Friday, December 24, 2010

Beyond the Myth of Masculine Stoicism: Androgyny and Spirituality in the Art of Ernest Hemingway

  “When you get through with this war you might take up the study of women, he said to himself.”(1)

The Myth of Ernest Hemingway
            In the above quotation, the character of Robert Jordan reflects on the mystery of women while working with a band of guerrillas during the Spanish Civil War.  Jordan is one of Hemingway’s most famous men of action and bravery, yet his love for Maria remains in the mind of the reader long after the military details of the narrative have drifted away.  His devotion to her ultimately transcends his devotion to his cause, which is absolutely steadfast unto death.  The historical settings of Hemingway are often the background to powerful, lyrical stories of romance, where the beauty of love is appreciated more fully because of the intensity of warfare.  Ernest Hemingway presented the historical aftermath of World War I and the Lost Generation through the struggles of his characters of his first novel, The Sun Also Rises.  He also reported on the Spanish Civil War, which inspired his novel about the conflict.  The Sun Also Rises (1926) and For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940) contain some of Hemingway’s most famous, and controversial, male and female characters.  In the first work, Brett Ashley and Jake Barnes are unable to come together romantically because of Jake’s war injury, and Brett’s insatiable sexual appetite.  In the later novel about Spain, Robert Jordan and Maria enjoy three days of erotic bliss in the Sierra Mountains near Segovia, relearning how to live in the moment, even with the likelihood of death in the battle to come. 
Hemingway’s focus on war caused his male characters to overshadow his female ones.  Many critics have argued that his women characters only function in relationship to their male counterparts.  Even when are strong, as they often are, they are merely catalysts for male self-discovery.(2)  The biographies of Carlos Baker and Kenneth Lynn reflect the division in response to Hemingway’s fiction.  Carlos Baker presents the masculine icon of Hemingway in his famous biography.  To Baker, Hemingway was “”The romantic activist, the center and in many ways the originator of his own universe,…the pragmatic moralist whose leading aim was to find out how to live in life, how to last and (having lasted) how to convert a carefully cultivated stoic fortitude into the stuff of which his fictional heroes were made.”(3)  To Baker and the many Hemingway disciples, the author was the John Wayne and Ted Williams of American literature.  Current presidential candidate Senator John McCain has said that he was inspired by the masculine strength of Robert Jordan, an American who is willing to sacrifice his life for the cause of the Spanish people and the Republic.  The self-image that Hemingway projected affected the responses of critics and readers to his male and female characters.  A different kind of life might have provoked a different response to his art, which included novels, short stories, memoirs, journalism, and poetry.  According to biographer Kenneth Lynn, Hemingway was the person most responsible for the confusion regarding his fiction, and how to respond to it.  The image of Hemingway as the consummate man’s man was the author’s great creation, as well as the fictional world of his writing: “So powerful did the Hemingway myth become that his many admiring reviewers were beguiled into the belief that his work could not be understood other than in terms of a correspondence to a supremely masculine life.”(4)  As a battle-scarred veteran and a hardboiled journalist, often covering the military conflicts of his novels, his pose was always that of the veteran insider who knows all the angles.  He was the guy who had seen it all.  Twice.    
            There are more than a few critics who have called Hemingway a phony, and it is clear that Hemingway was hurt by the criticisms.(Lynn 9)  He often hit back, sometimes more viciously than he was insulted.  It is well known that he liked the sauce.  Hemingway’s own war experience was very limited, though he was seriously wounded in World War I on the Italian front.  However, he was never a combat soldier, and his duties as a volunteer included delivering chocolates to the soldiers at the front.  Though Hemingway never exactly lied about his war experience, his male characters do participate heroically in any number of military conflicts.  But Ernest Hemingway was not Robert Jordan in real life—not even close.  In that way, he is much more like John Wayne, the right wing idol who never served in combat.  We have seen quite a lot of this in the Bush Administration.  Ted Williams alone earned his right to swagger with his service in both World War II and Korea.       
