© 2002 Sean M. Donnell
Hemingway’s short fiction, often lionized for its valorous portrayal of the
steadfast male exhibiting “grace under pressure” in the face of an
increasingly decadent post-World War I society, has come in the last few decades
under increasing scrutiny. What was
once interpreted as the author’s attempt to uphold the ideal of a “manly”
code is now—since the reinscription of sexual roles in the 1970s—more often
either criticized as misogynist and homophobic, or redressed as a symptomatology
of Hemingway’s latent homosexuality. Concomitant with this sexual recoding was the posthumous
release of The Garden of Eden.
This novel, culled from a sprawling, sixteen hundred page manuscript,
engenders an alternate sexuality for Hemingway—something far different from
the one he publicly created.
release of The Garden of Eden has in
part fomented a resurgence in Hemingway criticism, paying special attention to
the sex and gender coding in his fiction. Regarding
this rebirth of Hemingway criticism, Debra A. Moddelmog notes:
The information that has moved scholars the most concerns
Hemingway’s departures in his writing and his life from the traditional codes
of masculinity and heterosexuality, codes that he played no small part in
fostering. Among the disclosures
that have drawn the greatest scrutiny are Grace Hemingway’s treating her son
as the female twin of his older sister and dressing him in girls’ clothes,
apparently for longer than was conventional for the time; Hemingway’s
attraction, both sexual and non-sexual, for lesbians; his fascination with the ménage
à trois; and his engagement in role playing in bed, the man becoming the woman
to the woman’s man. (187)
Yet many of Hemingway’s sex and gender coding based on the revelations
in The Garden of Eden remain questionable for a number of reasons.
First, some critics attempt to use The
Garden of Eden as a justification for Hemingway’s copious instances—both
in print and in his public life—of misogyny and homophobia.
Whether Hemingway experimented in private with his own gender identity
does not excuse his public treatment of gays and women.
While there is still a place for Hemingway in the American canon, using
such an argument to reestablish his position is both ludicrous and
many critics have used Hemingway’s experimentation to evaluate his fiction
(which in itself is not without merit), but they have insisted upon
reformulating the author’s other writings solely within the context of
androgyny (Mark Spilka’s Hemingway’s Quarrel with Androgyny is perhaps the best-known
example of this). Reducing
Hemingway’s experimentation to strictly playing with androgynous codes limits
any critique to a reformulation of a heteronormative position and elides the
possibility of homosexual expression. Or,
as Moddelmog asserts, “Hemingway critics working with androgyny reassert and
reflect sexist, heterosexist, and homophobic views” (189).
For example, if we look at Brett and Jake’s relationship in The
Sun Also Rises as strictly androgynous, then we preclude the possibility
that Jake is interested in the “mannish” Brett—or that Brett is interested
in the “wounded” Jake—because they in part reproduce certain gender codes
usually identified with the opposite sex. In
short, we would eliminate the possibility that Jake’s and Brett’s object
choices are same-sex oriented. One
could argue that this is precisely the reason why Hemingway scholars like Spilka
are using this perspective. We
should not forget that in all of his published texts, Hemingway only once
mentioned the term androgynous.
the overwhelming majority of recent criticism on Hemingway persists in viewing
the author and his texts on an almost microscopic level.
Since the publishing of The Garden
of Eden, most Hemingway scholarship has viewed the novel as the
authoritative answer to every question about Hemingway’s gender coding.
Consequently, most readings of Hemingway’s fiction revolve around the
author’s personal affairs and his tempestuous relationships with the various
women in his life—most notably his mother, Grace Hemingway.
Such evaluations are usually quite reductive, consolidating their
analyses into some permutation of the Oedipal complex.
Often these critical approaches assume that the familial influence belies
the effects of any social and/or cultural determinants, which usually prove
equally important in the formulation of a person’s identity.
several recent approaches to Hemingway scholarship, we see that fostering a
critical methodology of the author’s fiction should include a reading that
neither reduces interpretation to merely familial influences, nor serves to
recodify the author as an icon of “masculinity.”
One possible approach to Hemingway’s fiction that avoids the problems
of other recent criticisms is a historical reading of the cultural determinants
present during a given period in which the author was writing. Such
a critique avoids the problem of equating the author with his protagonists.
While strong circumstantial evidence exists supporting the idea that many
of Hemingway’s texts are autobiographical, it is impractical and dangerous to
assume that Jake Barnes, Nick Adams, or any other Hemingway protagonist
(including David Bourne, the hero of The Garden of Eden) is merely a literary stand-in for the author.
historical examination of cultural influences also eludes the hearsay trap.
Intrinsically embedded in almost every analysis of Hemingway’s personal
life lies the dependency on another’s recollection to support the critic’s
thesis. Whether it is Mary
Hemingway or one of the author’s myriad friends and acquaintances, most
personal narratives involve the recollections of another for support.
