Absent fathers, homosexual sons, and melancholic repression in three of Hemingway's short stories.
Hemingway creates images of a young male's world with a gap at its centre. The incomplete father relationship, the physical and/or emotional absence of the father produces a residual "father hunger" in the subject. James L. Schaller describes the emotional signs of such deficiency as the experience of being confused about one's identity, lacking confidence in one's femininity or masculinity, being rarely satisfied with what one has, becoming insecure or angry easily, acting differently (childlike or grandiose) in the father's presence, having an urge to please others (especially father-type people), running to things or people to nurse oneself in a compulsive way, being afraid to get too close to someone, possessing fear of being abandoned, living in diffused fearfulness, and feeling like an orphan sometimes (16). In Hemingway's text, yearning for the father also manifests itself in the subject's unconscious longing for affirmation. The central protagonist, Nick Adams, displays specific features in his desire-induced behavior: he vehemently conceals his weaknesses; he is on a constant, restless quest to prove his human worth; and he seeks out the company of other men to parade his own manliness.
Dennis Balcom argues that sons from father-absent homes are heavily influenced by their loss. Fatherlessness damages their self-esteem and impairs their ability to build lasting heterosexual relationships. They experience intimacy issues, anxiety about the birth of their first child, and a desire to flee (Balcom 283-96). Michael E. Lamb further elaborates on the effects of paternal nonresidence (in emotional terms as well) and he maintains that father-absence is harmful not because a sex role model is absent, but because crucial paternal roles are inadequately filled (for example, by a dominant mother). The impact of the fathers multiple roles (economic, social, emotional) is more important from the point of view of child development than the father's presence as a male sex role model (M. E. Lamb 7). Kurt Freund and Ray Blanchard disagree with this view and claim that paternal absence advances men's desire to be close to other men. These males rely on being appreciated and loved by other men in order to be able to conquer their sense of inferiority and worthlessness. Accordingly, there is a correlation between poor father-son relationships and the son's chances of becoming homosexual (Freund and Blanchard 8). Nonetheless, Jacques Balthazart emphasizes gender-nonconformism in childhood as the best predictor of adult homosexuality. He claims that it is indeed the rejection of normativities (such as a boy's involvement in less typical boys' activities) that eventually creates a distance between a heterosexual father and his pre-gay son (Balthazart 15).
In Our Time (1925) stages the gradual revelation of the son's sexuality in three phases. First we encounter the engendering of Nick's homoeroticism as he breaks up with his girlfriend in 'The End of Something', unable to identify the reasons for his decision. He is reserved about his homosexual leanings and he rejects his friend Bill's advances. The second segment in the process of "coming out" reveals the confused boy's fondness of his male friend, but the storyline of'The Three-Day Blow' puts significant emphasis on fatherlessness as the main source of the two boys' emotional incompetence and heterosexual dysfunction. 'Cross-Country Snow' represents the final stage in the process. It demonstrates the consequences of paternal absence in the form of an unresolved childhood trauma. Nick settles for an unwanted future. His persona comprises discrepancies, insecurities, and sorrow. Unlike in the first story where the father's absence (and the impact of thereof) can only be guessed, the last tale deliberately omits him. Nick seemingly abandons the thought of the father in an attempt to restore his own masculinity. The influence of the father, however, eternally haunts masculinity. (2) Hemingway's texts uncover the unstable and dependant nature of his male characters.
The sense of worthlessness as well as that of lacking dominates a melancholic man's behavior in In Our Time (1925). (3) Yet contemporary gender codes (such as manly courage, perseverance, heterosexual machismo, and the management of emotions) prevent him from overtly displaying his concerns. Silencing pain and anxiety is the central theme in 'The End of Something', which eventually makes Nick withdraw into isolation. Juan-David Nasio defines pain as an aggressive power in control: "I do not possess pain, it possesses me: I am pain" (1). The engendering of pain requires a strategic process through three separate stages: it begins with a rupture, followed by a psychical trauma that the rupture has generated and finally it culminates in a defensive reaction (Nasio 16).
Hemingway illustrates the birth of pain in the relationship of a young couple, Nick and Marjorie, who are on the verge of breaking up in 'The End of Something'. The rupture in their relationship already manifests itself in the title as well as a symbolic scene at the beginning of the story: a derelict place is the couple's meeting point.
In the old days Hortons Bay was a lumbering town. No one who lived in it was out of sound of the big saws in the mill by the lake. Then one year there were no more logs to make lumber. The lumber schooners came into the bay and were loaded with the cut of the mill that stood stacked in the yard. All the piles of lumber were carried away. [...] The one-story bunk houses, the eating-house, the company store, the mill offices and the big mill itself stood deserted in the acres of sawdust that covered the swampy meadow by the shore of the bay. (IOT 107)
The axe of the town came with the end of logging and mill trade. All the features that "made the mill a mill and Hortons Bay a town" (IOT 107) have vanished. The old but lively characteristics of the town are juxtaposed with new, lifeless traits. The narrator accounts for the changes that have occurred in the town. By extension, he also demonstrates the "fall" of the inhabitants: he lists places that he used to enjoy, but he refrains from mentioning people. When the lumber schooners leave town, the place becomes empty in the physical and spiritual sense as well.
In parallel with the scenery, Nick's relationship with his girlfriend is deteriorating too. If the sentence "covered with canvas and lashed tight" (IOT 107) stands for Nick's attitude, then the landscape in ruins represents Marjorie (Kruse 215). If Nick was going to be forced to stay with the now unwanted person, he would certainly feel "lashed tight". The trauma only materializes when Nick actually realizes that what he feels (or, in fact, does not feel) for Marjorie is clearly "the end of something".
'There's our old ruin, Nick,' Marjorie said.
Nick, rowing, looked at the white stone in the green trees.
'There it is,' he said.
'Can you remember when it was a mill?' Marjorie asked.
