-Down Writing Style: Selections from In Our Time
Ernest Hemingway is a profound writer who not only won the Nobel Prize, but also inspired the American writers who came after him to embrace minimalistic forms of expression. Just as Hemingway began writing, other authors also picked up his style and many books had been published with the same type of diction and syntax. By using the iceberg principle–simple text with deeper meaning–, manipulating syntax, and incorporating real life experiences into his writing, Hemingway crafts the text to reveal purpose and meaning. Within the stories of In Our Time, his manipulations of suggestion and syntax take a variety of forms, all of which attest to the power of a literary method that seems simple–but is only deceptively simple in reality.
Hemingway uses short, concise sentences to express his meaning. He used the iceberg principle which is only getting a small amount of information when the real information is either unavailable or hidden. Only one-tenth of an iceberg’s mass shows outside while about nine-tenths of it is unseen, deep down in the water, thus the term “iceberg”. Almost all of Hemingway’s short stories in, In Our Time, use this principle; yet, the short story, “Indian Camp” displays it the most. This quote, especially, “‘Ought to have a look at the proud father. They’re usually the worst sufferers in these little affairs,’” (Hemingway 18) illustrates the use of the principle because if one was to skip over this minor detail, they would miss the entire plot of the story. Even the Kansas City Star “Rules of Writing”–that Hemingway claims he followed–states, “Use short sentences . . . Eliminate every superfluous word.” (class notes). This helped shape his style and influence the deep meaning behind the simple, but rhetoric language. Carlos Baker’s,“The Way it Was,” also indicates that Hemingway used this principle, “And this positive charge, which on being release plays not over, but beneath the verbal surfaces, is one phase of the underside of Hemingway’s distinguished achievement in prose.” (Baker 19). This implies that the significance of the story requires one to cogitate on the subject; for, the actual meaning is underneath the words on the paper. Additionally, Harry Levin does not fail to mention in his essay, “Observations on the Style of Ernest Hemingway”, Hemingway’s use of simple language to establish purpose and meaning, “Hemingway feels that one short spontaneous vulgarism is more honest than all those grandiloquent slogans. . .” (Levin 7). Instead of trying to sound so intelligent and extravagant, Levin suggests that Hemingway utilizes simplistic phrases to enhance his text and to produce importance and purpose. Hemingway applies the iceberg principle throughout his writing to craft the text, emitting significance. Even in his Nobel Prize speech, Hemingway apprises his audience of his simple language, “Things may not be immediately discernible in what a man writes . . . but eventually they are quite clear.” (class notes) In other words, a writer will not tell the reader the meaning of their work because then it would have no purpose. For example, an author could simply state, “treat others the way you want to be treated,” but a person learns from example and is interested in real life situations–which is what Hemingway essentially does.
Hemingway manipulates syntax to express purpose and meaning. Without using ribald vocabulary, Hemingway is still able to convey is messages throughout all of his writing, exercising the arrangement of words. He also attempts to keep his writing verisimilitude, keeping the false information out and crafting sentences with truth and meaning. In “The Way it Was,” Baker continues to say, “Hemingway always wrote slowly and revised carefully, cutting, eluding, substituting, experimenting with the syntax to see what sentence could economically carry, and then throwing out all words that could be spared.” (Baker 19). Through the careful consideration of his writing, Hemingway does not waste any valuable factor that contributes to his text, such as syntax, to craft the writing to illustrate the effective dictum he uses. Syntax also contributes to the simplicity of his style; so, certain words have specific connotations that could indicate more meaning than other words, thus the selection of words becomes important. In the short story, “The End of Something,” Hemingway chooses words with caution to showcase their symbolism, “‘You don’t want to take the ventral fin out,’ he said. ‘It’ll be all right for bait but it’s better with the ventral fin in.’” (Hemingway 32). The character Nick is not talking about a ventral fin, but rather the purity of a young girl that he his planning to break up with. The selection of the word and the choice of placement depicts how Hemingway controls the syntax to achieve significance. Levin states in his essay, “. . . his syntax is informal to the point of fluidity, simplifying far as possible the already simple system of English inflections.” (Levin 9). So Hemingway’s language flows without effort and allows the reader to comprehend what is trying to be said; furthermore, the syntax is built simply, but brilliantly.
