Grades went final for my modernism class, so i thought I might post some of my thoughts from the term. I wrote my final on Hemingway. Take a look!
Death of Gender Restrictions in Hemingway’s Africa Stories
Ernest Hemingway’s “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” and “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber” feature male characters unable to fully adapt to changing ideas of gender characteristics in post-WWI society. Both Henry of “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” and Francis of “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber” display traits that insert themselves among the changing ideals of gender rights, but their apprehension and inability to fully let go of their preconceived notions or fears lead to their inevitable demise. Assessing issues of authenticity, binaries, and marriage, among other areas, and selections from the text, Hemingway uses gender to discuss the aforementioned cultural shift perpetuating itself throughout the period.
“The Snows of Kilimanjaro” is one of four short stories Hemingway wrote about Africa. A notable aspect of “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” is the immobility of its lead male character, Harry. Bed-stricken after sustaining an injury on a hunt, traditional gender roles are reversed as the male character is forced to stay inside, unable to perform “manly” tasks, situated to a role a la the lead character in Charlotte Perkins’ “The Yellow Wallpaper,” while the female character, Helen, takes the active role, going on hunts and attending to matters in the camp. The situation is encapsulated when Harry says to Helen, after being called a coward, “Can’t you let a man die as comfortably as he can without calling him names? What’s the use of clanging me?” (827). Furthering that thought, Judith Butler, in “Performative Acts and Gender Conclusions,” asserts “Gender reality is performative which means, quite simply, that it is real only to the extent that it is performed” (907). Taking this into consideration, Henry’s immobility becomes much more poignant. If he cannot hunt, something he actively set out to do, coming to Kilimanjaro from Paris, then he cannot engage with the male aspect of himself, which forces him into a feminine gendered role, at least in the confines of his perception. It’s something that is reinforced in ““Pen,” “Pencil,” and “Penis” in Ernest Hemingway’s THE SNOWS OF KILIMANJARO” by C. Harold Hurley when Hurley asserts, “Harry’s vitality no longer stems from the tools of his old trade but from the tool of his new trade as a kept man: his penis” (38). Harry’s inability to use his penis coincides with the inability to write as they are both markers of his inability to affect change relative to shifting gender definitions in the world. When Harry’s ink dried, so did his ability to contribute to society in the only way he knew.
There are many penis parallels to be made in “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber,” the only difference being they center on failure to use rather than decided to live by. The narrative begins with Francis Macomber and Robert Wilson in the dining tent “pretending that nothing had happened” (Macomber). As it is revealed said “nothing” [which ironically enough is European slang for vagina or not having a penis, a weighted word that potentially is a comment about the societal issues lingering in the story] was Francis’ inability to shoot a lion for himself while on safari. The inability to act later reprises its dirty head when Margot leaves Harry to copulate with Wilson. In the third instance of performance issues, Francis only wounds a bull on Safari and inevitably gets shot by his wife, as if he was a thrice sinned Peter at the hands of Jesus. Francis’ inability to act relates shockingly similar to Henry’s inability, in “The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” to move. Both characters are men who are undeniably stuck behind the eight ball of a world destined to feast on their civilized faults.
The setting of “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” shouldn’t be ignored in a conversation of Harry’s inability to adapt to gender differences of the new world. There is danger all around Harry and Helen, from the birds circling the camp, ““Don’t be silly. I’m dying now. Ask those bastards.” He looked over to where the huge, filthy birds sat, their naked heads sunk in the hunched feathers. A fourth planed down, to run quick-legged and then waddle slowly toward the others.” (827), to the Hyena lurking at night, “Outside the tent the hyena made the same strange noise that had awakened her. But she did not hear him for the beating of her heart.” (842), are all physical dangers that never would have been encountered in Paris. Because those dangers would have never had to have been dealt with in Paris, or even Hungary as Helen at one time laments, the differences between cultures and conceptions of gender become much more noticeable in “The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” highlighting the need for adaptability – in either the physical or social sense – in Harry and Helen, and Harry’s subsequent inability to adapt. Butler puts it most simply when she writes, “When this conception of social performance is applied to gender, it is clear that although there are individual bodies that enact these signifiers by becoming stylized into gendered modes, this “action” is immediately public as well” (906). Because Harry could no longer act due to an infection that lingered in his body – a metaphor, the infection within the writer, that Hemingway may have been trying to pinpoint as a greater societal trend, or something he was attempting to reconcile within himself – Harry had to die in this known world.
