Saturday, October 9, 2010

Hemingway’s Female Characters

Early Influences
Hemingway’s early life has influenced his conception of womanhood as it has done his other attitudes towards life. His mother was a dominating woman and as such he developed a distaste for all women who tried to dominate men or, in other words, tried to unman men. The second most powerful influence in his life seems to be the Indian girls in Northern Michigan whom Hemingway had known intimately. And then there seems to be a third type of character, the American female, whom Hemingway must have observed from close quarters. In fact, the American female and the destructive influence of his mother in the house seem to have reinforced each other.

The Ideal Woman Makes No Demands
Hemingway’s male character’s most satisfactory relationship seems to be with the type of woman who complicates his life the least. It is a type of woman who makes no demands whatsoever. Krebs wants a woman for whom he has to make no effort. The ideal of this sort of womanhood is enshrined in the Indian young girl Trudie or Prudy. She had done to Hemingway first what no other woman had ever done better. She had “plump brown legs, flat belly, hard little breasts, well-holding arms, quick searching tongue... good taste of mouth...” She is a type of woman who would be enjoyable in bed and would make no demands whatsoever. It is a life of the flesh and of the moment that Hemingway seems to have admired in these Indian girls.
Ideal Women : Some Examples
This acquaintance with Indian girls sent him on a life-long search for an ideal type of woman who had the qualities of the Indian girl and was white. This character has been first introduced in the form of Catherine Barkley, then developed in Maria (in For Whom the Bell Tolls), and finally it reappears in the form of Renata (in Across the River and Into the Trees). Catherine Barkley is a British nurse in the American hospital at Milan. She attends to the hero’s physical as well as emotional needs. She is desperately in love with the wounded soldier who needs not only a nurse to look after him but also a female companion to sleep with him at night. For her, Henry becomes her religion. When she becomes pregnant she does not insist on marriage. In fact, she does not tell Henry that she is pregnant because that will disturb his peace of mind. Henry expects this devotion as a matter of right and goes to the front leaving her to her own resources. She fends for herself in Henry’s absence. In fact, the male character in Hemingway wants to avoid responsibility and his casual contacts shrink from any responsibility.
Maria, in For Whom the Bell Tolls, is the daughter of a Republican Mayor in a small town and she is raped by the Fascist troops. Though physically impaired she retains her sanity so that the American youngman Robert Jordan may come and make love to her. She goes to his sleeping bag, an act of daring which, as a matter of fact, would be extremely unusual in a Spanish girl. She becomes for Robert Jordan a symbol of Spain and this concrete symbol is far better than the abstractions that had confused Robert Jordan before. When Robert Jordan is highly confused in his loyalties he returns to Maria for giving sustenance to his befogged political loyalty. It is for her that he decides to die and it is in her that lie hopes to live after death.
Renata, literally, means rebirth. It hat been aptly remarked that as, the Hemingway hero grew older his heroine grew younger. She is a nineteen-years old girl and in love with an ageing Colonel -who bears on every part of his body the scat of the two wars. She is a Roman Catholic but she has no compunction whatsoever in meeting the Colonel secretly and sleeping with him. She is, in fact, a reborn Venus in the city of Venice.
Symbols of Romantic Day-Dreams
These young girls are symbols of romantic day-dreams of the Hemingway hero. They are extremely beautiful, most obliging, ready to serve, know the code, make love as frequently as the hero wants and make no demands whatsoever. They are useful devices to extract the human seed. They are seldom shown as wives because a wife could Mean a permanent relationship, and want reciprocity. All these girls appear as mistresses or beloveds. They are there to while away the tedium of boredom for the hero.
The Destructive Type
The second type of important female character that appears in Hemingway’s fiction is a bitch. She has no morality, whatsoever. She is a dominant type of character who wants to keep the male under her total control. She wants freedom for herself but would deny such a freedom to the male character.
Such a character appears in the first novel. The Sun Also Rises, in the form of Brett Ashley. She calls herself “a chap”. She drinks in the company of male companions and is most of the time drunk. It will be useless to deny that they are beautiful because Brett is supposed to have the body of Circe. They usually have short hair which is the symbol of their freedom from the old shackles of femininity. As a matter of fact, the short hair is symbolic of the loss of their femininity.
Margot Macomber
The most significant embodiment of this type of character appears in the short story called The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber. Hemingway is most ruthless in his criticism of Mrs. Margot Macomber. She has accompanied her husband on the big-game shooting trip to Africa. When her husband shows cowardice by running away from a wounded lion she openly condemns him by kissing the mouth of the white hunter who had finished off the wounded lion. If this condemnation were confined to only a kiss the matter would not be so critical, but she carries this initial infatuation into a sexual intercourse at night with the white hunter, Wilson. Macomber is lying awake in his bed when she returns after this adventure. When he accuses her of adultery she cruelly calls him a “coward”. The next day when Macomber attains manhood by showing courage, Margot goes white with anxiety and shoots her husband dead. In Hemingway’s own words: “They are ... the hardest in the world ; the hardest, the cruellest, the most predatory and the most attractive and their men have gone soft or gone to pieces nervously as they have hardened.” These predatory women have no pity whatsoever for those with whom they come in touch whether they the husbands or lovers. They are the liberated Eves of the post-war era.
In The Snows of Kilimanjaro, Mary, though not so destructive in her influence on the hero-writer as Margot Macomber, has corrupted the writer by her money. She gave him money and comfort but in the process destroyed his talent. Hemingway in Green Hills of Africa counts women as one of, the causes of, deterioration and ultimate death of a writer’s talent.
The Mother-Figure
The third type of female character who appears in Hemingway’s fiction is the benevolent mother-figure of Pilar in For Whom the Bell Tolls. She knows, understands, helps the hero as much as the circumstances permit. Pilar sends Maria to Robert Jordan’s sleeping bag because she has read Robert Jordan’s death in his palm. She has looked after Maria before she meets the American dynamiter. She promises to look after Maria after Robert Jordan is left to die on the pinecovered slope at the end of For Whom the Bell Tolls.. Secondly, the mother-figure is a gypsy unlike the predatory Anglo-Saxon women. In To Have and Have Not, Maria, who was formerly a prostitute, makes an ideal wife. What an ironic comment on American womanhood.
In the words of Linderoth :
                Since the male character fears involvement, the woman he values most is the one who complicates his life the least... Such women are extremely rare, however. Even a woman who seemingly is able to function as a good wife should, such as the girl in Out of Season or the one in Cat in the Rain, feels a vague sense of having been cheated somehow. Hemingway-seems to suggest that these women have been cheated of their rightful feminine heritage. The price they had to pay for their short hair, cigarettes, and intellectual freedom is the loss of their femininity. Marriage or an affair with such a woman ends unhappily. It is important, to note, however that Hemingway does not blame the woman for the failure of such relationships. Usually he treats the woman sympathetically, often more sympathetically than he does the man, although almost invariably the story is told from the man’s point of view. The reader is left to draw the conclusion that this is just the way things are in our time.
Kipling’s Influence
Edmund Wilson has traced a parallel between Hemingway and Kipling in the portrayal of women. Kipling believes that he travels faster who travels alone and the female of the species is more deadly than the male. Hemingway seems to have accepted this profound judgement of Kipling and moulded most of his desirable heroines on this pattern. They are either British or Spanish or Italian and seldom do they belong to the American community. Of course, they make perfect mistresses, and their existence is justified only in terms of their service to their lords. They have no independent existence, because their identity is completely merged with that of the hero. Edmund Wilson calls them “amoebe-like”. Carlos Baker does not agree with Edmund Wilson in this particular respect. Edmund Wilson called them “wish projections”, “dream girls”, “romantic ideals of wifehood”. Carlos Baker thinks that they are convincing in themselves as human personalities. They are not idealisations but the situations in which they are placed demand of them such roles. What would one expect of a woman on a brief furlough ? They are also the victims of the terrible situations in which the Hemingway hero lives and if they understand the situation properly the responses that they make can be the only correct responses. Hemingway shares with many predecessors a dialogue indubitably masculine, a certain chivalric attitude not without ironic virtues, and a disinclination to interest himself in what may be called prosaisms of the female world.
Symbols of Home
Carlos Baker also stresses the point that these soft type heroines in Hemingway are an idealisation of womanhood. They set the tone and the norm of what womanhood should be. He also seems to disagree with the critics who lumped these heroines together because he thinks that Brett and Catherine are fairly different one from the other. Brett is almost neurotic in her drinking whereas Catherine: is extremely sober. Brett is polygamous or even adulterous but Catherine’s relation with Henry is exemplary. Brett wears man’s clothes to assert her equality with man while Catherine is extremely feminine in her attitudes. She is extremely dependent on Henry but in her love she almost mothers him. Her home is where her love is, so much so that she converts a hotel-room into a home by her very presence.
Hemingway seems to romanticize the role of these soft heroines. They set up an ideal of service, love and devotion to their lovers even in a crisis. As the crisis deepens, their virtues shine all the more. Hemingway has depicted these soft heroines in a premarital stage. Wars and revolutions, the inevitable enemies of marriage and domesticity, in which they are adrift destroy their lives.
Women Get Man Nowhere
Bardacke in an interesting essay has developed the thesis that long hair on the head of a female character in Hemingway is a symbol of femininity and cropped hair is a symbol of the new freedom that women seem to have acquired after the war. However, this thesis is only peripheral to Hemingway’s main thought. The, main idea that Hemingway seems to play with is that women get man nowhere, the thesis that Kipling seems to have put forward. Therefore, most of his female characters either leave the hero in the lurch by dying or, the hero has to die, leaving them all alone, or the relationship must be sooner or later terminated to indicate that love is not a permanent relationship. As the Major in In Another Country says, one must seek only things that one cannot lose and a woman cannot be a thing that a man cannot lose. Therefore, Hemingway seems to be obsessed with the idea of either condemning woman outright or showing love to be a temporary liaison which is no solution to life’s problems. In fact, love seems to complicate ­the problems rather than solve them.
Linderoth’s classification of women into six types is a nicety carried to a ridiculous extent. Hemingway’s female characters, most characters in the works of any author for that matter, are usually so complex that it would be stupid to categorise ands pigeon-hole them.

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