Based upon personal observation and feelings, almost all of Hemingway’s writing creates value in the text. Baker exclaims, “. . . his aim from the beginning had been to show, if he could, the precise relationship between what he saw and what he felt.” (Baker 6). Hemingway wanted an efficient unification of his experiences in the text while avoiding his opinions. To accomplish this, he made certain characters like himself, such as Nick, especially in the short story, “Big Two-Hearted River.” Relating to the iceberg principle, it is never stated in the story that Nick is recovering from war, but with close analysis, one could realize that that is what the story is ultimately about. Nick has gone to war and has come back with physical and emotional damage, likewise, so has Hemingway. Words and sentences flow and adapt agreeably together when the author has experienced first hand what he or she is writing about; but, it is connecting the experience and the feelings together that create the purpose and meaning. In this quote from the short story, “. . . he realized that the grasshoppers had all turned black from living in the burned-over land. . . . He wondered how long they would stay that way.” (Hemingway 136), Hemingway eludes to Nick, but also to himself. This lets the writing achieve much more purpose. Using vignettes, Hemingway is able to incorporate his own visions–although a small part of the work–that eventually lead to the theme of the whole. In addition, Levin states, “His writing seems so intent upon the actual, so impersonal on its surfaces, that it momentarily prompts us to overlook the personality behind them. That would be a mistake . . .” (Levin 14), revealing that not everyone sees the emotion Hemingway puts into his writing. Because Hemingway included personal experience in his writing, it has more purpose and creates greater meaning.
Hemingway has success in utilizing the iceberg principle to create deeper meaning, effectively manipulates syntax to allow the reader to understand his writing, and seamlessly incorporates his observations and feelings into his work. Through all of this, Hemingway crafts his text to produce the achievement found in almost all his works–purpose and meaning behind the text. The reader is not to be left oblivious to what is read, but rather involved in and captivated by the messages found beneath the words.
Gender, Misogyny, and the “New Woman” in In Our Time
The works of Ernest Hemingway are often criticized by feminist critics because of the way he writes about women. Hemingway is often described as the “poster boy for archaic masculinity that many would love to see eradicated” (Haske). Many believe that Hemingway embodies patriarchal attitudes through the way that he characterizes women and the way they are portrayed in his stories. In all of Hemingway’s short stories, the main characters are always men. Although there are usually female characters as well, they are never featured as the protagonist. Even then, many critics feel that the female characters are misrepresented. The way that the females are characterized in his stories makes it appear as if women are not taken seriously nor respected by the men that they are surrounded by. Hemingway chooses to leave the women in the shadows of his writing. While it appears that Hemingway is a misogynist because of how he degrades and misrepresents women in his writing, Hemingway’s writing represents realistic situations based off of the time it was written. By closely analyzing his stories, the reader can see that Hemingway is trying his best to adapt to the societal changes occurring in this period of history and may arguably be progressive. Analysis of the way that Hemingway characterizes the female characters in his stories “Soldier’s Home”, “Cat in the Rain”, and “The End of Something” illustrates that Hemingway was not a misogynist, but rather representing realistic situations associated with the time in history.
Feminist literary criticism by definition, “assumes that literature both reflects and shapes stereotypes and other cultural assumptions. Thus, feminist literary criticism examines how works of literature embody patriarchal attitudes or undercut them” (Napikoski). In Our Time by Ernest Hemingway was originally published in 1925. During this time, the United States was in the midst of the Women’s Suffrage movement—which began in the 1920s when women were given the right to vote. Steven Lynn explains that our, “Western society has actually been structured to protect women from the brutalities of war and commerce, allowing them to be nurturers, mothers, and homemakers…it overlooks the way that insulation and honor are themselves a kind of suppression and exclusion. And it assumes that women are the weaker sex (emotional, unstable, passive, irrational), needing protection, unable to compete with men. But all women are not weaker than all men in any way” (Lynn, 223). While women were gaining more rights and more of a voice within society, most women remained in the traditional role of the housewife. Dismantling gender norms and societal expectations was extremely difficult. This time period produced many inconsistencies in beliefs and values due to the different ideas from “traditionalist” older generation and the “new woman” that was brought forth by the younger generation (Alchin).