Hemingway’s death by suicide also complicates matters, though this is hardly an unknown end for someone with an artistic temperament and alcoholic tendencies.  For the detractors, the suicide was the last act of a man who always pretended to be someone he was not.  For others, it was an act of courage for an old man whose health was failing him.(Lynn 10)  The old man and the sea had finally lost the last great battle.  It is easy to be overwhelmed by the lovers and haters of Hemingway, but what gets lost in the confusion are the many surprises that can still be found in his written art.  It is important not to be guided by those who love Hemingway too much, or by those who hate him.  Neither the disciples nor the heretics have him quite right.  Without knowing about the myth of Hemingway, a new reader might come to entirely different conclusions, to fresh interpretations and appreciation.  In The Sun Also Rises and For Whom the Bell Tolls, a reader will find a ranging exploration of gender identity that is far from traditional in wartime, or any other time.  Hemingway was a frontier explorer in the world of gender and sexuality, breaking down outmoded ideas of both masculinity and femininity.  His male characters are more vulnerable than one might expect for a writer so obsessed with machismo in his private life.  His female characters are strong and memorable, and Brett Ashley can still provoke passionate reactions among men and women, chauvinists and feminists (I am not equating the two by any means), some eighty-two years after the publication of The Sun Also Rises.  He must have done something right.  Most important in his writing is Hemingway’s near obsession with androgyny.  It holds the key to the strength and artistic productivity of a writer who is still badly misunderstood. 
As the winner of the 1954 Nobel Prize in Literature, it is the myth of Ernest Hemingway that prevails in the presentation speech by Anders Osterling, the Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy, though the committee expresses misgivings about his “brutal, cynical, and callous sides which may be considered at variance with the Nobel Prize’s requirement for a work of an ideal tendency.”(5)  They give their award to the man that they, and others, believe is behind the masculine myth: “But, on the other hand, he also possesses a heroic pathos which forms the basic element in his awareness of life, a manly love of danger and adventure with a natural admiration for every individual who fights the good fight in a world of reality overshadowed by violence and death.”( Nobel Prize in Literature: Laureates [1954])  There are no references to gender, womanhood, or androgyny in the presentation speech.  If Hemingway is still being read fifty-four years from now, which is likely, it may well be because of readings beneath, and beyond, the masculine myth of the author.  Hemingway’s understanding of gender also redraws categories of the sacred, and his vision of the eternal feminine is found in nature as the beloved.  The spiritual discipline in the art of Ernest Hemingway is how to live in the moment, in the brutal struggles of modernity and in the moments of peace, with the awareness of eternal beauty that no war can take away.  The artistic hermaphroditic identity of Ernest Hemingway comes through loud and clear in his writing, even though he did his best to hide his true nature in his private life, behind overtly masculine performances of gender.   
War and Brokenness: Stoicism in the Leading Men
            On first inspection, the male protagonists of these two novels could not seem more different from each other.  Robert Jordan is one of Hemingway’s most romantic and powerful protagonists, and he certainly fuels the myth of the author as the ultimate man’s man.  Robert Jordan is a former academic, recently leaving his position as a Professor of Spanish at the University of Montana to join the International Brigade.  Jordan has volunteered to help with the Republican cause as a demolition expert behind the fascist lines, and he performs his duty heroically, stoically, pausing only to fall deeply, completely in love with Maria, a wounded figure of enchantment.  She is a Spanish woman who was raped by the fascists after watching her parents be executed in their town where her father was the mayor.