Needless to say, imprecise memory—intentionally or not—creates room
for gross textual misinterpretation. Historically
placing cultural determinants and analyzing Hemingway’s texts in light of
these seems not only an appropriate method of investigation, but one that is
fraught with a minimal amount of opportunities for misreadings.
these ends we shall examine the determining cultural factors surrounding the
publication of Hemingway’s short fiction, namely the era before and after
World War I. Studying this
historical moment will demonstrate that many of Hemingway’s so-called
“androgynous” predilections as well as his preoccupation with masculinity to
the point of homophobia and misogyny are as much a result of societal forces
surrounding his middle-class upbringing as they are the result of any personal
influences upon the author. Many of the issues present in Hemingway’s short fiction
devolve from the tension between a middle-class American culture struggling with
its masculine identity and a more sexually permissive European culture brought
to the United States by American soldiers after World War I.
Analyzing some Hemingway texts in light of this conflict between cultures
should demonstrate the determining impact of these cultures upon the author and
we explore the crisis in middle-class masculinity, we need to examine the rise
of the male middle class as an autonomous body in the United States.
During the early- and mid-nineteenth century, advancements in
industrialization created the opportunity for a division of labor on an
unprecedented scale in America. As
a result, increasing numbers of male workers found themselves able to earn a
respectable living from means other than manual labor.
As Gail Bederman notes, “Between 1820 and 1860, as increasing numbers
of men had begun to earn comfortable livings as entrepreneurs, professionals,
and managers, the middle class had become increasingly conscious of itself as a
class, with interests, tastes, and lifestyles different from both the very rich
and from those who performed manual labor” (209).
By the end of the nineteenth century, the middle class in America had an
identity autonomous from both the upper and working classes.
often than not, the emergent American middle class forged an identity with a
Victorian ideology. Espousing many
such tenets, middle-class Americans strobe to create medical and legal
definitions of the “normal” and “civilized” societal roles, classifying
anyone who did not fit neatly into the rigidly constructed categories of male or
female as “abnormal.” According
to Byrne Fone:
To define what was “normal” the primary task of the
medical study of sexuality was to construct a paradigm of the “abnormal” and
place abnormality within a scientific rather than a legal/theological discourse. By the 1880s in both England and America, the Victorian
medical theorists and social commentators had participated with social and
sexual activities of men and women, assigning to each very different roles.
The “true woman” was to be submissive socially and sexually, the
manager of domestic life, pious as well as morally “pure.”
Men were socially and sexually assertive, benign rulers of the
patriarchal family, and active providers of material goods.
Victorian theorists argued that these roles were dictated by nature and
biology and that their qualities were “naturally” associated with the
biological female or male. Thus the
biologically sexed woman was presumed to be naturally “feminine,” the
biologically sexed male naturally “masculine,” and gender was defined as
having fixed and immutable “natural” characteristics.
According to the Victorian standard upheld by the middle-class medical
profession, the preeminence of the male was not a social construct, but a sign
of “civilization,” a natural fact of evolution.
“Civilization,” Bederman asserts, “portrayed white male power as
natural; male dominance and white supremacy were products of human evolutionary
development” (213). American
middle-class “civilization” depended greatly, in fact, upon the division of
the sexes into separate spheres. Without
this division, the middle class was no different than the “savages” from
whom they attempted to individuate themselves in order to assert supremacy:
Gender was an essential component of civilization, for
extreme sexual difference was seen as a hallmark of civilization’s
advancement. Savage (that is,
nonwhite) men and women were almost identical, but civilized races had evolved
the pronounced sexual differences celebrated in the middle-class’s doctrine of
“separate spheres.” Civilized
women were “womanly”—spiritual, motherly, dedicated to the home.
And civilized white men were the most manly ever evolved—firm of
character, self controlled, protectors of women and children.
Ironically, this Victorian insistence on the separate identities between
masculine and feminine spheres proved to be one of the greatest contributors to
the middle-class male identity crisis.
in the nineteenth century, increasing industrialization coupled with the growing
women’s rights movement brought about the deterioration of these
“masculine” and “feminine” spheres.
Increasingly large gulfs between the middle and working classes in the
United States engendered a heightened awareness in middle-class men that the old
standards by which they formerly measured their manhood were quickly vanishing:
“By the 1890s . . . both manliness and middle-class identity seemed to falter.
Middle-class manliness had been created in the context of a small-scale,
competitive capitalism, which had all but disappeared by the 1890s” (Bederman
210). Instead of laboring with
their hands of for their privately owned businesses, middle-class men found
themselves increasingly employed in the offices of expansive corporations—in
the employ of other men. As George
Men’s participation in what they regarded as the male
sphere of productive work, their ability to support families on the basis of
that work, and, above all, their skill as entrepreneurs and their independence
from other men had long been critical to their sense of themselves both as men
and as members of the middle class. But
the reorganization and centralization of the American economy in the late
nineteenth century with the rise of large corporations transformed the character
and meaning of the work performed by many middle-class men.
Increasing numbers of men lost their economic independence as they became
the salaried employees of other men; the number of salaried, nonpropertied
workers grew eight times between 1870 and 1910.