In “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber” the African setting is as much a factor as it is in “The Snows of Kilimanjaro.” Hemingway explores the death of the male preceding World War I and the constructs left in its place: the emasculated cuckold Francis Macomber, the burgeoning feminist Margot, and the war-scarred Robert Wilson. Each character carries a weight of authenticity, a set of pure traits they definitively possess establishing their basis among the others, all of which are heightened and enabled being outside of the civilized society. Timo Muller, in “The Uses of Authenticity: Hemingway and the Literary Field, 1926-1936,” contends that authenticity in such literature is a construct: “authenticity, despite its connotations of trueness and purity, is a construct – a postulated standard of truth that we can at best approximate and that at worst turns out to be a mere chimera. Authenticity is thus a paradoxical concept, a construct to end all constructs, and the name is as intangible as the concept itself” (Muller). If Hemingway uses each character as a construct to discuss a larger point, what would that point be? By the end of the story, Francis, the societal European male, overcomes his stigma and shoots a bull, and, as he is about to kill said bull – which would separate himself from the other European men in which he exists, Margot, who at each step inhibits Francis by belittling and cheating on him, kills Francis, either intentionally or unintentionally, preventing him from achieving said plateau, while Wilson waits and survives, killing the predators of the landscape. With the close of the short, Margot hysterically cries as she has lost her precursor for empowerment – Francis – in the old world, and is reduced to the submissive status in the old, riding to her future in the back seat of Wilson’s motor car. The only character to survive unscathed was Hemingway’s hyper-masculine Wilson. The point of using such deliberate authenticity, is in a broader conversation of gender, “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber” is Hemingway’s attempt to discuss gender as a construct of civilized society. While it ultimately ends with a misogynistic aesthetic, the woman crying and the man ridiculing her, there is an unspoken argument regarding Margot’s ability to exist post-Francis – whose name shares an eerily close spelling to France. Was her empowerment a result of her relationship with Francis or was it based on how they existed within their societal confines? If it is the earlier, then Margot’s reaction is refreshingly humanistic, a natural reaction from one spouse to another. If it is the product of a sort of civic symbiosis, it could reflect the loss of her defense in Francis. Margot may not entirely be engendered in the wild world of the desert but she definitely has no one to turn to in times of strife. She shot Francis. She went on the Safari. She slept with Wilson. All of these were her choices, but with the loss of Francis, all of her choices will reflect solely on her going forward. The question Hemingway inevitably asks is what is the place of the newly empowered woman in a society or with a people that do not desire her to be empowered? Only in Africa, outside of European provisions, could Hemingway attain that discussion.
Staying on the Africa of “The Short Happy Life or Francis Macomber” for a moment, there is a palpable issue of war and masculinity within the boundaries of the text. Wilson possesses “Machinegunners’ eyes” (Macomber) in contrast to Francis’ thin lipped handsomeness. But it is Francis’ inability to kill that separates him more from Wilson than any other defining characteristic trait. In “War, gender, and Ernest Hemingway” Alex Vernon describes, “”The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber” offers another possible expression of the male psyche’s postwar anxiety of having been figuratively unmanned by the war, coupled with a fear of what Gilbert labels “the deadliness of female [sexual] desire” (Vernon). Focusing on Francis in relation to Margot, who Vernon argues is a symbol of the woman’s movement within the Great War, Francis lives in a perpetual state of emasculation that is almost synonymous with the war effort. Vernon writes:
For male soldiers and front-line volunteers … the war paradoxically made men of them and unmanned them. … Francis Macomber goes after the lion to assert his maleness, to defy his woman’s challenge of it, and suffers in the extreme. That Wilson is not only a veteran but also a machine-gunner … underscores his emasculating effect on Macomber and the story’s potential resonance with the Great War. (Vernon)
The effects of war are much more recognizable within “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber” but craft a similar beginning predicament in the characters of Harry and Francis. Both live in a state of shame or resentment and both die in the attempt to change it.