In contrast to Robert’s manly self-control, Jake Barnes is an emotional mess, the most vulnerable of all the male characters of Ernest Hemingway.  Jake’s war injury is never described with medical accuracy, but it is clear that he is now impotent; he cannot consummate his relationship with Brett Ashley, or any other woman.  It is certainly possible that the genital damage may go even further than impotence.  For many men, this is a fate worse than death, but Jake gamely tries to make the best of it.  He often tries to make light of his situation: “‘Besides what happened to me is supposed to be funny.  I never think about it.”(6)  In contrast to Jake’s genital difficulties, Robert Jordan is fully functioning, and he has sex with Maria the first day that he meets her.  You have to make the most of your opportunities during wartime.  One of the major differences between Jake Barnes and Robert Jordan is in how they talk about the war.  Robert is a great believer in causes, while Jake will have no more of it.  Jake is a figure of disillusionment, part of the Lost Generation, while Robert believes zealously in the good fight: “You went into it knowing what you were fighting for.”(Hemingway, Bell Tolls 162)
            Both men are without countries; they are truly international.  Neither can go back to the life that he lived before.  As a member of the expatriate community, Jake Barnes doesn’t want to go back, and he makes his living as a journalist in Paris.  Without success, he tries to reconnect with his Catholic heritage, visiting churches on several occasions, especially during the fiesta in Pamplona.  As a former academic, Robert Jordan believes that he has been blacklisted as a Communist because of his participation in the Spanish Civil War.  For Robert, there is no sacrifice that is too much for the great cause.  His understanding of the cause is put into directly religious terms, though he seems to be an atheist.  For Robert, the Republican cause is the only religion that he has ever had, but it is a powerful creed for him. 
“At either of those places you felt that you were taking part in a crusade.  That was the only word for it and although it was a word that had so worn and abused that it no longer gave its true meaning.  You felt, in spite of all bureaucracy and inefficiency and party strife, something that was like the feeling you expected to have and did not have in your first communion.  It was a feeling of consecration to a duty toward all of the oppressed of the world…”(Hemingway, Bell Tolls 235)
The quality of stoicism is present in both men, to varying degrees of success.  Robert is able to talk himself into anything as he performs his mission against all odds.  For him, there is never a fear that he will be cowardly, but only that he should be thinking straight to deal with the challenges of a given situation:
“This was the greatest gift that he had, the talent that fitted him for war; that ability not to ignore but to despise whatever bad ending there could be…It was not simply a possibility of harm to one’s self, which could be ignored.  He knew he himself was nothing, and he knew death was nothing.  He knew that truly, as truly as he knew anything.”(Hemingway, Bell Tolls 393) 
Robert Jordan is not given to self-deception.  He approaches military problems with the utmost realism, and the big complication to his stoic realism is the love affair with Maria: “In the last few days he had learned that he himself, with another person, could be everything.  But inside himself he knew that was the exception.”(Hemingway, Bell Tolls 393)   
Jake’s post-war situation is more complicated to evaluate in terms of stoicism, but he does break down a number of times.  In the daytime, among his friends, he puts up a brave front, but he is vulnerable, his self-control often failing him.  Given his situation, it is possible to argue that he is Hemingway’s most stoic character because he has the greatest challenge, the wreckage of his phallocentrism.  When he is alone in the dark, Jake Barnes is given to self-pity, and weeps at this terrible loss: “It is awfully easy to be hard-boiled about everything in daytime, but at night it is another thing.”(Hemingway, Sun Rises 42)  Jake Barnes is no longer looking for causes or explanations for his suffering, or the suffering in the world.  He is just trying to make peace with life, to live in it and to not try to figure it out: “Enjoying life was learning to get your money’s worth and knowing when you had it…Perhaps as you went along you did learn something…I did not care what it was all about.  All I wanted to learn was how to live in it.  Maybe if you found out how to live in it you learned from that what it was all about.”(Hemingway, Sun Rises 152)
  The faith of Robert Jordan is contrasted with the disillusionment of Jake Barnes.  War brought out new truths about human nature and the essence of manhood.  Jake Barnes fails in his attempt to be the hardboiled Hemingway protagonist, while Robert Jordan goes beyond the hardboiled to the cold-blooded at times.  After killing a cavalryman while lying on his side in the morning, he coolly looks through the man’s papers without registering any emotion.  The death of his friend Anselmo in the explosion of the bridge likewise does not generate an emotional response other than anger.  He doesn’t have time for feelings of sorrow.  Even at the end of the novel, as Robert Jordan awaits his own death, he settles in to shoot an enemy officer in the clearing in the woods before him.  He reflects on suicide with his severely broken leg, but resolves to do his duty for a little while longer, until he is dead.  The further that Hemingway got from his own service in World War I, the more comfortable he became in creating iconic warriors, his exemplars of stoicism and masculine strength.  The Sun Also Rises and A Farewell to Arms (1929), with Frederic Henry serving as an ambulance driver as Hemingway did, are much truer to the personal experience of the author, and his honest portrayal of the brutality of war.  In A Farewell to Arms, Henry chose love with Catherine Barkley over his duty in the war—an unfathomable choice for Robert Jordan who was just as much in love.  The Spanish Civil War fueled the romantic idealism of the masculine protagonist, and, apparently, its author.       