(New York 111)
Coupled with the loss of occupations that formerly served as signs of
middle-class masculinity was the growing awareness that the heretofore male
dominated sphere of the office was being slowly encroached upon by women.
While they seldom enjoyed the same benefits or positions as their male
counterparts, the mere female presence within the male sphere proved unsettling
to the concept of middle-class masculinity:
More and more women began working[,] . . . and although
they took on different, and usually subordinate, tasks, their very presence in
offices . . . seemed to feminize the culture of the corporate workplace and to
diminish its status as a masculine domain. . . .
[W]omen seemed to be breaching the division between the sexes’ proper
spheres and to be claiming or challenging the prerogatives of men.
(Chauncey, New York 111-112)
Unquestionably, middle-class men felt threatened, even somewhat castrated
by women’s attempts at self-empowerment.
Contemporary literature reflected the middle-class male’s struggle with
this concept. As Sandra Gilbert and
Susan Gubar indicate in No Man’s Land,
“that men feared they were losing . . . [sexual] contests [with women] is
plain even in a number of texts which do not explicitly deal with sexual
battles. Images of impotence recur
with unnerving frequency in the most canonical male modernist novels and
poems” (35). Not only were women
invading the traditionally masculine sphere of work, but men were forced to
acquire “feminine” sensibilities. According to Barbara Melosh, “Paid work, a predominantly
masculine realm in the nineteenth century, became increasingly ‘feminized,’
both as more women entered the labor force and as new managerial and sales jobs
required men to practice traditionally feminine strategies of persuasion” (7).
over what was once considered a firm demarcation between the sexes proved costly
to the male concept of “masculinity.” Since
the middle-class masculine sphere and men’s intrusion (albeit forced) into the
feminine one upended middle-class sensibilities about gender and civilization.
In their own eyes, middle-class men had become no better than the
“savages” whom they reviled for their “uncivilized” failure to define
masculine and feminine genders. According
to their medical construction of masculinity and femininity, middle-class men
were now coded as sexually transgressive and “abnormal” because they were
now occupying a traditionally “feminine” space.
of helping to quell middle-class fears of increasing effeminacy, other classes
of men only served to attenuate this insecurity.
As Chauncey observes:
Threats to the masculinity of middle-class men came from
other men as well as from women. As
the “captains of industry” were reducing these men’s independence,
workingmen—in, increasingly, were immigrants who enacted their manliness in
sometimes foreign ways—also seemed to be bringing middle-class men’s
masculinity onto question. (New
Unable (or perhaps unwilling) to comprehend middle-class male gentility,
many working-class men further reinforced the middle class’s growing unease
about their gender identity by referring to them as “sissies” (Chauncey, New
York 112), an epithet with decidedly feminine overtones.
growing identification of middle-class men with effeminacy fostered in them a
belief that they were socially reprehensible and sexually transgressive.
Perhaps because of this identification with transgressive sexuality,
middle-class men fearfully began to link themselves with another group of
sexually “transgressive” males: homosexuals.
We should note, however, that gays defined homosexuality in
turn-of-the-century America not on the basis of object choice, but rather on who
took the “passive,” or “feminine” role in a homosexual encounter.
Chauncey aptly illustrates this difference: “The determining criterion
in labeling a man as ‘straight’ (their term) or ‘queer’ was not the
extent of his homosexual activity, but the gender role he assumed.
The only men who sharply differentiated themselves from other men,
labeling themselves as ‘queer,’ were those who assumed the sexual and other
cultural roles ascribed to women: (“Brotherhood” 75-76).
It seems conceivable that middle-class men would at this point begin to
dread an association with homosexual males, especially since both groups either
identified with—or found themselves identified by—through their increasing
connection with effeminacy and the “feminine” sphere.
the same mechanism responsible for creating a middle-class male identity also
partially facilitated the conception of a queer identity in late nineteenth and
early twentieth-century America. As
Barry Adam contends, “The rise of capitalism . . . provided some of the
avenues for coalescence of homosexual men and the precondition for the evolution
and awareness of community” (288). In
fact, the Victorian attempt to inscribe “masculine” and “feminine”
normalcy against the backdrop of homosexual “abnormality” provided,
according to Michel Foucault, the agency for a queer identity:
There is not question that the appearance in
nineteenth-century psychiatry, jurisprudence, and literature of a whole series
of discourses, on the species and subspecies of homosexuality, inversion,
pederasty, and “psychic hermaphrodism” made possible a strong advance of
social controls into this area of “perversity”; but it also made possible
the formation of a “reverse” discourse: homosexuality began to speak in its
own behalf, to demand that its legitimacy or “naturality” be acknowledged,
often in the same vocabulary, using the same categories by which it was
medically disqualified. (101)
Thus, finding their identities threatened from all side by women, other
classes of heterosexual men, and by gay men, turn-of-the-century middle-class
men began to formulate elaborate defense mechanism to protect their fragile
sense of masculinity.
an attempt to recoup their masculine sensibilities list from the feminine
invasion of the “male” world, middle-class men engendered what Christina
Simmons terms the “Myth of Victorian Repression.”