Authenticity isn’t as much of a factor in “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” as it is within “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber.” The characters feel vaguely autobiographical, as if Hemingway writes Harry as himself and Helen as Hadley. But the discussion of gender as a construct still remains, namely through the inversion of fiscal power. The admonishment from Harry towards Helen, “”You bitch,” he said. “You rich bitch. That’s poetry. I’m full of poetry now. Rot and poetry. Rotten poetry.”” (830) satisfies the question of why are they in the predicament they are in. Harry feels undervalued in a relationship in which he cannot contribute fiscally, or physically, as earlier established, and Hemingway uses the money construct to progress his character’s autobiographical, and possibly self-referential, narrative. Harry rebels against his insertion into the powerless fiscal binary, and to an extension, the larger Male/Female gender binary, even though Helen’s use of money isn’t an act of egregious power. It is simply a result of the situation they live in, something Butler contends can synthesize such an opposition: “The transformation of social relations becomes a matter, then, of transforming hegemonic social conditions rather than the individual acts that are spawned by those conditions” (906). The loss of power at the hands of the male, from his penis, to his pen, to his coin purse, is a constant theme in the “The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” let alone Hemingway’s Africa canon.
In his essay “Sartre, “nada”, and Hemingway’s African Stories,” Ben Stoltzfus begins his section on “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” by noting the importance of death in the African stories. Stoltzfus writes:
“The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber” is about one man’s recovery from cowardice – the temporary death of his soul – whereas “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” is about death itself, with no recovery … These two stories complement each other. One is action while the other is contemplation, and both foreground death – Hemingway’s favorite topic – death of the soul and death of the body. (227).
The way each character dies in either story is drastically different, the only similarity being their wives immediately mourned their passing. In “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber,” Francis dies by a gunshot wound to the back of his head – which has obvious gender aesthetics already discussed. In Kilimanjaro, Harry dies from infection, which in itself carries symbolization – the infection being the mounting gender changes throughout the world taking over. Harry’s death is described with a heightened sense of realism, Hemingway writes:
And then instead of going on to Arusha they turned left, he evidently figured that they had the gas, and looking down he saw a pink sifting cloud, moving over the ground, and in the air, like the first snow in at ii blizzard, that comes from nowhere, and he knew the locusts were coming, up from the South. … And then he knew that there was where he was going. (842).
Turning left is an important part of the graph. It indicates divergence from the regular or the expected. It may, as the ending suggests, foreshadow the realization of his forthcoming demise, or it could collaborate with the discussion of gender, referring to the pink cloud. Speaking on the cloud, the color deliberately screams female connotations within the period. If Harry is rising above the pink-clouded world, he is seeing humanity outside of a clouded view and realizes a plague is afoot – whether that plague is the physical inhabitants taking over his body or the emerging gender shifts goes unsaid. Stoltzfus asserts that Harry’s death is joyful, in Hemingway’s representation of the summit, writing: “Harry’s death when the airplane of his dream flies toward the unbelievably white top of the mountain. But the white summit also connotes the joy of success and Hemingway s sense of triumph in achievement” (219-220), but that ignores a lot of the strife Harry suffers, and relays suffering, throughout the course of the text. His death could be joyful to the effect that he no longer has to live and deal with the issues he laments about, but it reads much more as if Hemingway giving Harry the death he never can have. Since Harry is Hemingway, without the writing regimen, it is more likely Hemingway is giving Harry a death away from the world of changing ideologies that diverge from his own.