Androgyny and Female Characterization
            In The Sun Also Rises, the characters’ decadent behavior is never directly blamed on World War I, but the secure implication of the narrative is that the brokenness of the characters is the result of the war.  In the famous scenes of France and Spain in the 1920s, Hemingway explored the boundaries of gender and sexuality where men and women are more mixed up together than clear about their societal roles.  The mores of American culture are explicitly rejected by these oft imbibing bohemians living abroad.  There is a strong element of sexual exploration in the novel, and no character better exemplified the author’s gender reversals and inversions than Brett Ashley.  In the central romance of the novel, Jake is placed in the role of the woman, one who is hanging on to an unfaithful male.  With her man’s name and bob haircut, Brett cannot be faithful to only one sexual partner.  She owns men, not the other way around. 
            “’Couldn’t we live together, Brett?  Couldn’t we just live together?’
            ‘I don’t think so.  I’d just tromper you with everybody.  You couldn’t stand it.’
            ‘I stand it now.’
            ‘That would be different.  It’s just the way I’m made.’”(Hemingway, Sun Rises 62)
Brett represents the double standard about sexual behavior, and her promiscuity wouldn’t have caused any alarm were she a male character.  Critics have asserted that Hemingway’s muse for this character in real-life was Zelda Fitzgerald.(Lynn 324)  From her first arrival in the novel, Brett Ashley exudes sexual freedom and danger in her beauty.  Jake watches Brett arrive at a cafe with a group of homosexual men: “With them was Brett.  She looked very lovely and she was very much with them.”(Hemingway, Sun Rises 28)  To many readers, Brett Ashley is just a bitch and a nymphomaniac, which aren’t the worst things in the world.  But Brett is always true to herself, and she doesn’t change for men, even though she lets some of them marry her.  Brett knows she would screw up her children, so she doesn’t have them.
Though Brett often puts up a front of strength in public, she regularly breaks down when she and Jake are alone.  After the lively first scene in the café, she is a different person as soon as they leave: “’Oh, darling, I’ve been so miserable,’ Brett said.”(Hemingway, Sun Rises 32)  Brett has plenty of moments of weakness--if vulnerability is associated with weakness, or with women in general.  But the usual categories of masculinity and femininity are rejected in this novel, or bent very severely.  In dialogue with Brett and Jake, it is difficult to remember who is who, and Brett often sounds like the man, Jake the long-suffering woman following her bad boy helplessly.  Jake is not a weak man, and he endures his injury with courage and the best attempts at good humor.  That doesn’t mean he can’t break down, cry in the darkness, and fall in love with the wrong woman, again and again.  He is strong in his weakness, and Brett is often weak in her strength.  They aren’t equals; Brett is much stronger, and more reckless, than Jake.  But Jake is injured.  If he weren’t, could they be together happily?  That is the question at the end of the novel.             
As with all of Hemingway’s novels, the issue of censorship with his editor Maxwell Perkins is significant in The Sun Also Rises.  Hemingway cannot go nearly as far as he would like to with Jake Barnes and Brett Ashley.  In For Whom the Bell Tolls, Robert Jordan’s throat is always swelling, whenever Maria is near him, an unusual physical response.  He does not have a cold.  Something else is swelling, and Hemingway liked to leave quite a few bread crumbs when his sex scenes became less visible in the text.  The editing of sexual scenes is obvious in The Sun Also Rises, such as an early scene with Jake and Brett in Paris.  They have clearly been doing something as time passes, but the actual activity is unmentioned.