According to Simmons, “the myth of Victorian repression represented a
cultural adjustment of male power to women’s departure from the Victorian
order. . . . [It] rehabilitated male sexuality and cast women as villains
if they refused to respond to, nurture, or support it” (19).
Under this system, women were allowed increased sexual freedom, but only
within a strictly male-determined framework.
They were free to neck, pet and “dance close,” but women were
expected to retain an essential sexual innocence, “a softness that did not
threaten men” (Simmons 31). The
woman who refused this reinscription of her sexual role, who attempted to fully
realize the female sexual independence, was viewed similarly “to the Victorian
threat of the whore” (Simmons 35). The
“Myth of Victorian Repression” indicated a fundamental shift in middle-class
male sensibilities, but ultimately the shift was merely an effort to reestablish
the patriarchal hegemony.
other classes of heterosexual males, middle-class men developed an intense
identification—especially with the working-class male—as a methodology for
reacquiring the perceived loss of masculinity in the eyes of other males.
According to Bederman:
[M]iddle-class men, uncomfortably confused about the nature
and sources of male power, began to cast about for new ways to fortify their
shaky constructions of manliness. They
adopted a variety of strategies . . . [like] growing crazes for body building
and college football. . . . A new
rhetoric about maleness appeared. Contemporaries
. . . began to speak approvingly about something they called “masculinity.”
Turn-of-the-century America soon found itself in the grip of what
historian Elliot Gorn has termed the “cult of muscularity” (qtd. in Chauncey,
New York 114).
Middle-class men began to identify themselves with all sorts of
working-class men; bodybuilders and prize-fighters were especially worshipped by
the middle class. As Chauncey
asserts, “[Bodybuilding] let boys and men develop their muscles, while
[prize-fighting] let them express their admiration for men who literally
embodied the new manly ideal of muscularity” (New
York 114). By identifying with
muscularity and the working-class men who epitomized it, middle-class men sought
to reaffirm their masculinity by erasing the lines of difference between
themselves and one of the main groups who was questioning their masculinity.
Yet even this attempt to identify with an ostensibly more “masculine”
group served to underscore the middle-class man’s insecurity in his own
manliness. “The glorification of
the prizefighter and workingman,” argues Chauncey, “bespoke the ambivalence
of middle-class men about their own gender status, for it suggested that they,
too, regarded such men as more manly than themselves—more physical, less
civilized, less effeminate” (New York
figure central to this masculine construct was Theodore Roosevelt.
As an independent candidate for president in 1912, Teddy ran in the
National Progressive party, which was nicknamed the Bull Moose party after
Roosevelt once commented the he felt “fit as a bull moose.”
Teddy Roosevelt, epitomizing the middle-class identification with the
“cult of muscularity,” was the embodiment of the new male.
According to Chauncey:
the growing concern about the danger of the
overcivilization and feminization of American men had manifold practical
ramifications for men’s everyday lives. . . .
As work began to fail to confirm men’s ease of themselves as manly,
growing numbers of them turned to “strenuous recreation, spectator sports,
adventure novels, and a growing cult of the wilderness” as a means of proving
their manhood. Theodore Roosevelt was the most famous advocate of the
“strenuous life” of muscularity, rough sports, prizefighting, and hunting as
an antidote to the overcivilization of American men. . . .
Prizefighters, cowboys, soldiers, and sailors became popular heroes,
heralded as paragons of virility. (New
Roosevelt’s proactive stance toward the reinscription of so-called
“masculine” ideals swept the country into a nationalistic fury whose battle
cry was the “barbarian yawp” of reacquired masculinity.
surprisingly, under Roosevelt’s “manly” nationalism war soon became
regarded as the ultimate antidote for the “overcivilization” and
“feminization” of middle-class men. A
broad spectrum of American men soon came to view war as the only way to cure a
hopelessly flagging national masculinity. Chauncey argues that in order to combat the effeminization of
the American middle-class male:
[P]oliticians, businessmen, educators, and sportsmen alike
protested the dangers of “overcivilization” to American manhood and thus to
American culture, in a not very oblique reference to the dangers of women’s
civilizing influence and the effeminization of men.
The Spanish-American war of 1898 and the spirit of militarism it
engendered were widely celebrated as the savior of American manhood. “The greatest danger that a long period of profound peace
offers to a nation,” one man wrote on the wake of the “short and glorious
war,” was that it encouraged “effeminate tendencies in young men . . .
especially in a country where the advancement of civilized methods of living has
reached the point now touched by it in the United States.”