Neither marriage in “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” or “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber” is successful. Harry is verbally abusive to Helen – ““Love is a dunghill,” said Harry. “And I’m the cock that gets on it to crow” (829). Margot openly cheats on Francis with Robert and Hemingway describes their relationship as being stuck with each other: “His wife had been a great beauty and she was still a great beauty in Africa, but she was not a great enough beauty any more at home to be able to leave him and better herself and she knew it and he knew it. She had missed the chance to leave him and he knew it” (Macomber). Bennet Kravitz, in “”She loves me, she loves me not:” The short happy symbiotic marriage of Margot and Francis Macomber,” argues that Francis and Margot exist in a symbiosis which isn’t as misogynistic as many claim Hemingway to be. When Kravitz speaks of symbiosis, he claims “Thus, much like its biological counterpart, human symbiosis is a positive and necessary stage in human development, but unlike the former, it is a stage that must end” (Kravitz). Expanding on his definition, Kravitz eventually asserts, “The Macombers, it seems, turn their marriage into an institution which is accompanied by “lifelong doses” of mutual dependence. Once the balance between them is upended, something radical must and does occur.” (Kravitz). Francis and Margot’s symbiotic marriage, as Kravitz describes, injects Hemingway with a bout of gender complexity previously seen in the African stories. Less does the role of society play in the individual construction of Francis or Margot, and more goes into how they enable each other. While Kravitz continually focuses on “The Short and Happy Life of Francis Macomber,” the same can be said for Harry and Helen within the confines of “The Snows of Kilimanjaro.” Harry married Helen for her money and, as Hurley and Stoltzfus suggest, to escape failure at writing. Helen married Harry for the company. The symbiosis angle isn’t as palpable as it is in the other story, but it still exists. The effects of such symbiosis, as Kravitz explains within “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber,” center on desire. Kravitz notes:
One way to interpret Lacan’s explanation of desire gone amuck is to reinforce the ubiquitous notion of Margot as murderer. Her inability to come to terms with her desire seems to have lead her on a path of destruction of the other, Francis, within whom her desire is located. But our desire, or interpretation, as Lacan would have it, lies elsewhere. The locus of both Margot and Francis’s desire is situated in the other and is manifest in a symbiotic marriage. And marriage, symbiotic or otherwise, as opposed to desire, must be a reciprocal relationship.
Kravitz treats the desire in each character so balanced that it asserts a sense of humanism within Hemingway, even if it ends in murder and fallen grace. If, using Lacan’s theory as described by Kravitz, both characters share equal relevance, what can be said about gender restrictions within the text? Maybe it can be asserted that Hemingway’s treatment of gender can only be reflected in the eyes of the observer. That those identifying with a particular character will have a particular reaction upon the ending – with those who identifying elsewhere having a fluid fourth reaction. The complexity of a thought disengages from the premise of dying within the characters of Francis and Harry but it highlights that the need to focus on their deaths may have been presupposition centered on the basis of gender confines and the inability of the old to adapt to the new, effectively reinforcing that gendered notions spring from the individual as instructed by the society. As much as the characters look for differences within the text, readers find said differences only as a result of looking for them themselves, ultimately reinforcing the desired stereotype. But if Hemingway actively sets out in such a manner to highlight gender in these different fashions, he is as much a participant as is the reader.
Moving forward, the idea of death and the search for gendered considerations finds an apt partner in Patrick Blair Bonds’ “Hemingway, Gender Identity, and the “Paris 1922” Apprenticeship” as Bonds draws an interesting parallel between “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” and another work, “Paris 1922.” Bonds writes:
The attention to otherwise marginalized male and female identities … suggests Hemingway’s sensitivity to modern society’s inability to stabilize conduct and appearance as categorically masculine or feminine and his commitment to questioning culturally-validated gendered identities … The experimental sentences of “Paris 1922” reflect his sense of those changes – socially, politically, and personally. Indeed, the apprenticeship of “Paris 1922” signals – as the author of “Snows” tells us – “the start of all he was to do” (70).
If, as Bonds suggests, Harry is the remote Hemingway, then the consideration of authenticity of these thoughts began with the earlier noted admonishments of Helen, who would have to be one of Hadley, and could serve as fun house parallels within the walls of Francis and Margot. Hemingway, the author, is the ultimate construct as he is the most complex character Hemingway could ever potentially create. Being the primary observer, Hemingway biases any truth a reader, or one of his characters, can ascertain, about gender identities or restrictions, as it with always be precluded by his own idiosyncrasies. There is a moment, towards the end of “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber,” in which Hemingway writes “Wilson looked at her with his flat blue eyes” (Macomber) that feels like an observation by the author, which his flat blue eyes being almost like the flat views of the world that used to dominate the old world – the only world a man like Robert Wilson could ever exist. It’s possible that Hemingway is asserting a death of the civil man rather than general man within the context of his African stories. If the only penis to survive is the hyper male, Robert Wilson, Hemingway’s opinions for life outside of the construct of society is loudly clear.