'I can just remember,' Nick said. (IOT 108)
Nick only remembers happy times, but he does not feel their presence any more. The mill, the representation of vivacity, is something in the past. The "old ruin," which is theirs ("our"), is what is left for Nick and Marjorie. For Nick the girl represents an aspect of the past, which used to be pleasant but is not so anymore. The American hero is thus recounting earlier times in a melancholic manner. The narrator voices this concern in a latent way when the couple are fishing together.
They pulled the boat up the beach and Nick lifted out a pail of live perch. The perch swam in the water in the pail. Nick caught three of them with his hands and cut their heads off and skinned them while Marjorie chased with her hands in the bucket, finally caught a perch, cut its head off and skinned it. Nick looked at her fish.
'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.'
He hooked each of the skinned perch through the tail. There were two hooks attached to a leader on each rod. Then Marjorie rowed the boat out over the channel-bank, holding the line in her teeth and looking toward Nick, who stood on the shore holding the rod and letting the line run out from the reel.
'That's about right,' he called.
'Should I let it drop?' Marjorie called back, holding the line in her hand.
'Sure. Let it go.' Marjorie dropped the line overboard and watched the baits go down through the water. (LOT 108-109)
Marjorie's extensive knowledge about fishing and rowing suggests that Nick might have masculinized her. He hints at having taught (and still teaching) her the skills that an American man must know when in a natural environment. Yet, the positioning of characters places Nick against Marjorie, despite their equal familiarity with nature. Nick considers Marjorie his obedient student and himself a teacher who gives out orders. Horst H. Kruse argues, however, that Nick fails to keep his authority (216). This is precisely because he has turned Marjorie into a likewise masculine figure.
'You know everything,' Nick said.
'Oh, Nick, please cut it out! Please, please don't be that way!'
'I can't help it,' Nick said. 'You do. You know everything. That's the trouble. You know you do'. (IOT 110)
Nick feels dissatisfied in the relationship because most of all, as a tutor, he was a superior figure in Marjorie's life (Kruse 216). When he says Marjorie knows everything, he does not only refer to fishing skills, though. What he essentially silences in the dialogue is that he feels inadequate to remain her teacher any longer. He is hinting at the fact that "something" has ended. He is no longer the master, the mentor, or the father figure in this relationship--a role that he willingly adopted for himself. While there is no textual evidence for Nick's poor relationship with his father in this story, the way he asserts his leadership insinuates a paternal gap in his past which he intends to counterbalance.
Observing Nick's protean behavior, Marjorie's tone is filled with desperation. Her exclamation of "don't be that way" suggests to the reader that Nick has been "that way" before. Although their dialogue does not spell out details, we know that they do not talk about a secret using code words. The narrator withholds the exact information that has led to Nick's desire to end the relationship. He veils the silenced parts by seemingly random words such as "everything," "it" and "that way" (JOT 110), which may not offer a straightforward explanation to the reader. We are aware, however, that Nick has tried to break up with Marjorie, but has not been able to execute it in a frank manner. Despite his silence and cowardice, Marjorie knows of Nick's intention of ending the affair, though. We can predict it during the fishing scene: the long passage uses words such as "out," "off," and "cut" (JOT 108-109) several times. Marjorie's question at the end also hints at her awareness of the possible break-up. When she asks if she should let the line drop--the line that physically connected her to him--he orders her to let it go.
Nick's decision to end the relationship signifies two main aspects. He either feels inadequate to be someone's teacher who already "knows everything," or he feels feminized by a girl who "knows everything" about the "codes of masculinity," perhaps even more than what he does. If she is in full command of a socially prescribed, Midwestern masculine role, she may overpower Nick. He refuses to engage with this threat. He establishes the mood for escaping: he gradually reduces his speech to a minimum, answering Marjorie's question in short sentences:
'You don't have to talk silly,' Marjorie said. 'What's really the matter?'
'I don't know.'
'Of course you know.'
'No I don't.'
'Go on and say it.'
Nick looked on at the moon, coming up over the hills.
'It isn't fun any more'. (JOT 110)
It is debatable whether the narrator portrays Nick as a man "emasculated" by a domineering female or simply as the embodiment of a flawed masculinity. Nick does not meet the standard model of manliness if he allows Marjorie to defeat him. Nonetheless, he represents a different kind of masculinity. His inability to prevent the engendering of an "unmanning" situation signifies what American manhood means for Hemingway. Nick, again, emerges to be an authentic representation of the inherently melancholic male.
James Mayo argues that the Hemingway canon contains seemingly strong male characters and Nick is certainly one of them in many cases. Yet 'The End of Something' depicts him as childish and immature. Mayo highlights that we are not aware of Nick's age, but if he is old enough to date a girl and go fishing on his own, he should also be mature enough to finish a relationship in an honest (adult) fashion. He acts in a passive-aggressive manner instead (Mayo 218). Nick is unable to hold a proper conversation and he simply declares that it is not "fun" (JOT 110) for him anymore. Marjorie acknowledges Nick's childlike traits when she asks him not to talk "silly" (JOT 110). Love is an expectation and pain is the unforeseen rupture of this requirement (Nasio 9). Nick, therefore, is not only childishly indifferent but deeply in pain, which must be masked. The fact that he cannot hold a conversation with Marjorie does not simply demonstrate communication dysfunction; the economical use of words also highlights forced, socially set masculine attributes such as control over expressing emotions. Nick's frustration thus elicits trauma. Defensive reactions represent the final stage in the engendering of pain (Nasio 16) and Nick behaves in accordance with this theory indeed. Marjories presence and her obsessive attachment to Nick tell him that she still believes in their dead relationship. It irritates and confuses him. Hemingway merges anguish and anger in Nick's voice as he finally declares "the end of something".
Pain and hatred are juxtaposed in relation to defensive skills. Hate is a reaction towards a loved one who has wounded the subject. In hatred, the subject gathers his forces to attack the loved one's image because violence restores the subject's own scarred self. The subject feels his existence when he hates (Nasio 48). Strong emotional attachments always contain hostility concealed in the unconscious (Freud, On Murder 63). For example, we love our parents as they are our caregivers, but at the same time they also represent a fearsome power over us. This "conflict of ambivalence" is apparent in Nick's character as well. He becomes conscious of his existence when he turns his frustration towards Marjorie and begins to hate her. He replicates the abandonment that he must have felt by his father's departure. He, as a father figure in this relationship, disposes of the "child" and all emotions attached to her. The reproduction of trauma signifies what Freud calls "repetition compulsion": a subjective coping mechanism in which the subject tries to come to terms with a traumatic experience by reliving it over and over again in the psyche (On Metapsychology 282-83).