One instructive narrative, where these issues are concerned. “Soldier’s Home”. In this short story, Krebs is a young man who has just returned home from war. His transition to life back home proves to be extremely difficult. His family begins to worry about his well being, so they encourage him to find a job and a nice girl to date. Unfortunately, Krebs is no longer able to relate and connect to those around him, causing him to act out towards his family. In this story, Hemingway depicts the idea that the main goal of women should have the desire to be homemakers. The beginning of the story features Krebs’ sister—who has the first active role for a female in the story. In the dialogue, she asks her brother “Aren’t you my beau, Hare?” (Hemingway, 74). She continues on to talk about how her brother is her beau and she asks if he loves her. She does not stop asking Krebs these questions until he reluctantly gives her an accepting answer. In “Rhetoric and Women: The Private and Public Spheres”, an essay featured in Constructing and Reconstructing Gender, Lesley Di Mare explains that in literature, “women are defined in terms of their biological function…other disciplines (history, philosophy, art, film, and so on) have been used by the patriarchy to create the perception that women function best biologically, none have been used so effectively as the discipline of rhetoric. In effect, the rhetorical tradition has acted as a tool of the dominant cultural position to promote the notion that women are capable of only one function—a biological one…women’s secondary status in society becomes a self-perpetuating one” (Di Mare, 47). Di Mare explains that literature often depicts that the only purpose women have in society is to have children and to be homemakers. Krebs’ sister represents the idea that women, even from a young age, believe that their function in society is to get married and have children. Even at a young age, society has taught his sister’s that her main concern should be gaining acceptance from men.
Likewise, we are given Krebs’ mother who represents a woman that is fulfilling her “biological function”. In the story she is presented as a hyper-religious, nagging, emotional housewife. Although being a stay at home mother is the “job” that society expects her to fulfill, she is still criticized even when she is being a good mother. Famous female literary critic, Simone de Beauvoir, explained in her book, The Second Sex, that, “females have been depicted in literature and culture as either Mary or Eve, the angelic mother or evil seductress. Such a representation of women, especially in works by men, serves to make women unreal…rather than anything positively female or mutually human” (Lynn, 227). According to de Beauvoir, Krebs’ mother in “Soldier’s Home” functions as a “Mary” because of her housewife stereotype. De Beauvoir argues that depicting women as the perfect housewife is an unrealistic representation of women, thus perpetrating the misogynistic views of our society.
Although “Soldier’s Home” mostly portrays the idea that a woman’s purpose is to raise a family, Hemingway attempts to subtly negate this idea with Krebs’ sister. Krebs’ sister discusses her love for baseball and even says “I can pitch better than lots of the boys” (Hemingway, 74). Before the 1920s, it was considered unladylike to women to play sports (“Women in Sport and Physical Education at The College of Wooster”). By Hemingway acknowledging the fact that his sister is thriving competing in sport (even against boys) exhibits his attempt to dismantle typical gender roles during this time period.
Similar to “Soldier’s Home”, “The Cat in the Rain” features a female character who is seeming to seek approval from a man: her husband, George. In the story, an American couple is stuck in a hotel room because it is raining outside. While the wife looks out the window, she sees a cat that is caught in the rain. The wife decides that she wants to go fetch the cat, but this upsets the husband and causes a string of disagreements between the couple. In each case that the wife proposes, “the male character is disturbed by this jarring experience of difference” (Holliday-Karre, 70) and she is told no. During their conversation in the hotel room, the woman—who is never given a name other than “the American girl”—talks about how badly she had wanted the cat that was outside. She continues to talk in hopes of getting some recognition or attention, but George is completely uninterested in what his wife has to say and does not look up from his newspaper. He does not engage in conversation until she asks, “Don’t you think it would be a good idea if I let my hair grow out?” (Hemingway, 93). Once the conversation shifted to something concerning the appearance of his wife, he gave her full attention and “hadn’t looked away from her since she started to speak” (Hemingway, 93). Virginia Woolf, one of the foremost modernist writers of the 20th century, states, “Women have served all these centuries as looking-glasses possessing the magic and delicious power of reflecting the figure of a man at twice its natural size…That serves to explain in part the necessity that women so often are to men” (Holliday-Karre). Here, Woolf explains that both historically and in literature women have been objects which men want to control—they serve as whatever the man would like them to be. Before the women’s rights movement women were expected to submit to their husbands and were often seen as objects, rather than their own person. The wife in “Cat in the Rain” depicts this idea and thus functions as her husband’s reflector.
