The Forgotten Female in the Works of Hemingway
Ernest Hemingway has often been accused of misogyny in his treatment of female characters (and, perhaps, in his treatment of women in his own life). "It is not fashionable these days to praise the work of Ernest Hemingway," says Frederick Busch. "His women too often seem to be projections of male needfulness" (1). Many of his stories are seen as prototypical bildungsroman stories--stories, usually, of young men coming of age. There are few, if any, stories in the canon of women coming of age, however, and Hemingway is not the first to suffer the wrath of feminist critics. But is this wrath justified?
In his dissertation, Mark G. Newton reviews some of the critical literature that places Hemingway within the misogynist genre. "Cliches [sic] abound," he says. "Hemingway was in search of his manhood (an ignoble quest?); he hated women; he had a "death wish" and a "thin persona"; he was the archpriest of violence, etc." (6). However, Newton sees women in Hemingway's works as the "positive life-directed force which transports the male Hemingway hero away from a debilitating wound" (2), and he places them into "[t]he roles manifested by Hemingway's women in aiding the hero": "Ideal Women," "Sister Guides," "Icons and Dream Visions," "Wicked Women Who Also Serve," "Feminine Points of View," and "Full Cycle." My problem with Newton's approach to the feminine in Hemingway is that Newton seems to accept that, in presenting women as archetypal Eve's, the woman as "help-meet"-type image, that Hemingway is somehow presenting women favorably.
A somewhat similar view is presented by Jeryl J. Prescott in "Liberty for Just(Us): Gender and Race in Hemingway's To Have and Have Not. Prescott sees Hemingway as making "use of feminist rhetoric of rage, economy of stereotype, and metonymic displacement to illuminate perceived gender and ethnic differences within a society that professes to foster equality yet frowns on difference" (177). He argues that ". . . Hemingway exhibits uncensored male perceptions of females perhaps as a partial explanation for why women occupy subjugated positions in American society" (180). He concludes:
. . . Hemingway's chief concerns remain consistent. Within this world of selfishness represented in Hemingway's canon, the "lost, lamented for values" include faith, hope, and security as well as "fertility, creativity, love, peace, and human brotherhood for maintaining life. . . . Harry's last words, "A man alone ain't got no bloody fucking chance" (THAHN 225), imply that togetherness may be the first step toward healing. Searching within the abyss of nada for meaning, people must first reform and embrace each other before they can reform and embrace the world. (188)
These are the same echoes, the reaching out for other human contact, that we see in George Willard in Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio....