Hemingway’s Portrait of Heroism: A Study of Gender Differences

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Arts and Humanities | English Language and Literature


Charles Thornbury, English


Ernest Hemingway remains an interesting writer nearly forty years after his death because his works can be read in numerous ways. Literary texts seem to survive or disappear over time depending on whether they become part of a cultural conversation. The way Hemmingway wrote about heroism and gender continues to be discussed by scholars, students, and critics, both formally and informally. Many people view Hemingway’s male characters as the embodiment of heroism and masculinity, living in a world that revolves around war, hunting, and bullfighting. His female creations, on the other hand, are often perceived weak, fragile, or, at best, independent. Yet these classifications seem too simple to be true, seeing as how debate about Hemingway’s writing refuses to disappear. After all, if his character’s lives were so simple, their treatment so clear, there would be little reason to ponder their meaning years after they were first introduced to readers. For my Honors thesis, then, I propose to study Ernest Hemingway and gender attributes given to his characters, with an emphasis on heroism in men. There are numerous indications Hemingway himself was conscious of gender in writing: a title such as “Men Without Women,” for one of his stories is an example. In examining the “gender” of characters, I would study the sexual differentiation given them because of their biological and perceived social differences. However, I do not necessarily intend to ascribe certain value to what Hemingway wrote about, for instance, whether it is morally correct. Rather, I want to examine variation among characters for its own sake, perhaps attending to why Hemingway would perceive genders in specific ways based on his life. Moreover, to properly investigate Hemingway’s genders, I feel it would be fruitful to look at his concept of love. The way male and female characters interact when passion is shared between them will explain much about their differences. It seems that men who are deeply romantic and emotional cannot simply be barbarians concerned only with bravery and death. Likewise, women who are independent and brave cannot simply be defined as weak and colorless. While it is possible Hemingway’s creations often fall into these stereotypes, there seems to be much more below the surface.