When thinking of masculinity in literature, one author has who has become synonymous with manliness comes to mind, Ernest Hemingway. Critics have spent countless hours studying his writing in order to gain insight into his world of manly delights, including his views on sex, war, and sport. His views can be seen through his characters, his themes and even his style of writing.
The characters in Hemingway’s stories reveal much about how he feels about men and the role they should play in society. Most of Hemingway’s male characters can be split into one of two groups. The first of which is the “Code” Hero. This is the tough, macho guy who chooses to live his life by following a “code of honor, courage, chivalry, honestly, and the ability to bear pain with resistance and dignity, and does not whine when defeated” Scott, 217. This hero is Hemingway’s ideal man, whom every man should want to become. Robert Penn Warren writes of the “code” hero:Order now
heroes are not squealers, welchers, compromisers, or cowards, and when they confront defeat they realize that the stance they take, the stoic endurance, the stiff upper lip means a kind of victory. If they are to be defeated they are defeated upon their own terms; some of them have even courted their defeat; and certainly they have maintained, even in the practical defeat, an ideal of themselves â€“ some definition of how a man should behave, formulated or unformulated â€“ by which they have lived. They represent some notion of a code, some notion of honor, that makes a man a man, and that distinguishes him from people who merely follow their random impulses and who are, by consequence, “messy.” Warren, 79
Hemingway also seems to associate acts of violence with masculinity. Nathan Scott Jr. writes of Hemingway’s manliest characters: Whatever they do, whether it be bullfighting or fishing or prizefighting or hunting lions in the African bush or blowing up bridges as a military saboteur â€“ is done with consummate skill and with pride of craft; they are tough and competent: they can be counted on in a tight squeeze, and they do not cheat or squeal or flinch at the prospect of danger. Scott, 217
Examples of the “code” hero in Hemingway’s work include Manuel the bullfighter, in “The Undefeated” he fights with a noble dignity even when he is jeered by the crowd and gored by the bull, along with Wilson, the big game hunter from “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber” who shows no fear when confronted with a charging lion. But perhaps the greatest figure of masculinity found in Hemingway’s work is Santiago from The Old Man and the Sea. He keeps his composure and maintains dignity after the fish that he has been fighting is lost to the sharks.
The other male character used often by Hemingway is the coward or the “messy man”. This is the man who follows no code and has no honor or bravery. He is often dominated by a woman, by far the most humiliating condition according to Hemingway. In The Sun Also Rises, Hemingway writes “Cowardess is the worst kind of luck any man could ever have” showing his despicable view towards any man lacking masculine qualities. One of the best examples of the coward is portrayed in “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber” by Francis.
He is dominated by his wife and looked down upon by manly hunter Wilson. But as the story goes on, Macomber overcomes his cowardliness and becomes the sought after “code” hero for the short while before his death. The hunting expedition serves as an opportunity for Francis to learn the code and reassert his power over his wife. The male characters used by Hemingway in his stories say a lot about his own views of masculinity.
Also, Hemingway was considered to be “vitally concerned with re-establishing what he felt were the proper rules of man and women in their relationship to each other” Fiedler, 305. This is shown in his portrayal of women in his stories. He views women in his work in one of two ways. The first of which is his view of the powerful, manipulative “bitch” who uses sexual allure to assert her power in an attempt to rob her male counterpart of his strength, integrity, and his entire manhood. The other representation of women in his work is as a “mindless sex object who exists solely to satisfy the man, sexually or otherwise” Holder, 104. These two views have led to Hemingway being seen as a sexist by many feminist readers. His opinions on the role of women in society say a lot about his view on masculinity.
One of the biggest reasons leading to Hemingway’s reputation as a strongly masculine author is the style with which he writes. Philip Young says that Hemingway’s style is the perfect voice of his content. That style, moreover, is the end of aim, of the man. It is the means of being the man, the style is the man. The strictly disciplined controls exerted over the hero and his nervous system are precise parallels to the strictly disciplined sentences he uses. Young, 35
Even Hemingway’s style can be described as masculine. For example, Strychancz claims that his use of “brute, rapid, joyous jab of blunt period upon period give off a rigidity of effect that can only be seen as masculine” Strychancz, 149. Hemingway’s use of short, simple, powerful statements in his writing leave the reader with a sense of brute strength that can be associated with the brute strength of a man.
Many of the themes presented in the works of Hemingway can be described as male-oriented and extremely masculine. The concept that a real man does not whine or complain when put into a position of pain, but takes his downfall with a sense of grace and dignity is a recurring theme seen throughout Hemingway’s stories. There is also the idea that because the hero lives by his code, he is able to “live properly in the world of violence, disorder, and misery in which he inhabits” Baker, 15. The young waiter who hopes to one-day become a noble bullfighter in “The Capital of the World” illustrates this point. After performing gallantly, he takes his defeat with a sense of pride and chivalry allowing him to die the only real death in Hemingway’s mind, the death of a real man.