Papa Hemingway

HemingwayI have always suggested that Ernest Hemingway wrote some excellent short stories but that his novels, excepting The Sun Also Rises, generally sucked. Recently I have been reading some of Hemingway’s early stories as collected in the volume In Our Time. It’s funny what you notice the second (or third or fourth) time you read a story, especially in this case after having read Clancy Carlile’s The Paris Pilgrims. The way publishers have handled Hemingway’s short stores makes it very easy to reread many of them since they are collected in so many different editions (luckily there is a Complete edition so you don’t have to worry about missing any).

Think back over all the Hemingway you have read and consider the male-female relations: love, romance, sex, disfunction.  What about male-male relationships and those prominent man-against-nature scenarios stalking animals in Africa or sport fishing off Key West? Hemingway was such a guy’s guy and did all that macho stuff (even buddying up to Castro) … was he over-compensating?

Consider this interesting passage from “Soldier’s Home”:

… There was something else. Vaguely he wanted a girl but he did not want to have to work to get her. He would have liked to have a girl but he did not want to get into the intrigue and the politics. He did not want to tell any more lies. It wasn’t worth it.

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. It was all right to pose as though you had to have a girl. Nearly everybody did that. But it wasn’t true. You did not need a girl. That was the funny thing. First a fellow boasted how girls mean nothing to him, that he never thought of them, that they could not touch him. Then a fellow boasted that he could not get along without girls, that he had to have them all the time, that he could not go to sleep without them.

That was all a lie. It was all a lie both ways. You did not need a gel unless you thought about them. He learned that in the army. Then sooner or later you always got one. When you were really ripe for a girl you always got one. You did not have to thnk about it. Sooner or later it would come. He had learned that in the army.

HemingwayNow he would have liked a girl if she had come to him and not wanted to talk. But here at home it was all too complicated. He new he could never get through it all again. It was not worth the trouble.

… He sat on the front porch.

He liked the girls that were walking along the other side of the street. He like the look of them much better than the French girls or the German girls. But the world they were in was not the world he was in. He would like to have one of them. But it was not worth it. They were such a nice a pattern. He like the pattern. It was exciting.But he would not go through all the talking. He did not want one badly enough. He liked to look at them all, though. It was not worth it. Not now when things were getting good again.

What is Hemingway telling us? Are there unspoken issues, as Clancy Carlile insists, that might besmirch the macho image of Papa Hemingway?

I found that singular word “pattern” quite striking in the story. It doesn’t seem to be a natural word to use in the circumstances, so what is it implying? I’m getting too old and too tired to go researching these things in the university library, so I ask: what do the Hemingway scholars have to say about this subject (assuming there are Hemingway scholars any more)?

What are your thoughts on this?

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