(New York 113)
Terming a less than 40 year hiatus from war a “long period of profound
peace” underscores the bloodthirsty militarism popular around the turn of the
century. (William Dean Howells’s “Editha”)
the “cult of muscularity” and the promise of war both held veiled threats to
middle-class masculinity. First the idealization of the male body necessary for this
“cult” reinforced the
middle-class identification with homosexuality, since many homosexuals similarly
idealized the working-class male body. So
while the “cult of muscularity” helped to reinscribe a sense of middle-class
masculine identity, it intrinsically undermined this identification by dredging
up the middle-class fear of being identified with/as homosexuals.
According to Chauncey:
The overtness of the fairy’s sexual interest in men was .
. . unsettling, because it raised the possibility of a sexual component in other
men’s interactions. Once that
possibility was raised, the very celebration of male bodies and manly
sociability initially precipitated by the masculinity crisis required a new
policing of male intimacy and exclusion of sexual desire for other men.
Claiming that the fairy was different from normal men allowed normal men
to claim that the fairy alone experienced sexual desire for men and thus to
preclude the possibility that the normal man’s gaze at the working-class male
body has a sexual component. But
the very existence of the fairy made manifest and drew attention to the
potential sexual meaning of that gaze. (New York 115-16)
Thus the third threat to middle-class masculine identity—the
identification with male homosexuality—proved a nebulous and insidious hurdle
for middle-class men to overcome, a crisis which they never truly resolved
men gravitated toward a harsh, often brutal pronouncement against homosexuality
in order to recuperate the loss of their masculinity through their
identification with gay men: the radical disavowal of homosexuality.
Because of their shared perceived effeminacy, the gay male, or, as
Chauncey terms it, the “fairy,” intimidated the middle-class male more than
any other group did. Doubly
threatened by the “fairy” stereotype (first through other males’
characterization of them as effeminate, and again through their own parallel
idealization of the working-class male body) the homosexual proved a daunting
figure, psychically accosting the middle-class male’s sensibilities.
As a result, middle-class men often reacted strongly to “fairies.” As Chauncey asserts:
the scorn heaped on overcivilized men established the
context for the emergence of the fairy as the primary pejorative category
against which male normativity was measured. . . .
The fairy became one of the most prominent and volatile signs of the
fragility of the gender order, at once a source of reassurance to other men and
the repository of their deepest fears. On
the one hand, men could use their difference from the fairy to reassure
themselves of their own masculinity. . . .
But the fairy also provoked a high degree of anxiety and scorn among
middle-class men because he embodies the very things middle-class men most
feared about their gender status. His
effeminacy represented in extreme form the loss of manhood middle-class men most
feared in their manly status. (New
Only by violently disavowing any relationship to “fairies” were
middle-class males able to repossess a modicum of the masculinity they felt that
they lost by being identified with the “queer” male.
Repercussions from this rabid disassociation with the gay subculture are
still felt today in society’s deeply ingrained and socially validated
homophobia. According to Fone:
By the beginning of the twentieth century medical science
had legitimated homophobia by inscribing it within the presumed “objective
rationality” of its proscriptive and prescriptive discourses.
For those who doubted the truths of religion and could find no way to
punish homosexuality by invoking the law of God, or for whom the laws of man did
not go far enough to effectively suppress homosexual acts, it could now be
stigmatized far more effectively by declaring it to be behavior that was not
only immoral and illegal but sexually unnatural, emotionally abnormal, mentally
diseased, and hence dangerous to the familial foundations of society.
Othering the effeminate “fairy” morally, legally, and medically
allowed the middle-class male to reclaim his lost masculinity only if he
consistently denied the knowledge ho too was often considered effeminate.
As Chauncey argues:
[T]he fairy served to contain the threat of gender
nonconformity and to free other men from any taint of it, for he alone was a
real invert, but any man risked being stigmatized as a fairy if he displayed any
of the signs of inversion. Similarly,
the personality if the fairy or the queer served to contain the threat of
homosexuality—by suggesting that it was limited to a deviant minority of
men—but it also made it possible to conceive of men’s solidarity as having a
sexual component. Given the crisis
in middle-class masculinity, many middle-class men felt compelled to insist—in
a way that many working-class men did not—that there was no sexual element in
their relations with other men. (New York 116)
The middle-class male’s identification with homosexuality, despite his
frantic efforts to deny the connection, proved to be the one threat to his
masculinity from which he was never able to recover fully.
While he recuperated some of his lost masculinity, hi did so only by
denying access to his male sociability.
War I, while initially appearing to be an excellent forum for the middle-class
male’s revitalization of his masculine ideology, in many ways proved to be as
much of an insidious threat to his maleness as was the “fairy.”
First, being fought solely on foreign soil, World War I presented the
middle-class American soldier with a masculine aesthetic vastly different to the
one constructed in the United States. In
general, Europeans were much more tolerant about alternative expressions of
sexuality than were Americans. Specifically,
several European cities had well defined gay cultures far beyond the scope of
any American metropolis. According
The war not only took many Americans from their small
towns, it sent them to Europe, where they were likely to encounter a cultural
and political climate for homosexuals that was almost unimaginable at home.
By the time of World War I, there existed in Paris and Berlin a highly
developed gay commercial subculture that easily surpassed the scale of the gay
world in New York. (New
Because of the higher tolerance exhibited by most Europeans toward
homosexuality, many American “purity crusaders” feared that the rural farm
boys they were sending off to war would come back as sexually charged monsters
ready to sleep with anything—male or female.
The French government’s permissive sexual attitudes provided ample
cause for worry. According to
Chauncey, “The French government had demonstrated its strikingly different
attitude toward sexual matters by refusing to cooperate with the U.S. Army’s
effort to suppress prostitution near its French military bases” (New York
the patience that many Europeans held toward alternate expressions of sexuality,
American “purity crusaders” had to contend with the potentially devastating
prospect of an extended period of forced male homosociality: “the political
movements and more tolerant sexual mores of France and Germany had less of an
impact on most men than the experience of military life itself” (Chauncey, New
York 145). Chauncey argues
that, isolated from the familial supervision in the single-sex environment of
the armed forces, the young, middle-class soldiers would become exposed to
“self-identified-gay men and explore their homosexual interests” (New York 145). Yet
perhaps more insidious than potential exposure to homosexuality, is the economy
of maleness that the armed forces generate.
In the United states, it was practically impossible for young men to
interact for extended periods within a single-sex environment since the
middle-class preoccupation with disavowing homosexuality precluded this kind of
interaction. During World War I,
however, young men were forced into single-sex relationships for long periods of
time, potentially allowing for the development of at least homosocial, if not
homosexual bonds. (Barkin’s
an extended economy of maleness resembles—at least on the surface—homosexual
economies, the forced homosociality of the armed services proved to be yet
another angst-ridden incarnation of the middle-class identification with
homosexuality. Middle-class men had
been struggling for years to shrug off this identification with homosexuals, and
yet, ironically, during World War I they found themselves forced into a n
environment the engendered strong same-sex affinities, and they found themselves
reveling in the experience. While
in Europe during World War I, the middle-class male discovered that his denial
of male sociability so necessary for the disavowal of his homosexual
identification robbed him of a great source of masculinity.
Yet this source of masculinity was such that the middle-class male could
only utilize it during the very special forced male economies prevalent during
times of war. After being
influenced by the more tolerant European culture, and after being exposed to the
emotional satisfaction of single-sex economies, middle-class American soldiers
were expected to return to the United States and eschew the European
sensibilities to which they were now accustomed.
The tension engendered between these two cultures underscores the
middle-class American male’s crisis of masculinity.
what does this middle-class crisis of masculinity have to do with Hemingway?
Growing up in Oak Park Illinois, an affluent suburb of Chicago, the son
of a doctor and a music teacher, Hemingway epitomized the middle-class male. Hemingway’s trips to northern Michigan as a youth embodied
in large part the ideology behind Teddy Roosevelt’s intense popularity and the
“cult of muscularity,” causing one to pause over Gertrude Stein’s
oft-repeated jibe about Hemingway’s affiliation with Roosevelt: “Teddy’s
kind of action is what set the pattern of Ernest’s childhood” (qtd. in Brian
possession of the middle-class preoccupation with proving his masculinity is
manifestly evident in his life as well as his art.
Denis Brian describes Hemingway’s predilection toward violence whenever
someone challenged his manhood: “Writer Max Eastman questioned Hemingway’s
manliness, not to his face but in print. Soon
after, the two met by chance in their editor’s office where Hemingway first
used Eastman as a duster to clear the editor’s desk, then wrestled him to the
floor” (5). (Add about fishing
with a machine gun, “liberating” Paris in W.W.II, searching for German subs
off the coast of Cuba)
Hemingway—despite any of his private dispositions—rabidly and violently
disavowed any identifications with homosexuality.
According to Brian, “Publisher Robert McAlmon called [Hemingway] ‘a
fairy’ who had beaten his first wife, and deserted her to marry a lesbian. . .
. Hemingway had responded to McAlmon’s slurs by punching him
in the face and calling him a half-assed, fairy ass-licking, fake husband”
(Brian 194). Putting a fist in the
offending orifice questioning Hemingway’s masculinity as well as his
affiliation with homosexual practices underscores his efforts to reify his sense
of masculinity. (Crossing the
street to punch the queer, the You’re a fairy taunt)
serving in the Red Cross in Italy during World War I, and after becoming an
American expatriate in Paris following the war, Hemingway—like may other
middle-class American men—showed some signs of an increasing tolerance toward
alternate styles of sexuality. According
to Warren Bennett, “Hemingway’s interest in variant sexual behavior as a
subject that could be exploited in fiction was kindled . . . in 1920 when
Hemingway began reading Havelock Ellis’s Erotic
Symbolism” (226). Whether
Hemingway first explored alternative sexualities through Ellis does not seem
nearly as important as does the fact that Hemingway read Ellis and exhibited an
intense interest in his works. Michael
S. Reynolds asserts, “Early in 1921, Hemingway began corresponding with his
first wife Hadley on the sexological theories of Havelock Ellis.