Some critics believe that the way Hemingway portrays the wife’s behavior in “Cat in the Rain” as narcissistic and that “[her] desire for emotional and physical contact is unrealistic” (Holliday-Karre, 74) because she is attempting to break away from her husband’s expectations. During this time period, women were expected to be complacent and not question their husbands. Like many women in the 1920s, the American wife in “Cat in the Rain” had to exhibit great strength and boldness in order to attempt to break away from the expectations that society and her husband had in order to seek recognition that she is her own person.
As explained previously, the women featured in his stories are often negatively characterized. Some critics believe that Hemingway in his short story, “The End of Something”, the female character is described as naïve and delusional—but this is not so. Opposed to the previous two stories, this story instead represents a strong, independent female who is disregards the gender norms that are often associated with the women featured in Hemingway’s stories. In the story, Nick and Marjorie are in a serious relationship. Marjorie believes that her relationship with Nick is going well, and even believes that there may be the prospect of marriage in the near future. Unfortunately, Nick does not feel the same and he has decided that he can no longer be with Marjorie. Throughout the story, the reader is able to pick up Nick’s subtle hints of disinterest. Marjorie is completely clueless that Nick feels this way and does not think much of his short, condescending responses. Eventually, Nick picks a fight with Marjorie by getting frustrated that she “know[s] everything”. This moment infers that “Marjorie’s knowledge, then, appears to be the source of Nick’s unhappiness” (Daiker, 246). Marjorie’s knowledge and confidence defies typical gender roles, thus “challenging his dominance” (Daiker, 246). This argument results in Nick breaking up with Marjorie because “everything had gone to hell inside of [him]” (Hemingway, 34). Despite her confusion, Marjorie remains composed. Hemingway writes, “Marjorie stood up… ‘I’m going to take the boat. You can walk back around the point’” (Hemingway, 35). This scene, “reflects not only a moment of absolute clarity for Marjorie but also the beginning of her recovery” (Daiker, 250). As I previously mentioned, Lynn states that women are often represented as “emotional, unstable, passive, [and] irrational” (223). Marjorie breaks the idea of what women are because she demonstrates composure and rational thinking—all while confronting a difficult situation. Additionally, Marjorie walking away from Nick resists Di Mare’s assertion that “women are defined in terms of their biological function” which in hand results in “women’s secondary status in society” (Di Mare, 47). Marjorie is able to realistically acknowledge that while it is the end of something, it is not the end of everything. “The End of Something” represents that Hemingway’s ideas about women are changing due to the influence of the time period.
There is no questioning that Ernest Hemingway in many cases has misrepresented women in his stories. His characterization of women being emotional, unstable, passive, and irrational often distracts the reader from believing that Hemingway was anything other than a misogynist. It is important to look at the time in which his stories were written in order to fully understand why he portrays women the way he does. The 1920s, the time in which In Our Times was written, was a period of major change in regards to how women were treated and viewed by society. Thus, Hemingway represents the ideas of someone caught in the middle of the older generation of “traditionalists” and the younger generation who backs the ideas of the “new woman”. Throughout his writing, we see how he conforms to societies old ideas and expectations—but we also see how he attempts to represent the “new woman” by dismantling the stereotype of how a woman should act and function. Hemingway’s stories are not influenced off of his own misogynistic ideologies, but rather a realistic depiction of how society was functioning during the time period.
Alchin, Linda. “Women in the 1920s.” Women in the 1920s: Changing Roles and Famous Women for Kids, http://www.american-historama.org/1913-1928-ww1-prohibition- era/women-in-the-1920s.htm.