“Then later: ‘Do you feel better, darling?  Is the head any better?’”(Hemingway, Sun Rises 62)
            Sexual exploration and gender inversion had fascinated Ernest Hemingway from the time of his injury in World War I.  He fell in love with a nurse, Agnes von Kurowsky, while recovering in the hospital.  Because of his wounds, especially his broken leg, it was only possible for the two of them to have sex with her on top of him, a position which apparently fascinated the young Hemingway.(Lynn 88)  So, what are a genitally impaired man and a sexually liberated woman doing, unsupervised, except by Maxwell Perkins, in Jake’s flat in Paris?  Kenneth Lynn argues that Maxwell Perkins’ editing here reflects a lost scene.  The scene omitted is a scene of oral sex between Brett and Jake:  “Nevertheless, the implication is fairly clear that, while the full extent of his injury is unspecified, Jake remains capable of achieving a degree of satisfaction through oral sex…”(Lynn 324)  Lynn’s argument makes complete sense, but he imagines that Brett is performing oral sex on Jake, because she asks him if he feels better.  If this were the case, the unconsummated relationship between Jake and Brett is truly inexplicable.  What is much more likely is that Jake is performing oral sex on Brett.  He is the mangeur, rather than she being the mangeuse.  He has too much pride, and shame, for that, given the likelihood of physical damage to his sexual organ.  The complexity of their relationship is that Jake, in this case, does feel better, but it is through Brett’s pleasure.  The ostensible orgasm is hers, but for the injured veteran it gives him satisfaction, her sexual fulfillment.  Whatever the actual activity, if any, in the elision, Maxwell Perkins did not feel that the reading public was ready for this kind of sexual inversion.  For many, the scene, and perhaps the novel, would simply be placed in the category of perversion, and not taken seriously, or condemned even more for its truly decadent characters.
Kenneth Lynn and others see lesbianism as an important model in Jake and Brett’s emotional and, apparently, physical relationship.  Homosexuality is referenced a number of times in the novel, from Brett’s arrival on the scene with her crowd--to the witty repartee in the male bonding of Jake and Bill Gorton on their fishing trip in Spain.  Bill is also the only man who is not instantly rendered insensible by Brett Ashley’s seductive presence, and he keeps his distance while being a gentleman thereafter.  Maxwell Perkins also had many issues with the ribald discussion of the two men, but Bill’s fondness for Jake still crosses some surprising lines in 1926.(Lynn 326)
“’Listen.  You’re a hell of a good guy, and I’m fonder of you than anybody on earth.  I couldn’t tell you that in New York.  It’d mean I was a faggot.  That was what the Civil War was about.  Abraham Lincoln was a faggot.  He was in love with General Grant.  So was Jefferson Davis…The Colonel’s Lady and Judy O’Grady are Lesbians under their skin.”(Hemingway, Sun Rises 121)
            The strongest moments of homoeroticism and androgyny are in Spain with the arrival of Pedro Romero, the beautiful and perfectly mannered matador, among their group in Pamplona.  Jake Barnes openly praises the beauty of Pedro, on more than one occasion.  He is much more than handsome.  Pedro is electric to all of them: “He was the best-looking boy I have ever seen.”(Hemingway, Sun Rises 167)  Brett and Jake are in complete agreement about Pedro: “’My God! He’s a lovely boy,’ Brett said.  ‘And how I would love to see him get into those clothes.  He must use a shoe horn.’”(Hemingway, Sun Rises 181)  Through no fault of his own, Pedro Romero causes the dissolution of the group in Spain.  Brett falls badly in love with Pedro, and she pursues him like a man would, aching like an addict with his jones.  Brett is erect, and on the move to conquer the beautiful, androgynous matador.  She chases him like a bull, and Jake, the steer in the group, actually arranges the rendezvous of Brett and her bullfighter.  This arranged meeting causes Robert Cohn, the boxing Jew from Princeton, to first attack Jake, whom he calls a pimp, then Pedro Romero, whom he beats very badly.  Though the fiesta is not over, the group of expatriates will never be the same.  The fiesta is blown out.  The party is over.  Pedro promises to kill Robert if he does not leave town, and he means every word of his threat.  Pedro and Brett take to the country for days of passionate lovemaking, but ultimately Brett leaves the young bullfighter.  He wants to marry her, and have her grow her hair out.  Pedro wants Brett to have his babies.  She leaves because she knows she will destroy him, and Pedro is too beautiful and talented for such an end.    
The only thing truly masculine about Brett physically is her haircut, but she goes after what she wants like a male predator, a powerful creature indeed.  She collects men and husbands and lovers.  Brett will always follow the next big thing.  She will always catch the new thing, emotionally and sexually, until her beauty is used up.  But nothing will ever satisfy her, nor will men ever control her.  Some critics find her to be much more of a man than a woman, and there is speculation that Hemingway is, in fact, the model for Brett.  Jake is possibly not the author at all.(Lynn 325)  But Jake’s behavior with Brett and Pedro may be more explicable in light of the earlier possibilities of Jake and Brett’s unusual sexual relationship, even those on the cutting room floor.  Setting up Brett with Pedro may be a way for Jake to be vicariously present in their consummation, making love to both of them through the other.  That sounds exciting—a banner night for the sexually impaired.  Pedro or Brett may be an extension of Jake, making their union even more exciting, illicit in the air of the fiesta, because the three are interconnected now.  He might as well be in the room.  Hemingway presents a vision of gender that is not static or fixed at all, but fluid, changing, arousing, and accommodating the unique elements of physical injury, changing times, and hot bullfighters with perfect manners.  Old ideas about gender have been broken by the war, or perhaps there have been more than two genders for a long time.  Few have had the courage to say so. 
The frequent criticism of Brett Ashley is that she is only important in reference to Jake Barnes, and his self-acceptance as a man.  Jamie Barlowe argues this in her essay called “Re-Reading Women”:  “In this context, women’s scholarship has exposed Brett Ashley’s textual function as the means by which Jake’s integrity, particularly his maimed grace-under-pressure, can be measured and how his self-insights about male sexuality and identity can occur.”(Barlowe 26)  This comment is fair, as far as it goes, but Jake really doesn’t show much “grace-under-pressure” in this novel.  Brett turns him into a confused female, a crying girl, but he gets distance from Brett and everything else at the end.  In the memorable ending, Jake seems to be beyond any illusions about Brett and himself as a couple, some husband and wife in a different reality, one without war.  Even without his injury, Jake is delivered of any illusions about the relationship that he and Brett could have had.
            “’Oh, Jake,’ Brett said, ‘we could have had such a damned good time together.’
            Ahead was a mounted policeman in khaki directing traffic.  He raised his baton.  The car slowed suddenly pressing Brett against me.
            ‘Yes,’ I said.  ‘Isn’t it pretty to think so?’”(Hemingway, Sun Rises 251)
In the context of the Barlowe quotation, Brett Ashley is not reflective of a real woman, but of Hemingway’s struggles with women in general, especially those who were as sexually adventurous as he was.(Barlowe 28)  Jake Barnes is the narrator of The Sun Also Rises, and his struggle as a man does take precedence over Brett’s, even with her irresistible beauty.  In this sense, there can be no real argument with those who find Brett merely to be a catalyst for Jake’s self-acceptance, and grace to finally understand, accept, and forgive Brett.  He learns to let her go.  He is, however, always willing to come to rescue her, one more time at the end; they both love that scene between them.  But if the inversion of the novel is taken more seriously, it may be Jake who represents the growth that a woman may sometimes have, especially in a relationship that is emotionally tormenting, even abusive at times.  Jake Barnes may embody the experience of many women, and Brett’s destructiveness the shallowness of the predatory male with sex on the brain, all the bad press about men that is absolutely true.  This may not be the great statement of gender for all times and places.  But for many men and women after World War I, in 1926, it represented a revolution in ways of seeing each other.  This novel was a subtle, sometimes obvious, invitation to enter the experience of the opposite sex, the two genders which are not so opposite in the end.       
            The erotic challenges and impairment of Jake Barnes and Brett Ashley are nowhere to be seen in For Whom the Bell Tolls, which Hemingway wrote in the midst of his second divorce.  The ideal sexual partner was certainly envisioned in Maria, as he let go of wife number two.  The bob hairstyle of Brett remains in the close-cropped hair of Maria, but she doesn’t wear it as a fashion statement.  Her hair was shorn while she was raped by fascists in her town.  The mannish women, with their hair cut short, become a raging obsession in Hemingway’s last novel The Garden of Eden.  The book, which was unpublished while the author was alive, was his last experimental journey: with lingering stops in the subjects of androgyny, lesbianism, bisexuality, the difficult politics of the ménage a trois (as everyone knows), and the inevitable divorce and remarriage.  There is the brother and sister element between the man and woman in both For Whom the Bells Tolls and The Garden of Eden, which causes the sexual arousal at the first blush.  The similarity of Robert Jordan and Maria physically is commented on by Pilar, the gypsy woman in the band of guerrillas who are helping Robert Jordan’s military mission:  “’You could be brother and sister by the look…’”(Hemingway, Bell Tolls 67)  Hemingway also subtly explores issue of sexual equality as Robert and Maria begin sleeping together the first night they meet.  The book positively rings with their erotic harmony.  Hemingway’s fascination with the woman on top also comes through in Maria’s desire to explore “everything” with her American lover: “Yes. Yes.  Everything as you.”(Hemingway, Bells Tolls 159)  For Hemingway, turning the turtle over was a lifelong passion, one which, in his mind, allowed him to better understand the pleasure of female sexuality.  It was a way to imagine what it was like to be a woman.  The text suggests that Maria and Robert are actively changing their roles, their physical positions, in their exploration of each other, and the gift of human sexuality in their Spanish Garden of Eden.  As with A Farewell to Arms, the love affair threatens to become as significant as the details of the war story, but Robert Jordan is not the deserter that Frederic Henry was in World War I.  As Catherine Barkley dies at the end of A Farewell to Arms, Robert Jordan tragically loses his life, and Maria, the rape survivor, must go on without him.  She must live for both of them, which she now has the courage to do. 
Before the tragic ending, the beautiful love affair is presented as a physical and spiritual union between Robert and Maria.  They have their moments—whenever possible for the next three days and nights, and Robert calls Maria his “rabbit.”  They express their emotional union frequently, and, like Jake and Brett, it is easy to lose track of when the man or woman is speaking.  The wooing through language is as important as the physical rightness of their bodies becoming one flesh: “’Afterwards we will be as one animal of the forest and be so close together that neither one can tell that one of us is one and not the other.  Can you not feel my heart be your heart?’”(Hemingway, Bell Tolls 262)
Maria’s submissiveness has been questioned by numerous critics.(7)  Is she anything more than a sex kitten, or rabbit rather, for Robert, however tender their union is in the ripeness of their bodies?  While there is validity in this point, the presentation of a rape survivor in this novel is a portrait of great strength.  Hemingway is clearly uncovering the many forms of brutality that occur during wartime, including the great suffering that is borne by women throughout history.  Whether Maria can have children or not is a question Robert and she face openly, and Robert says that he does not care.  The relationship is enough; it is everything.  Maria is able to talk about the circumstances of her rape, which she does not fully reveal beyond the haircutting.  She does this for Robert’s benefit, not because she is unable to talk about the attack by more than one man.  Maria is much stronger about the rape than Robert is; he is ready for violence, which is actually his clear specialty.  There are things that she can handle that are too much for him.  While there is submissiveness in her seduction by Robert, she initiates it on her own terms.  She always goes to him, where he sleeps outdoors in his sleeping robe, waiting for her.  Their physical relationship is presented as one of equality, unity, and changing aggressive and submissive roles.  She is still wounded from the rape, and the internal pain is treated as significantly, and as sensitively, as Jake’s wound in The Sun Also Rises.  Male injuries in war are not more significant than female ones in the fiction of Ernest Hemingway.        