By April, Hemingway had sent her three volumes of Ellis’s work”
(120). While sexological treatises
like Ellis’s had been popularized in the United States for some time, we
should not forget that Hemingway’s interest in Ellis and sexology began only
after his visit to Europe during World War I.
bisects the crisis of middle-class masculinity at many points in his personal
and public life. the author’s many physical attacks upon friends who
question his masculinity; the threats leveled at innocent passersby whom
Hemingway perceived as “fairies”; his practically manic desire to hunt and
kill as many animals as possible; his incessant need to experiment
sexually—all of these indicate a symptomatology of angst that Hemingway shared
with his fellow middle-class men. Developing
such a critique, however, cannot definitively quantify anything about Hemingway;
instead, we should search for examples of the middle-class struggle for a
masculine identity in the author’s fiction.
Finding examples of a crisis in middle-class masculinity in the
author’s texts indicates a more readily quantifiable cultural determination at
work upon both the author and his fiction.
Turning to Hemingway’s short fiction, we see in many tales the same
middle-class themes prevalent in the larger culture.
Home,” one of the stories from In Our
Time, tells the story of Harold Krebs, a young soldier returning home after
World War I. Like many soldiers,
Krebs is from rural America—Oklahoma, in this case.
We also see his religious background manifest in the Methodist college he
attended in Kansas before the war. We
can infer that Krebs is middle class from his college education as well as from
his father’s employment in a real estate office; both the office and the
college were coded as bastions for the middle-class.
In the story, Krebs has trouble becoming reenculturated into American
middle-class life. As we can
probably infer from his name, Krebs suffers from and/or represents some form of
social infection. In German,
“Krebs” is used for both the infectious social disease crabs as well as for
cancer. This play on words denotes
not only a social disease potentially spread among the middle-class culture, but
also a disease that inherently assaults the body from within.
The narrator asserts that Krebs feels changed by his experience in the
war, and after being home again, he feels lifeless against the static model of
middle-class suburbia. The only
change that Krebs notices is in the women:
Nothing had changed in the town except that the young girls
had grown up. . . . 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
. . . [but] They were too complicated. . . .
He did not want any consequences. He
did not want any consequences ever again. He
wanted to live along without consequences.
Besides, he did not really need a girl.
The army had taught him that.
(147; emphasis added)
Krebs’s assertion that the women have changed belies the possibility
that he is actually the one—not the women—who has changed.
Hence, his lack of desire for women denotes a fundamental shift in the
protagonist’s view of the opposite sex. His
army “education” further suggests that Krebs probably encountered an
alternative sexuality while abroad. His
mother’s concern that he does not seem to be fitting in properly like other
men his age indicates that she is perhaps aware of her son’s transformed
sexuality. For her, “fitting
in” means working, getting married, having children—in other words,
reproducing the middle-class status quo of heteronormativity:
I’ve worried about you so much, Harold. . . .
One knows the temptations you must have been exposed to. I know how weak men are. . . .
You father is worried too. . . . He
thinks that you have lost your ambition, that you haven’t got a definite aim
in life. Charley Simmons, who is
just your age, has a good job and is going to be married. . . .
[Y]ou can see that boys like Charley Simmons are on their way to being
really a credit to the community. (151)
Mrs. Krebs’s fear that her son will not “settle down” reflects that
angst held that returning veterans would not reproduce the heteronormative model
of middle-class culture, like the one Charley Simmons embodies.
Mrs. Krebs’s concern over the “temptations” of war reinforces the
middle-class concern that the wartime culture produced a climate
counterproductive to middle-class heteronormativity.
In “Soldier’s Home,” Krebs is the embodiment of the middle-class
fear that young men, returning from war, will prove to be fundamentally changed
by the European and wartime cultures that they experienced; hence, they will,
through some nefarious method, corrupt the society into which they are returning
like some malignant tumor or embarrassing social disease.
story from In Our Time reflecting
cultural trends prominent at the turn of the century is “Mr. and Mrs.
Elliot.” This tale playfully
manipulates the gender coding of the characters so that, while the story is
ostensibly a heterosexual narrative, it becomes coded as homosexual.
The protagonist, Hubert Elliot, is a self-styled puritan.
As the narrator indicates, “He [Hubert] was twenty-five years old and
had never gone to bed with a woman until he married Mrs. Elliot. . . .
He called it to himself living straight” (161).
Used in this context, “living straight” constructs a hyperbolic pun
on “straightness.” Hubert means
“straight” in the sense of walking the “straight-and-narrow.”
Yet part of this narrow path is defined adopting a heteronormative
lifestyle, so while Hubert might think that he has been living the life of a
“straight” man, his attitude toward other people’s “straight”
sexuality suggests that Hubert is anything but straight.
Hubert is “shocked and really horrified” by women who want
stereotypically “straight” males (161-62).