Brandt, Jeff. “Ernest Hemingway: In Limbo between Sexism and Feminism.” January 13, 2010, jtbrandt.com/system/app/pages/search?scope=search-site&q=in+limbo.
Daiker, Donald A. “In Defense of Hemingway’s Young Nick Adams: ‘Everything Was Gone to Hell Inside Me.’” Texas Studies in Literature & Language, vol. 57, no. 2, 2015, pp. 242-257. EBSCOhost, doi:10.7560/TSLL57205.
Di Mare, Lesley. Constructing and Reconstructing Gender: Female Critics and The Female Voice, “Rhetoric and Women: the Private and the Public Spheres”. Alabama UP, 1992.
Haske, Joseph. “Hemingway: A Critical Feast.” American Book Review, vol. 38, no. 4, 2017. Project Muse, muse.jhu.edu/article/670377/summary.
Hemingway, Ernest. In Our Time. Scribner Paperback Fiction, 1996.
Holliday-Karre, Erin. “Dr. Froyd Seemed to Think That I was Quite a Famous Case”: Sexual Discourse in 1920’s Feminism and Fiction.” Womens Studies, vol. 45, no. 4, 2016.
Lynn, Steven. Texts and Contexts. 6th ed., Pearson, 2011, p. 227-228.
Napikoski, Linda. “Feminist Literary Criticism.” ThoughtCo, 31 July 2017, thoughtco.com/feminist-literary-criticism-3528960. Accessed 2 November 2017.
Women in Sport and Physical Education at The College of Wooster, www.ohio5.org/woosterwomeninsport/exhibits/show/eras/1920s.
An Impressive Performance
Sons have long been taking after their fathers. Such is the case in Ernest Hemingway’s 1925 collection of short stories, In Our Time. In the stories, we see that the character of Nick has internalized his father’s traditionally masculine ways of interacting with women, and of suppressing emotion. The foundations for this are laid in chapter 1, “Indian Camp”, through the ordeal that is Nick’s father’s surgical performance, and his stoic and brief answers to the important questions that Nick asks him afterward. We later see some repercussions of these father-son interactions in chapter 3, “The End of Something”, in the form of Nick’s conversations with Marjorie, and his decisions as to their relationship.
Nick is a firsthand witness of his father’s harsh and hyper-masculine operation on the Indian woman in the first chapter. Very quickly we see that Nick is naturally caring and feels concerned for the woman, as he asks his father to “give her something to make her stop screaming” (Hemingway 16). His father coldly replies that he does not hear her screams “because they are not important” (16). His response almost completely shames his son for caring about the woman in labour’s pain, and expresses to Nick that he should not care himself. The young boy is given the idea that it is masculine and ‘grown up’ to suppress personal cares or feelings toward others. In literary professor Thomas Strychacz’s article, Dramatization of Manhood in Hemingway’s In Our Time and The Sun Also Rises, he gives insight into Nick’s father’s motives for the way that he acts while performing surgery, and in his interactions with his son. He calls into reference Hemingway’s description of the doctor shortly after he has completed the surgery, Hemingway writes “He was feeling exalted and talkative as football players are in the dressing room after a game” (Strychacz 18). The masculine image that is given is easy to recognize, and Strychacz describes it further here, in that the image of “…the football arena functions as a ceremonial space in which particular rules of conduct govern violent action” (249). Nick is now a part of the world where open wounds and underlying misogyny are praised. Furthermore, he internalizes his father’s dominance while performing surgery in the shanty, which Strychacz also describes. “…the doctor more or less consciously plays quarterback, controlling the field of play with his vision and expertise. His son… and the reader of some future medical journal act as audience” (249). His father craves this control and dominance of a situation, which comes back around in chapter 3 when Nick himself is struggling to interact with Marjorie.