That supersedence of male importance over the feminine is something Susan K. Harris watches closely in “Vicious Binaries: Gender and Authorial Paranoia in Dreiser’s “second Choice,” Howells’ “editha,” and Hemingway’s “the Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber””. Harris contends that Hemingway’s inability to promote the feminine leads to an “inevitable conclusion” (76). Harris writes, “Hemingway, though at times aware that his self-absorbed male characters can be harmful to others, nevertheless more often privileges male sensitivity over female destructiveness than the reverse” (76) eventually leading to what Harris asserts as a trap, describing:
Binary structures associate men with activity and women with passivity; physically, Margot is passive – the men shoot, she sits in the jeep. Not only does the action of the story restrict her physically, it’s clear that her history has done so, too – she was an extremely handsome and well-kept woman of the beauty and social position which had, five years before, commanded five thousand dollars as the price of endorsing, with photographs, a beauty product which she had never used” (Perkins et al. 1290). She has been a model, an object to be gazed at, and she has been a wife: “She had been married to Francis Macomber for eleven years,” and she has “done” nothing else. In fact she does not “do” anything; she is. (77).
While Harris ignores the mental capabilities of Margot, she has a point about her activity. In some ways she is the opposite of Helen, but still very much the same. Helen shoots. Helen manages the camp. Helen is active. But when she goes into the tent, into see Harry/Hemingway, she doesn’t engage. She is reactive and passive, awaiting Harry/Hemingway’s words. The glaring issue to obtain from Harris’ assertions is that in stories such as “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber” and “The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” two shorts that feature as much active gender considerations as any in the period, they do not feature women who are fully formed characters, effectively tainting any of the perceptions Hemingway has on gender.
The conflict, however, comes in Hemingway’s personal life. Rena Sanderson’s “Hemingway and Gender History” describes Hemingway as being more liberated, describing the author as someone whose ideal woman was the woman of the period. Sanderson writes: “We know that Hemingway welcomed and praised tomboyish qualities in his four wives – Hadley’s hiking, skiing, and easygoing companionship, Pauline’s riding and shooting, Martha’s hunting, and Mary’s expertise as a deep-sea fisherwoman” (173). The use of tomboyish aside, Hemingway actively sought women whose actions are, at half-best, vaguely within the confines of his Africa stories. Sanderson builds to the point that while Hemingway enjoyed these traits within his partners, he believed that there were innate differences in men and women, something she contends presents itself in Hemingway’s study of sexologist Havelock Ellis. Ellis, “recognized women’s sexuality and encouraged its liberation, he also believed there were natural differences between men and women that should guide behavior” (173). The sentiment is almost Omni-present in each African story as either lead character’s – Harry or Francis – inability to fully adapt and live within their situations leads to their individual demise.
Change happens or it doesn’t. The characters who succumb to death in Hemingway’s Africa stories, Harry and Francis, wouldn’t change in a hypothetical world. If Harry’s infection subsides, he doesn’t go on to write. If Francis shoots and kills the bull dead, he and Margot still go back to their old world, unable to change because of their individual factors. Death was the only possible route for escape in either instance. If Hemingway possesses the beliefs Sanderson, and all the indicators in the texts, contends then he too, within the African stories, is realizing that the only way to escape change is to break from society. Breaking from a construct such as culture only leads to death, whether it is the actual death of no longer existing or the metaphorical death of no longer existing in a world that doesn’t value the insights from a person. The African stories are Hemingway’s suicide note. He doesn’t want to bend to your gender convictions and he doesn’t want to live in a world in which he has to do so.
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Vernon, Alex. “War, Gender, and Ernest Hemingway.” The Hemingway Review 22.1 (2002): 34-55. ProQuest. Web. 28 Feb. 2016.