Nevertheless, Nick still remains unable to cope with the trauma when Marjorie leaves in the end. He is relieved seeing Marjorie go, but at the same time he feels guilty, which the narrator reveals in Nick's physical actions. "Nick went back and lay down with his face in the blanket by the fire. He could hear Marjorie rowing on the water. He lay there for a long time" (IOT 111). Nick is clearly an emotionally sensitive man who develops instability because of the "masculine code" he feels he must follow and which he could never properly integrate, lacking a strong masculine role model. The simultaneous revelation of opposing feelings demonstrates Hemingway's distinctive style which allows him and, by extension, his characters neither openly to acknowledge the loss of emotions nor to show that they can live without them. Likewise, they do not vehemently voice the importance of rough masculinity, but they do not renounce it either (Forter 33).
Both the silence and the subsequent melancholy of the American hero have their source in bereavement. Silence posits mourning as a central psychological phenomenon in the melancholic narrative. Darian Leader argues that mourning is often considered the same as overcoming loss. Yet he questions whether we ever get over our losses, or whether, rather, we build them into our lives (Leader 4). (4) Hemingway demonstrates this procedure through the protagonist's language and actions. We do not know exactly what prompts Nick Adams's sense of lack in 'The End of Something', but we see the way it is taking shape. Lack is a process, the development of pain, and the aching realization of this fact. Nick has to understand the existence of lack which inhabits the deepest layer of one's own self. The awareness of lacking informs thoughts and emotions. It influences decisions that one makes. Lack controls one's steps. Nick's character teaches us that the subject has to understand lack's power over him in order to come to terms with it. First and foremost he has to acknowledge lack. He has to internalize the pain which the shortcoming of something important causes in him. He has to identify what he is lacking. He may feel vulnerable or even embarrassed to articulate lack. Nonetheless, it is important to make his pain subjective and name it. Once he incorporates lack, he accepts its existence. Acceptance is followed by exteriorization which requires defence mechanisms. The subject either compensates, substitutes or finds surrogacy for lack. He is yearning for the "other" to take away his pain. The image of the "other" that he creates in his fantasy eases his struggle. Nick adopts a "mask" and performs, inventing a new self for himself. He merges with the image of the "other". He finally seems to be able to gain strength and control. There is, however, an underlying fear involved. The falsity of the image of the "other" lives in the subconscious as it is only a vision after all. Understanding such fallacy connects to acknowledging lack's eternality. Lack never ceases to exist until the subject finds the surrogate, but even then he understands that the surrogate is not the "real". The surrogate may very well heal the subject temporarily, but the primal incorporated lack--that precipitated the importance of the surrogate in the first place--keeps lingering in the subconscious. Lack is without beginning or end, it exists outside time. Lack is thus infinite, and the struggles that Nick Adams's compound personality fuses highlight this matter.
Nick's persistent desire to fill the gaps motivates him. Jacques Lacan highlights that desire is always deferred, though, as it is innately illusory. It never reaches its target. Once it is attained, it ceases to be a desire. The concept of desire thus refers to an imperfect connection. Desire makes its way through discourse from signifier to signifier, but it never finds the signified "other". Discourse cannot fully articulate desire (Lacan, Ecrits 681-700). Slavoj Zizek emphasizes that desire does not aim to realize its goal and find satisfaction but to reproduce itself as desire (61). Hence Lacan's concept of objet petit a, in which he identifies that desire is not a relation to an object but to a lack (Four Fundamental ix).
Instead of talking about his pain, Nick decides to conceal it. We do not see his frustration, though, because the narrative voice shifts into a subtle, gentle mode as soon as Nick's friend approaches him. It changes the emotional setting of the scene. "He lay there while he heard Bill come into the clearing walking around through the woods. He felt Bill coming up to the fire. Bill didn't touch him, either" (IOT 111). Homoerotic tendencies inform the short passage. Could it be that Nick broke up with Marjorie because of Bill? After she leaves, the narrative mentions Nick in a horizontal physical position four times. He lies on a blanket, waiting. He listens to how Bill approaches him. The emphasis on Bill's coming upwards increases the sexual tension. The word "either" in the last sentence of the quoted passage probably refers to the fact that Marjorie left without touching Nick too. More importantly, however, Bill cannot establish a physical relationship with him "either".
Hemingway, as a writer, feels much more comfortable when he focuses on men alone whom he seemingly portrays as masculine heroes--as defined by the American Establishment at the time. Homosocial drive, which Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick identifies as a social bond desired by people of the same sex (1-2), characterizes the majority of the stories in In Our Time (1925), though. Hemingway actively places emphasis on uncomplicated same-sex friendships (Mascuch 288). Homosexuality, however, is as much a feared topic for him as femininity. (5) He refrains from openly describing homosexual relationships. Yet, it is male sexuality that deviates from the stereotypical that informs his characterization. His representation of heterosexuality seems to be limited to portraits of eternally dysfunctional couples. The consciousness of Hemingway's texts is troubled by the "manly" hero's constant, ultimately doomed quest for desire.
American men define their masculinity relative to each other rather than in relation to women (Kimmel 7). When Bill appears, Nick must play his manly role again and so does Bill.
'Did she go alright?' Bill said.
'Yes,' Nick said, lying, his face on the blanket.
'Have a scene?'
'No, there wasn't any scene.'
'How do you feel?'
