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Ernest Hemingway, Research Paper Example

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Research Paper

Introduction

It is not surprising that, when a great deal is learned about the life of a writer, connections are made linking the experience to the work.  Writers are human beings and, the level of their talent notwithstanding, just as prone to being shaped by events, environments, and people as anyone else.  Some authors render the process of connection difficult, in that no over link between life and their creativity is evident.  With others, however, the connections are strong, and this is very much the case with Ernest Hemingway.  While there will always be debate as to exactly how much of Hemingway’s personal experience influences his work, certain aspects are clear.  Most notably, Hemingway’s determination to present a masculine persona appears to be linked to the troubled views of women he consistently manifested, and these traits of the writer may be seen as having deep roots in the man’s actual life.

Life and Work

If anything defines Hemingway the writer, it is an iconic image of a “man’s man,” one who represents a distinctly American masculinity.  It is an aggressive and independent persona, one emphatically echoing American ideas of manliness, and it seems that it was one Hemingway cultivated in both his writing and his life.  The connection is more clearly seen by first examining a classic Hemingway male, and Jake Barnes of The Sun Also Rises is usually considered a Hemingway paradigm of a man.  He is detached and, even as the detachment indicates self-doubt, he consistently operates within specifically masculine forms of behavior.  It is noted as well that Jake’s character is being formed through random acts of participation within the wider arena of his “watching,” and this goes to something of an echo of Hemingway himself.  More exactly, always keen on observing the parameters of masculinity around him, Jake develops his manliness through the dual roles of being observed – as a watcher – and of participating (Strychacz  79).  Jake’s travels take him all over Europe, he engages in intensely masculine activities, yet he also remains distanced, as though awaiting the development of his own masculinity.

All of this may be related to Hemingway’s life, and in particular a boyhood wherein he was cherished and pampered, a way of being raised and a perceived identity he would fight against the rest of his life.  He was born in 1899 into a prosperous, upper middle class family in a suburb of Chicago.  His father was a doctor and his mother was something of a flamboyant musician, noted for giving local concerts.  Grace Hall Hemingway was also well-traveled and sophisticated, and she plainly adored Ernest, her second child.  Pictures survive of the baby dressed in doll-like outfits, and Grace recorded in her journal how loving and delightful he was.  In later life, Hemingway would describe his childhood as impossibly frustrated and unhappy, but the evidence indicates the contrary (Mellow  7-9).  It seems that a conflict was in place, likely developed by the coddling of his mother in contrast to the young boy’s image of his father.  Clarence Hemingway, in fact, would be blatantly seen as the character of Nick Adams’s father in the short story collection, In Our Time: tall, manly, gruff, charming to outsiders but demanding in the home (Mellow  10).  In Nick, just as in Jake Barnes, there are strong indications of a persona at war with its own environment.  Hemingway’s early life and community was deeply religious, for example, and Nick is contemptuous of the religious constraints and ideas that marked his own youth (Meyers  5).  Perhaps most importantly, it has been noted that many of the Nick Adams stories center on the hero’s distanced relationship from a doctor father (Mellow  32).

This factor of an unresolved father-son conflict is potent in Hemingway, and largely goes to the alienation of his male heroes.  In his own life, and from adolescence on, he began a habit of forming close bonds with men years older than himself, as with his friend Bill Smith.  In these relationships, Hemingway liked to dominate, which further points to a need to settle a paternal conflict.  Jake Barnes is fiercely attached to Bill Gorton in The Sun Also Rises, but there is always a troubling element in Hemingway’s male friendships.  They seem tense, and almost echo the strains of romantic relationships.  Given Hemingway’s alternating admiration and dislike of his father, the tension in the writing is explicable.  Clarence Hemingway distanced himself from Ernest long before any Hemingway character would live a detached life, and his feelings for his own son were probably sources of confusion and antipathy to the boy.  For example, when Ernest turned eight, his father’s birthday message was a note praying that Ernest would “be spared for many years to praise God” (Mellow  12).  This, combined with an overly affectionate mother, renders Hemingway’s men as removed and mistrustful hardly a mystery.

Hemingway’s young adulthood reveals further – and significant – evidence of how his life was transformed by himself into fiction.  In his two great novels of war, A Farewell to Arms and For Whom the Bells Toll, there remains the separation between action and observing.  The arenas of war are real, but Frederic Henry and Robert Jordan are always somewhat distanced, and in various way.  Jordan’s occupation as a reporter certainly lends him a detached status, just as Henry’s many pretenses of identity in A Farewell to Arms separates him from reality (Meyers  69).   These powerful novels are accepted as being the result of Hemingway’s early manhood and his actual experiences in the Spanish Civil War.  What complicates this, however, is that Hemingway was not only creating fiction when he wrote his books; clearly, and as is true of any writer, he was transposing experience even as it happened, and the result is then fiction that is in a sense interpretive.

Certainly, the young Hemingway gained a great deal of experience of the world, once he set out from his safe and prosperous suburb and volunteered to be a Red Cross officer in 1918.  This led him to New York, and adventures that would later be rendered into unpublished, and largely pornographic, stories.  Before this, Hemingway was rebelling against his father’s plans for his future, as the boy wanted to pursue a reporting career in Kansas City.  It has been noted, however, that the mild nature of this rebellion has been exaggerated by the author in his fiction, as when Robert Jordan leaves his family (Mellow  40).  The greater likelihood is that Hemingway romanticized the parting, to give weight to his relationship with his father.  Once in New York, however, and on a brief stay before shipping out to Italy as a non-combatant, Hemingway blatantly indulged in the pleasures of the city.  He wrote to friends that he was in love with Mae Marsh, a young actress, and seems to have made plans to marry her.  This did not occur, but the young man lived riotously for a time, both in New York and later in Europe.

What emerges from Hemingway’s actual life here, more distinctly than his need to express strong masculinity yet clearly linked to it, is the ambivalent view of women that would mark virtually all of Hemingway’s heroines.  This may be related to an ambivalence regarding his own sexuality.  Recovered letters and notes clearly indicate that, while in New York, he was very familiar with the secret meeting places of homosexuals, and he vividly described the sexual activity  (Mellow 53).  This is interesting in itself, in that Hemingway’s men are so powerfully identified with a nearly defiant heterosexuality; even Jake Barnes, impotent, is a “man’s man.”  It also seems, as noted, that this confusion regarding sexuality – which would manifest itself in portraits of women usually seen as lacking in real dimension – relates to Hemingway’s adventures with the Red Cross in Europe during the later years of the war.  On one level, he clearly enjoyed himself immensely, making friends and serving in country after country; on another, his letters home reveal a “joking” desire to describe himself as, not a non-combatant, but as a real soldier (Mellow  60).  In other words, it may be argued that, as Hemingway’s strained relationship with his father created in him the need to pursue a romanticized ideal of masculinity, the same issues of family – along with some conflict as to sexual identity – led him to produce in his fiction women who are essentially “ideas” of women.  While Grace Hemingway doted on the boy, Ernest both embraced the affection and rebelled, as when he fought his mother’s wish that he learn the cello (Meyers  11).  Hemingway’s women are, then, strange creatures. They are desired and resisted by his heroes, as they embody both fulfillment and danger.

This is most clearly evident in Brett from The Sun Also Rises.  Critics have noted that she, more so than other Hemingway women, is a “cut and paste” creation of the gender stereotypes locked in Hemingway’s mind (Strychacz  71).  Brett Ashley, loved by Jordan, is also despised by him because she embodies a sexual freedom Hemingway can only assign to men.  Equally fabricated is Maria in For Whom the Bell Tolls, in that her victimization allows Hemingway, or Jordan, to treat her decently.  In life, Hemingway resisted his mother’s demonstrative affection and was not particularly close to his four sisters, as it is interesting that he married four times (Meyers  10).  It very much seems that the lack of dimension in his fictional women, then, stems from a genuine lack of knowledge about women, a state of being not at odds with a boy and young man intent on achieving a kind of hyper-masculinity.

Conclusion

While there can be no certain identification of a writer’s real life experiences with their work, there are occasions wherein connections are too evident to ignore, and this is very much the case with Ernest Hemingway.  He wrote powerful novels that are modern classics, yet they are flawed, and the flaws stem from the way Hemingway seems to have interpreted and fashioned his own existence.  A pampered boy, he was in awe of his father and conflicted regarding his mother’s love.  A young rebel and expatriate, he practiced in life the detachment that would mark his excessively masculine heroes.  He seems to have associated sexuality as masculine imperative, possibly to round out his idea of a real man and possibly to resolve ambivalent feelings toward women.  However it is viewed, however, the links are there.  Ernest Hemingway’s efforts to present a hyper-masculine persona appear to be connected to the troubled views of women he consistently manifested, and these traits of the writer may be seen as having deep roots in the man’s actual life.

Works Cited

Mellow, J. R.   Hemingway: A Life Without Consequences.  New York: Macmillan Publishing    Co., 1992.  Print.

Meyers, J.  Hemingway: A Biography.  New York: Da Capo Press, 1985.  Print.

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