Furthermore, Hubert learns about ostensibly heterosexual practices
(male-female kissing) solely from the lips of another man—even if it is only
in the form of a story (162). Thus,
the knowledge of a heterosexual practice can only be passed through a male-male
interaction—an example of heterosexuality being transmitted through a
wife, Cornelia, fifteen years his elder, similarly exhibits a problematic
sexuality. She has sex with her
husband, or, as the narrator states, they both try “very hard to have a baby .
. . as often as Mrs. Elliot can stand it” (161).
Cornelia’s dislike for sex (at least with males) is also evident
through her falling asleep on her wedding night and her constant
“sea-sickness” throughout her and Hubert’s honeymoon cruise to Europe.
Similar to Mrs. Krebs, Hubert’s mother appears to have a awareness of
her new daughter-in-law’s sexuality (and, implicitly, of her son’s as well). After all, she “cried when he [Hubert] brought Cornelia
home after their marriage but brightened very much when she learned they were
going to live abroad” (162). Choosing
to live among the more sexually tolerant Europeans also connotes the hidden
homosexual dynamic in Hubert’s and Cornelia’s marriage.
indications of Cornelia’s dubious sexuality manifest themselves through her
owning a business—a marked intrusion into the male sphere, even if it is only
a tea shop—and through her “girl friend” (162).
Admittedly, many women of this period had friends who were “girls,”
but as we see in the story, Cornelia’s friend is more than simply a friend.
Shortly after their marriage, Cornelia has Hubert send for her “girl
friend”; and soon after, the two women sleep in the same bed and have “many
a good cry together” (164). Cornelia’s
and her girl friend’s “crying” imports a sexual determination on the verb
“to cry,” indicating crying out from a specifically sexual pleasure.
The fact that they are having “many a good cry” denotes that the
“girl friend” is apparently more apt at sexually satisfying Cornelia than
Hubert is. After all, Cornelia does
not fall asleep or become ill when her “girl friend” is near.
Finally, Hubert’s satisfaction with this situation indicates an
acceptance of not only his wife’s lesbianism, but also an implicit acceptance
of his own homosexuality: “In the evening they all sat at dinner together in
the garden under a plane tree and the hot evening wind blew and Elliot drank
white wine and Mrs. Elliot and the girl friend made conversation and they were
all quite happy” (164).
Mr. and Mrs. Elliot,” Hemingway manipulates middle-class understandings of
“masculine/active/heterosexual” and “feminine/passive/homosexual” sexual
and gender roles in order to create a heterosexual narrative that contains a
homosexual dynamic. Describing
Hubert as a passive male who is sexually inexperienced with women codes him as
the middle-class epitome of a homosexual. Giving
Cornelia a “girl friend” and placing her in the masculine sphere of business
codes her as the ideal middle-class representation of a lesbian.
final example that reflects the crisis of masculinity is Hemingway’s short
story, “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber.”
Hemingway’s heavy-handed portrayal of the tale’s heroine denotes the
antipathy that many males held for the “feminine” invasion of the male
sphere. Aggressive and sexually
active, Margot Macomber epitomizes not only what Marvin Mudrick describes as a
Hemingway “bitch-heroine” (12), she also personifies the female threat to
middle-class American masculinity. Margot’s
sexual betrayal of Francis to Wilson, the white hunter, is merely the first
instance in which she openly defies male authority.
From a certain perspective, one can argue that Macomber’s failure to
uphold a middle-class masculine ideology (one that would include putting down a
rebellious wife) made it acceptable for Margot to seek solace in the arms of a
“real” man like Wilson. However, this argument ignores Margot’s sexually
transgressive role as the active seeker of sex instead of the passive receptacle
for it. Margot’s second betrayal
of Macomber cannot be explained under any understanding of a masculine ideology
except as a paranoid fantasy of the castration anxiety.
In perhaps the greatest moment of literary parapraxis, Margot
“accidentally-on-purpose” kills her husband at the exact moment that he
discovers his latent “masculinity.” While
Margot claims to have been shooting at the water buffalo, Wilson has other
ideas: “Why didn’t you poison him? That’s
what they do in England” (37). Wilson’s
accusation underscores the deterministic way in which middle-class men viewed
aggressive women. Margot is more
the castrating female, the vagina dentata than the bitch heroine” because despite
Macomber’s attempts to realize his burgeoning sense of maleness, and despite
whether he remained cowardly or became courageous, Margot was still destined to
betray him. (Also Segdewick’s
Triangulation of Desire between Macomber and Wilson)
examining some of Ernest Hemingway’s early fiction in light of several
culturally determined factors fomenting a crisis in middle-class masculinity has
helped, at least in part, to expand the scope of present Hemingway criticism.
While a vast amount has been amassed on Hemingway in the last century,
little has been done to examine his status in American literature since the
advent of sex and gender studies in the 1970s.
While this is not meant as an apology for Hemingway’s actions, perhaps
it will engender a reexamination of the author in light of more recent
historical perspectives. Much has
been done to blame Hemingway for his masculine “code”; perhaps in some small
part, this helps to better understand Hemingway’s code.
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