'Oh, go away, Bill! Go away for a while'. (IOT 111)
Bill voices his opinion about women in a sarcastic, derogative manner. He does not call Marjorie by her name (he refers to her as "she") and he associates females with tantrums ("scene"). Nick's frustration resurfaces and he sends Bill away. "Bill selected a sandwich from the lunch basket and walked over to have a look at the rods" (IOT 111). The problematization of Nick's masculinity, as much as that of Bill's, is inscribed in this last sentence. Even though the basket most probably belonged to Marjorie, Nick is its owner now. Similarly to providing food, he is guarding the fire too--two main aspects of females' roles in ancient times. Unlike Nick, Bill looks at "rods," asserting his interest in phallic power. Accordingly, Nick has been feminized (according to social conventions) and he must come to terms with it. The "end of something," therefore, does not only refer to the lost ideal of an optimistic American landscape, control over women or having a functional heterosexual relationship, but the story also signifies the American hero's emasculation.
Approaching gender as a fluid, volatile phenomenon effected dilemmas at the turn of the century. Nineteenth-century Victorian American culture promoted prudish, categorical laws to set gender codes, while the modern ideas of the twentieth century provided more liberal definitions for manhood (McNamara 6). Although masculinity was less clearly defined in the nineteenth century, the era made a sharp distinction between boyhood and manhood. Boys were allowed to be mischievous and playful, but men had to demonstrate a distinguished style and seriousness (Rotundo 7). Middleclass culture in the nineteenth century also labelled manhood: aggression, the desire to conquer, and worldly achievements were among the traits with which men were associated. Femininity, on the other hand, included nurturing and staying at home (Mellow 8). The arrival of the twentieth century changed the concepts of masculinity and femininity. American society was becoming feminized and men struggled to keep masculine qualities that they cherished (McNamara 7). E. Anthony Rotundo identifies the engendering of the "existential hero" in the early twentieth century who aims to keep his masculinity intact from civilization's influence. Rotundo names Humphrey Bogart, John Wayne, and Ernest Hemingway as the embodiments of the "existential hero" (286). Hemingway wanted to create the image of an "adoptive father," but because he found himself in between the Victorian influence of his strict upbringing and the requirements of the modern world, he could never grow up to be a father figure; he remained an overgrown boy. As a child of the Victorian era he never found the way to twentieth-century adulthood (McNamara 8).
Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick declares that the turn of the century witnessed the emergence of binarized identities full of implications. The former male-female gender categories were replaced by the grouping of homo- and heterosexual subjects (Kosofsky Sedgwick 2). It resulted in what Rotundo defines as the "us" and "them" society (275). The emotional sensitivity that homosexuals allegedly possessed generated discrimination against gays. Male homosexuals were considered to have been born with the soul of a woman (McNamara 9). They represented the category of the ultimate feminized males. Heterosexual men desperately wanted to distinguish themselves from stigmatized homosexuals (Rotundo 278). Hemingway himself felt the pressure to display requisite features of masculinity (that middle class defined for men) and thus avoid the label. His alleged attacks on homosexuals (6) and everything that is feminine reveal his insecurity in gender terms (McNamara 10).
The importance of "otherness" shifts focus to the prejudicial nature of America which the narrative covertly discusses. Intolerance surrounded homosexuality during the 1920s. Kristofer Allerfeldt claims that the issue of homosexuality was typical of the paradoxes of the Roaring Twenties. The late 1910s and early 1920s brought an increase in repressing homosexuality and lesbianism in America. Contemporary psychoanalysts (including Freud) explained homosexuality as a mental disorder which needed to be cured, although they could never find a remedy (Allerfeldt 159-60). The stigmatization of homosexuals made their subculture more visible during the 1920s and 1930s (Eaklor 217). Although a number of local venues such as bars accommodated homosexual interests as well, same-sex relationships were still considered perverse, which led to the open persecution of homosexuals. The Committee of Fourteen, a New York-based reform movement, was dedicated to eradicating sin in America including prostitution and homosexuality (Allerfeldt 161). The Society for the Suppression of Vice were committed to providing the NYPD with information about gay activity, resulting in two hundred "degenerates" being arrested between 1916 and 1921 (Allerfeldt 161). Homosexuality was associated with sex crimes, speaking of gay issues in any context was socially forbidden, and homosexual characters could not appear in cultural productions either. Homosexuals and even those who supported them had no voice in America during the 1920s. Men who refused to engage with the essentialist views of heteronormativity were labelled sick, effeminate, and un-American. Interestingly, however, different rules applied to men and women. Lesbianism was less frowned upon than gay male relations. Women's sexual function was primarily associated with child-bearing, therefore lesbianism was only seen as a conjugal community between two spinsters (Allerfeldt 162).
Homosexual inclinations subliminally present in Hemingway's short story reflect the author's artistic concealment of this issue responding to the interpellation of American white middle-class patriarchy. Its preferred discourse of heterosexual manliness contrasts effeminacy or the "sissy" which is its unstated implication. (7) Feminine influence, which was regarded harmful to masculine gender identity at the turn of the century and thereafter, had to be conquered and "abjected". Julia Kristeva defines abjection as "violent, dark revolts of being, directed against a threat" (1). Abjection is a complex combination of thoughts which do not have a definable object. The only quality that the abject shares with an object is that it is opposed to the I. The abject is abandoned by the superego and it aims to merge with the ego. It is cast out, yet it challenges its master by demanding some form of discharge. This way the abject claims and crushes the subject at the same time. The subject is fascinated by and scared of it simultaneously. Abjection is a drive that is founded on loss and that triggers desire. It feeds on aggression and hatred to find self-protection against a threat existing inside or outside. The abject is, in fact, the suffering itself that the I puts up with (Kristeva 1-5). As Kristeva explains it, an abject is "not me. Not that. But not nothing either. [...] All abjection is the recognition of the want on which any being, meaning, language, and desire is founded" (2-5).