In chapter 3, The End of Something, we see a teenaged Nick struggling to communicate with his girlfriend, Marjorie, as a result of the internalized ideas that he learned from his father in the past. First, we see Nick’s need for control over his girlfriend in their relationship while they are out fishing early in the chapter. Nick constantly instructs Marjorie as to what she needs to do on the boat, even though it is apparent that his girlfriend knows what she is doing. He always makes sure to ‘one-up’ her, or to get the last point in so that it becomes clear that he holds the upmost fishing knowledge in the boat. ‘“They’re feeding,’ Marjorie Said. ‘But they won’t strike,’ Nick said” (32). In interactions likes these it becomes easy to see that Nick wants to feel like he is in control, and that he is the ‘man’ of the situation. This mirrors his father’s personality and his actions during the operation in “Indian Camp”. Nick himself all but completely admits his need for control, or at least his problem with Marjorie’s control in their relationship, later in the chapter. After his girlfriend responds that she knows there will “be a moon tonight”, Nick replies ‘“You know everything… I’ve taught you everything. You know you do. What don’t you know, anyway?”’ (34). In a strange, defensive type of response, Nick is attempting to assert his dominance, announcing that everything Marjorie knows is thanks to him, while that obviously cannot be true. He comes off as somewhat jealous and clearly frustrated with his girlfriend’s ability to fish, to lead, and to know in general.
The idea of Nick inheriting his father’s mannerisms is pushed further in “The End of Something” through Nick’s brief and evasive answers to important questions. In what seems to be the final conversation of their entire relationship, Marjorie asks the tough questions, and Nick responds with very lacklustre answers. ‘“What’s really the matter?’ ‘I don’t know… No I don’t’”, and in the response where we see Nick admit what’s been bothering him, or rather when he opens up for the first time, his big answer comes in the form of ‘“It isn’t fun any more”’ (34). Such answers come at the cause of Nick’s upbringing with his father, rather than Nick being purposely evasive. This can be seen in “Indian Camp” in him and his father’s conversation after his father found the dead Indian man, and Nick witnessed the encounter firsthand. Nick, young and innocent, has plenty of questions for his father concerning life and death. While his father must be aware that his answers to these questions will be important to his son, he gives rather brief and vague responses. ‘“I don’t know, Nick. He couldn’t stand things, I guess’”, and ‘“Not very many, Nick… Hardly ever… I think it’s pretty easy, Nick. It all depends”’ (19). This speaks volumes to the kind of man that Nick’s father was, and helps us understand why Nick is the way that he is in “The End of Something”.
Finally, on the concluding page of the third chapter, we see Nick’s tendency to suppress his feelings, so as to come off as ‘manly’, or more masculine. After he tells Marjorie that he isn’t in love with her anymore, his friend Bill emerges and questions him about the breakup. ‘“Did she go all right?’ Bill said. ‘Yes,’ Nick said, lying, his face on the blanket” (35). Nick would clearly rather internalize his personal issues than discuss them with someone else, though it is still obvious that he is bothered by them. When Bill specifically asks Nick how he feels, he responds in an aggressive tone, ‘“Oh, go away, Bill! Go away for a while”’ (35). Drawing back to Thomas Strychacz’s article, the professor provides a take on what Nick is effectively doing here. Strychacz states that “Performance itself does not guarantee manhood; but manhood does require successful performance” (260). He is expressing that you cannot be masculine without the ability and willingness to perform – to put on a mask and act in a way other than you feel, to do something that is essentially not what you want to do – this masking of true feelings and innermost fears is exactly what Nick is doing after his breakup with Marjorie. One can come to different conclusions after learning this; perhaps Bill put Nick up to the breakup and he knows he still cares for her after all. Though what’s done is done.
Hemingway was a man’s man in his life and his career, though through his stories he was able to express that which was haunting him, whether it be past conversations with women, or encounters with death. The socially constructed definition of masculinity has influenced, and will continue to influence literature and stories of the nature. Though they do not have to continue to shape truths, feelings, or what is spoken versus what is kept inside. There is great passion to be expressed, and, for that very reason, there is no need for masks here.
Hemingway, Ernest. In Our Time. New York, NY: Scribner, 2003. Print.
Strychacz, Thomas. “Dramatizations of Manhood in Hemingway’s In Our Time and The Sun Also Rises.” American Literature 61.2 (1989): 245-260. JSTOR. Web. 5 February 2017.