The Hemingway hero constitutes himself based on the abject, which is "directed against a threat" (that is, femininity including softness and emotive features, but control and power as well at the same time) and which demands an outlet (that is, marginalization). Nick's problematic identity construction in In Our Time (1925) indicates the harmful impact of normativities existent in his society. (8) James R. Mellow argues that we can easily trace Hemingway's homophobia in his literature. He changed lines in his stories so as not to allow the scenes to appear in a homosexual light. Nick's encounter with Bill in 'The End of Something' was originally "He lay there until he felt Bill's arm on his shoulder. He felt Bill coming before he felt his touch," which Hemingway modified, as follows: "He lay there while he heard Bill come into the clearing" (JOT 111) (Mellow 109). Nevertheless, McNamara highlights that Hemingway, in fact, identified with homosexuals in the sense that he understood their struggles to form an identity for themselves. As he was lost in between Victorian and modern principles himself, he recognized the homosexual community's difficulty in defining their individuality (McNamara 10). Many of Hemingway's stories on this issue posit homosexuals to have good and bad features alike: while one gay character is cowardly, another one can still be brave (Comley and Scholes 107). Although Hemingway does refrain from making categorical statements about homosexuals, he often underlines their failures. In 'A Pursuit Race' (1927), for example, William Campbell, who lives in a homosexual relationship, turns to drugs, and fails in his job as an advertising man for a show. He is saved by his boss who seems to care about him: "he was very fond of William Campbell; he did not wish to leave him. He was very sorry for him and he felt a cure might help" (SS 353). Hemingway highlights that Campbell does not fail because he is "different," but because the pressure of undertaking his "difference" in a homophobic society is overpowering (McNamara 15).
Nick demonstrates in 'The End of Something' that the torment of homosexuality is similar to the torment of manhood. The story that follows, entitled 'The Three-Day Blow', further examines the American hero's lack of traditional masculinity by delving into the aftermath of Nick and Marjorie's break-up. Nick and Bill are discussing the weather, books, and liquor at great length. Nick is depicted confidently and fully recovered from losing Marjorie. Even the scenery is much more positive: "The rain stopped as Nick turned into the road that went up through the orchard. The fruit had been picked and the fall wind blew through the bare trees" (IOT 115). The description of the environment seldom tends to be accidental in Hemingway's fiction, though. Gaston Bachelard discusses how imagination creates an idealistic space related to pleasant memories in which we may find comfort and protection: "Our memories of former dwelling-places are relived as daydreams that these dwelling-places of the past remain in us for all time" (xxxii). The childhood environment, however, is always associated with seriousness, finality, and thus sadness as it is over, whereas our dream place, which exists in our fantasy for the future, is filled with exciting, colorful images (Bachelard xxxii). Considering that 'The End of Something' is thematically dealing with Nick's past, 'The Three-Day Blow'--as an extension of the previous story--portrays an optimistic, dream-like future. The rain, which has stopped, assists in bearing fruits. This notion signifies a metaphorical rebirth. Fruit is phenomenologically favourable as it makes life pleasant. The sense of loss, deprivation, and gloom that characterized the previous story turns into an exaggerated form of hopefulness. The road that goes up also signifies Nick's own upward movement, leaving trauma behind.
The optimistic tone, however, changes as soon as Nick and Bill begin to discuss literature while they are drinking and chatting in Bill's cottage. They mention Richard Feverel (by George Meredith, 1859), Forest Lovers (by Maurice Hewlett, 1898), Fortitude (by Hugh Walpole, 1913), The Dark Forest (by Hugh Walpole, 1916), and Flying Inn (by Gilbert Keith Chesterton, 1914). While 'The End of Something' employs imagery as its main technique, 'The Three-Day Blow' depends on dialogue (Stewart 50). The boys' long discussion has a vivid tone, but concealed implications of melancholic longing surface in the story. They label the novels "good book" and "swell book" and they fantasize about the authors with admiration in their voices:
'I'd like to meet Chesterton,' Bill said.
'I wish he was here now,' Nick said. 'We'd take him fishing to the 'Voix tomorrow.'
'I wonder if he'd like to go fishing,' Bill said.
'Sure, said Nick. 'He must be about the best guy there is'. (IOT 118-19)
Fishing, like hunting, is an activity that characterizes Midwestern masculinity in America (Crumrin 869-70). Hemingway often connects these leisure interests to the bonding process of fathers and sons. Yet, in the same way as other Hemingway stories where the father is either physically or emotionally absent, 'The Three-Day Blow' openly reveals Nick and Bill's disillusioned view on the father-son relationship. We learn about the father's departure at the very beginning of the plot: "'Is your dad in?' Nick said. 'No. He's out with the gun. Come on in'" (IOT 115). Bill's father had gone hunting without his son. Bill makes up for the loss by delving into literature focusing on men. Nick shares his dilemma: he has substantial knowledge about Bill's favourite books (all by English novelists), which indicates his critical thinking about exemplary masculinity too. The complete title of Richard Feverel, for example, is The Ordeal of Richard Feverel: A History of Father and Son (1859) and it describes an oppressive father's control over his son. Fortitude (1913) is an equally controversial book. The novel examines Peter Westcott's life as he lives with his harsh father who practises corporal punishment on his adult son. Nick summarizes it as "[T]hat's where his old man is after him all the time" (IOT 118) with which he seemingly underrates the otherwise cruel treatment of Westcott. (9) The paternal relationship (or the lack thereof) influences the development of manhood. The impact of the physically and emotionally unavailable father is immense. Although he appears in several other works by Hemingway, he fails to provide long-term comfort and protection to his child. The father tends to become the facilitator of disappointment and instability. His substantive presence is non-existent. His absence produces lack in physical and psychological terms too. Yearning for the father as a source of strength, safety, and consistency remains an unfulfilled desire. Bill and Nick's discourse about their preferred literary works highlights their sense of fatherlessness as well as its subsequently produced insecurity in gender terms.
The unsuitable role model that the father represents for Bill and Nick links to the breakdown of marriages too: the dysfunctional father is also a dysfunctional husband. The tone of concealed melancholy increases in 'The Three-Day Blow' when the boys begin to discuss relationships. Bill lectures Nick on the disadvantages of a heterosexual affair and marriage: "'You were very wise, Wemedge [Nick's nickname],' Bill said. 'To bust off that Marge business. [...] Once a man's married he's absolutely bitched'" (IOT 122). The nicknames that appear in this part of the story require an understanding of the relationships. Hemingway had a friend in Michigan named Bill Smith who called the author Wemedge. Hemingway was also good friends with Bill's sister Katy, whom he loved nearly as much as Bill. Hemingway sought Bill out every time he visited Hortons Bay (Schuyler Lynn 60). Grasping the moment in the context of the story, it is obvious that Bill aims to sustain his apparent influence over Nick by calling him in a diminutive name. He does the same in the case of Marjorie. He asserts his masculine control through his confident and all-knowing voice. Nick does not react, though. The narrator inserts frequently recurring sentences such as "Nick said nothing," "Nick nodded" or "Nick sat quiet" (IOT 122-23) instead of letting him speak.
The first instance when we actually learn about the effects of Bill's words is when the narrative explains Nick's emotions: "All he knew was that he had once had Marjorie and that he had lost her. She was gone and he had sent her away. That was all that mattered. He might never see her again. Probably he never would" (IOT 123). The optimistic Nick at the beginning of the story suddenly becomes a vulnerable man. He still remembers that he must perform his role. Camouflaging his emotional struggles, Nick bluntly concludes the thought process. "It was all gone, finished. 'Let's have another drink,' Nick said" (IOT 123). A short while later Bill begins to ask about Marjorie again. This time Nick talks, but when he realizes that his masculine identity is challenged, he reverts again:
'I oughtn't to talk about it.'
'You aren't,' Bill said. 'I talked about it and now I'm through. We won't ever speak about it again. You don't want to think about it. You might get back into it again.'
Nick had not thought about that. It had seemed so absolute. That was a thought.
That made him feel better.
'Sure,' he said. 'There's always that danger.'
He felt happy now. There was not anything that was irrevocable. (IOT 124)
There is minimal narration in this passage, which allows the reader to focus on the direct speech of the participants. This technique announces the dramatic quality of events: Nick and Bill are exposed. The emphasis lies on the words "it" and "that" in this section of the story. If "it" refers to sexual failure in the heterosexual context, "that" signifies homoerotic fulfilments. When Nick feels happy that nothing is irreversible, he hints at regaining his masculine strength which can only be achieved through the abjection of the female. The narrator repeats the moment of realization a few sentences later: "He felt happy. Nothing was finished. Nothing was ever lost. [. ..] He felt lighter, as he had felt before Bill started to talk about it. There was always a way out" (IOT 124-25, my italics). Essentially, Nick manages to dispose of his heterosexual relationship which effeminized him.
Of course, we cannot textually support the problem of sexual orientation in this story. Hemingway does not delve into the explanation of Nick and Bill's homoeroticism, let alone write the word down in the text. He eliminates any mention of this phrase. It is precisely the exclusion of straightforward expressions that increases the story's ambiguity. Short stories rely heavily on suggestiveness and implications which advance the readers' role in making sense of the narrative. Similarly to the function of a "disappearing narrator" (Rimmon-Kenan 108), questions left open contribute to the verisimilitude of the story and allow the readers to reach a conclusion based on what they hear, see, and feel (R. R Lamb 34-41). Nonetheless, this technique once again proves that Hemingway controls the reader's interpretation. First of all, he confuses us with the description of mixed reactions. The assertion of masculinity in his writing is riddled with discrepancies. We see how the American hero displays socially required masculine qualities (such as the silencing of his emotions), but then we also discover insecurity beneath the mask. We observe how Nick forges emotional detachment, while we also witness how he suffers. He is unable to fully articulate his emotions, which leaves him in a melancholic state of pain that must be camouflaged.
It is exactly the presence of a masked melancholic masculinity that Hemingway's hero needs to reveal. The subtext of short stories in In Our Time (1925) always directs the reader's attention to volatile gender identity as a normativity in Hemingway's thought process. (10) Set in the masculine context of sports, another piece of his fiction, 'Cross-Country Snow', scrutinizes the homosexual leanings of men. Nick is an estranged son in this story. The father is completely excluded from the plot, but the impact of his absence is certainly present. Nick is a grown-up, married man now, expecting his first child. He is becoming a father whom he has never really had himself. Doubts arise about his competency, though, as he juxtaposes his heterosexual way of living with his emotions towards his friend who is called George in this story. Similarly to how Nick himself changes name in In Our Time (1925), George is essentially the same character as Bill in 'The End of Something' and 'The Three-Day Blow'. Once again, however, George, the homosexual "partner," plays the role of a defeated bystander.
'Cross-Country Snow' engages directly with George and Nick's homosocial relationship: "George and Nick were happy. They were fond of each other" (IOT 186). The narrative goes into considerable detail about how they enjoy skiing and drinking together while on a trip in Switzerland, how they chat about a German waitress who "isn't so cordial" (IOT 186) with them and how they discuss Nick's marriage. Such images follow each other in a sequential order to establish the idea of a close male friendship which comes to govern the story. George's behavior, however, implies a deeper love towards his friend. George uses the nickname "Mike" when addressing Nick. The name Michael derives from the Hebrew name iO'DiSb (Mikha'el) meaning 'Who is like God?'11. George worships Nick and he praises his prowess after every skiing manoeuvre: "'You took a beauty, Mike'" (IOT 183) and "'I was afraid to Christy,' George said, 'the snow was too deep. You made a beauty'" (IOT 184). George is also eager to follow Nick as if he himself were not good enough to lead. He magnifies Nick's abilities. "[Nick:] 'Wait a sec and we'll take it together.' [George:] 'No, you come on and go first. I like to see you take the khuds'" (IOT 184) and "'You know more about wine than I do'" (IOT 185). The narrative also reveals George's insecurity and fear of losing Nick. His physical position corresponds to his emotional volatility as soon as they mention Nick's wife during a talk in the pub. He changes position from an upright to an unconfident slouching posture.
They sat there, Nick leaning his elbows on the table, George slumped back against the wall.
'Is Helen going to have a baby?' George said, coming down to the table from the wall.
'Late next summer.'
'Are you glad?'
'Will you go back to the States?'
'I guess so.'
'Do you want to?'
George sat silent. He looked at the empty bottle and the empty glasses.
'It's hell, isn't it?' he said. (IOT 187, my italics)
The narrator repeats the word "empty" twice within a sentence in reference to a bottle and a glass. The fact that both of them are empty likens these objects to the men's sense of hollowness without each other, at least this is what George believes to be the case. He keeps interrogating Nick about his future plans (for example, if he is happy for the baby or if he wants to move back to America) looking to find comfort in Nick's answers. His fast, short, straightforward questions hint at excitement about hoping to obtain what he desires. His voice suggests that he wishes Nick chose him over his wife. He forces Nick to respond to his yearnings.
'Maybe we'll never go skiing again, Nick,' George said.
'We've got to,' said Nick. 'It isn't worthwhile if you can't.'
'We'll go, all right,' George said.
'We've got to,' Nick agreed.'
'I wish we could make a promise about it,' George said. (IOT 188)
Nick, however, lets his friend down. His final words to him eradicate George's hopes.
Nick stood up. He buckled his wind jacket tight. He leaned over George and picked up the two ski poles from against the wall. He stuck one of the ski poles into the floor. 'There isn't any good in promising,' he said. (IOT 188)
The narrator represents the rejection in a graphic manner. Nick moves himself into a higher position than George ("Nick stood up") and secludes himself ("He buckled his wind jacket tight"). He lifts up the two ski poles (his own and George's) from against the wall (the obstacle), but he "stuck one of the ski poles into the floor" indicating their separate ways.
Overt homosocial bonding insinuates latent homosexuality in Nick and George's friendship. Silenced homosexual inclinations recur in Hemingway's oeuvre when he provides a social group particularly hostile to unmanliness such as army or sportsmen. In 'Cross-Country Snow' Nick and George reveal their background in sport.
'Gee, Mike, don't you wish we could just bum together? Take our skis and go on the train to where there was good running and then go on and put up at pubs and go right across the Oberland and up the Valais and all through the Engadine and just take repair kit and extra sweaters and pyjamas in our rucksacks and not give a damn about school or anything.'
'Yes, and go through the Schwarzwald that way. Gee, the swell places'. (IOT 186)
Nick and George reminisce enthusiastically about ski resorts that they wish to visit (and most probably have done so already) together. They must have spent substantial amounts of time mastering skiing. They ski in Switzerland but use Nordic techniques (cross-country, telemark, Christy turns), which confirms their familiarity with winter sport as well as places attached to it. We do not know why these places are so "swell" as neither man describes the mountains at all. They do, however, disclose what type of clothing they would wear and where they would sleep. The environment, therefore, only plays a secondary role in their activities. Skiing belongs to the arena of masculinity that sport represents in general. It affirms the kind of manliness that society expects of men. Choosing the Alps as the location of their encounter is not accidental either. D. H. Lawrence's Women in Love (1920) describes the Alps as the centre of the world where everything begins and ends at the same time. The environment intoxicates and empowers people, it helps to overcome inhibition and it stimulates consciousness (Bloom 73). The Alps also have the power to destroy, though. At the end of Women in Love (1920) Rupert becomes emotionally strong enough to confess to his wife, Ursula, that he has had feelings for Gerald (a man with whom Ursula's sister, Gudrun, was in a relationship) who froze to death in the Alps. The place thus encourages a male character's admission of his homoerotic feelings, but it also hinders the productive outcome of such an action. The narrator of 'Cross-Country Snow' highlights Nick and George's repressed homoerotic tendencies too. George is noticeably more open about his fondness for Nick in 'Cross-Country Snow' than in any other story in In Our Time (1925). Yet his attempt to become involved with Nick remains futile because of their compliance with societal rules. Their participation in the manly sport of skiing is a way of assertion of this sentiment.
Nick and George's homoerotic leanings never find an outlet in In Our Time (1925). They are unable to undertake their mutual attraction towards each other, yet they cannot identify with the requirements of heterosexual masculinity either. Kristeva claims that abjection is strongest when it is directed at the self: when the subject realizes the impossibility of identification with something outside itself and that the sense of impossibility stems from within. The impossible constitutes its very being: it is the abject itself. The subject comes to realize that all objects in his/her experience (which have represented his/her self) originate from loss (Kristeva 5). Nick's character contains an array of impossibilities. He is unable to be a heterosexual husband and father. He is happy for his baby, "Yes. Now" (IOT 187), until it is yet unborn. Once it arrives and he has to be its guardian, he fears he will fail in the same fashion as his own father did. Nick, on the other hand, is also incapable of abandoning his family in order to choose George. He conforms to societal demands much too obediently. His anxieties and lack of confidence stem from the absence of a stable father figure whom he would have needed and wanted. The abjection of the self is thus a recognition of the want upon which being, meaning, language, and desire are founded (Kristeva 5).
If Hemingway's Nick Adams is homosexual, he represents effeminacy in 1920s America. Alterity is a force of anxiety and "otherness" instantly elicits hostility. As it happens, it is interesting to note that fathering a son rather than a daughter also had an immense impact on men as having a son commanded respect in patriarchal "Middle America". A father proved his own manliness by fathering a heterosexual, heroic son and thus contributing to the male-dominated system of social organization. Nick's father is unable to accomplish this "mission". He fails to provide evidence of his own fathering success if his son is homosexual. The absence of the paternal figure and the way he abandons his "unmanly" son suggest his departure in shame. This sentiment penetrates to the realm of Nick's subconscious and he naturally feels unwanted. The trauma of being rejected remains the reminder of a constant gap in his identity and an object of desire that can never be attained.
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UNIVERSITY OF SURREY
Editor's Note: This article retains UK English punctuation.
(1.) Joseph H. Pleck's analysis of the Fatherhood-Masculinity Model distinguishes fatherhood as a parental status from fatherhood as parenting behavior and identity. There is a differentiation between masculinity as male gender status and mascuhnity as males' masculinity orientation, too. The dual aspects of fatherhood and mascuhnity demonstrate a complex connection with the outcomes of child development (Pleck 27) which I aim to portray in my examination of Hemingway's short stories.
(2.) Jacques Lacan emphasizes the father's importance in his seminars collected in Merits in 1966 (230). The "symbolic father" in his theory signifies a concept which does not refer to a real entity but a function that represents order. The "imaginary father" is a much visualized form that is born in the subject's fantasy as either an idealized or hated paternal figure. The "real father," however, remains less straightforward in terms of definition. It refers to an agent performing the symbolic castration, completing the fear that exists in Freud's Oedipus complex. In order to avoid the loss in oedipal terms (the loss of the mother or that of her love), the subject must not consider the father as a rival but rather as a partner with whom he has to identify in order to gain entry into social existence (Evans 62-63). According to Lacan, therefore, the father has a quintessential role in establishing manhood.
(3.) Unlike the stereotyped, socially prescribed masculine perseverance that has been constrained upon Hemingway's male figures, we can see that his text reconstructs the ingredients of the melancholic hero. Indeed, it is melancholy that characterizes the subject in In Our Time (1925). The key feature of melancholia, in Freudian terms, is the disorder of self-esteem (Freud, On Murder 204). Freud says that the melancholic "describes his ego to us as being worthless, incapable of functioning and morally reprehensible, he is filled with self-reproach, he levels insults against himself and expects ostracism and punishment" (On Murder 206). Freud associates melancholy with the apathy of depression and he claims that melancholy and depression are always experienced together. He does not differentiate between the two emotional states. According to modern psychology, the main difference between depression and melancholy is that melancholic self-blame and disillusionment tend to be generated by loss, whereas depression is a reaction to loss (Atkinson et al. 465). As Darian Leader states, "depression is a form of protest. [...] Depression is thus a way of saying no to what we are told to be" (12-13). Underpinning the narrative in In Our Time (1925) are the ingredients of the protagonist's melancholy in the form of low self-regard combined with repressed anger which, apparently, is the product of father-son interpersonal distance and poor masculine role models in Hemingway's text.
(4.) The narrator suggests that Nick must incorporate the trauma of lacking and the pain of deterioration. He must make an attempt to understand it--not to accept it, but to be able to acknowledge it. The subjects repressed anger and frustration must transform into a melancholic recognition. Freud argues that the difference between the mourner and the melancholic is that the mourner can identify the object of loss, whereas the same is not obvious to the melancholic (On Murder 205). If the melancholic knows what he/she has lost, he/she is still unable to realize what he/she has lost in it. Accordingly, we must differentiate what we have lost and what we have lost in it (Leader 34).
(5.) Hemingway talked about homosexuality to Gertrude Stein, who influenced him greatly (Carpenter 69). Her answer, however, did not ease his worries. She said: "The act male homosexuals commit is ugly and repugnant and afterwards they are disgusted with themselves. They drink and take drugs, to palliate this, but they are disgusted with the act and they are always changing partners and cannot be really happy ... In women it is the opposite. They do nothing that they are disgusted by and nothing that is repulsive and afterwards they are happy and they can lead happy lives together" (Stein cited in Carpenter 69).
(6.) For example, Hemingway portrays William Campbell in 'A Pursuit Race' as an aberrated figure who needs to "take a cure" (SS 351). He is constantly "stewed," has "D.T.'s," uses "drugs," mentions avoiding "women and horses and [...] eagles" in a sexual sense and acts towards "sheets" with an unusual affection (SS 352-54).
(7.) Louis Althusser was the first philosopher to use the concept of interpellation for defining the process by which ideology transforms "abstract" individuals into "concrete" subjects. All ideology has the function of producing the "concrete" subject or "subject proper". Ideology, in fact, refers to a function in which the Subject creates subjects as his reflections. Althusser calls this notion the duplicate mirror-structure of ideology in which the Subject needs the subjects (170-79).
(8.) Michel Foucault maintains that histories of normalisation reveal the ways social institutions limit human freedom. Codes and practices signify power on the subject and his/her body. Foucault examines gender codes and sexual morality in relation to homosexuality. Unlike in 1920s American middle class, Foucault claims that in the ancient thought masculinity and femininity were not divided on the basis of such traits as toughness and softness. The sensitivity of men was not perceived as a transgression of their sexual role. On the contrary, for the Greeks it was activity and passivity that indicated the masculinity or femininity of a man in the domain of sexual behavior and that of moral attitudes as well. In essence, it was accepted (even encouraged) for men to establish a sexual relationship with other men as long as they were active in the sexual relation and in the moral mastering of themselves too. If they were not sufficiently in control of their pleasures--whatever the object of their desire--they were regarded as feminine (Foucault 85). As for females, sexual austerity demanded women to be subjected to strict constraints. Yet, this ethics was not addressed to women, it was an ethics for men in which women could be treated as objects over whom men possessed power. This morality did not aim to define a domain of rules for the two sexes, rather it explained masculine conduct carried out from a masculine perspective in order to give form to masculine behavior. Such ethics confirmed power, authority and liberty associated with manliness and activity (Foucault 21-23).
(9.) The other books in question concentrate on unconventional sexual practices (Forest Lovers, "That's the one where they go to bed every night with the naked sword between them" [IOT 118]), alcohol abuse (Flying Inn) and horror (The Dark Forest).
(10.) Hemingway hints at masculine gender instability as an attribute originally built in men by nature, or as Carl Jung defines it, the bisexual "primordial" which is present in both sexes. Jung notes that similarly to how dominant genes determine our biological gender, it is only the conscience or instinct (in men) that has the masculine sign, whereas the unconscious mind is feminine by nature. He names the feminine side of men "anima" and the masculine side of females "animus" (Jung 50). Hemingway is concerned about the hybridity of femininity and masculinity in the human psyche, which underlines his stand on the type of manliness that he asserts (Spilka 2-3). His narrative exposes that gender identity can only be discovered through relational experiences.
(11.) See Michael Campbell. "Behind the Name: The Etymology and History of First Names." http://www.behindthename.com. 20 July 2011. Web. 1996.
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|Title Annotation:||Ernest Hemingway|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2013|
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