The mystery of sexual union and gender is presented as an experience at the limits of human understanding: “How little we know of what there is to know.”(Hemingway, Bell Tolls 380)  Certainly Maria is a catalyst for Robert’s new, spiritual appreciation for life, and how to live in the moment with a woman.  Their last night together before the bridge is blown is a revelation: “Then they were together so that as the hand on the watch moved, unseen now, they knew that nothing could happen more than this; that this was all and always; this was what had been and now and whatever was to come.”(Hemingway, Bell Tolls 379)  Maria teaches Robert about how to live in the present.  He thinks to himself: “But in the meantime all the life you have or ever will have is today, tonight, tomorrow, today, tonight, tomorrow, over and over again (I hope), he thought  and so you had better take what time there is and be very thankful for it.  If the bridge goes bad.  It does not look too good just now.”(Hemingway, Bell Tolls 165-166) 
The female character who balances the allegedly submissive Maria is Pilar, the female leader of the gypsy band who work with Robert Jordan.  Pilar is a cook, a lover, a friend, a wise woman, and a capable military leader in her own right.  She is not attractive, but she knows about love and all matters of sexuality.  She protects Maria and nurses the young woman back to psychological health.  Pilar is the great storyteller of the novel, one who tells the story of the Loyalist Movement from the beginning, even how they put fascists to death in a barbaric mob scene in her town.  Pilar represents tribal mysteries, the kind of knowledge that can be gained by living close to the earth.  Pilar knows that Robert Jordan is going to die from the first time that she meets him, and she reads his palm, but refuses to tell him what she sees.  At the end of the novel, Maria and Pilar live; they are the survivors.  As surrogate mother and daughter, they are the future of Spain in a microcosm.  The two women ride off on horses, leaving Robert behind, to kill a man with a last perfect shot, and to die alone.  Maria is strong enough to leave Robert, and she knows it would be easier to die with him than to live on her own.  Robert bids farewell to his beloved with these words: “’But if thou goest, then I go with thee.  It is in that way that I go too.  Thou wilt go now, I know.  For thou art good and kind.  Thou wilt go for us both.”(Hemingway, Bell Tolls 463)   
Papa Was a Gender Bender: The Hidden Search for the Sacred Feminine
            From his first stories and first novel to his last efforts at fiction in The Garden of Eden, the categories of gender and androgyny were at the heart of Hemingway’s creative exploration and magnificent output.  There is every reason to think that Hemingway thought it might be wise to cover up some of this interest in his fiction, and in his personal life with so many manly occupations.  But there are more than enough bread crumbs for the reader to find the lively awareness of androgyny in his writing.  As Hemingway remarked generally in his rather meager absentee statement for the reception of the Nobel Prize: “Things may not be immediately discernible in what a man writes, and in this sometimes he is fortunate; but eventually they are quite clear and by these and the degree of alchemy that he possesses he will endure or be forgotten.”(Hemingway, Nobel site) 
Androgyny was not simply an aesthetic interest in his work, an occasional flying lark on a spring day.  It is more like a religious consciousness, a cocoon of spiritual strength.  Androgyny was, and is, a spiritual search for wholeness and completion, even inside a solitary man, or woman.  She is psyche who becomes the butterfly.  The usual comforts of religion do not come easily to the characters of Hemingway’s novels: “Who do you suppose has it easier?  Ones with religion or just taking it straight?”(Hemingway, Bell Tolls 468)  But at its basic understanding, religion means to re-ligament what is broken.  War can break the human body, and propaganda can break the words of the artist.  The religious quest of wholeness by Hemingway meant new combinations of manhood and womanhood.  Maria on her own could be both man and woman, even as her beloved dies.  In “Big Two-Hearted River,” Nick Adams finds the spiritual completion, the second beating heart, in the feminine lessons of nature: “There was a long tug.  Nick struck and the rod came alive and dangerous, bent double, the line tightening, coming out of the water, tightening, all in a heavy, dangerous, steady pull.”(Hemingway, “Big-Two Hearted River” 193)  A sense of near pantheism and eros is present in the story: “He did not want to rush his sensations any.”(Hemingway, “River” 194)  Nature--as mother, lover, sister, and wise woman--are combined together in Nick’s experience.  Nick’s soul is completed by the shape of the earth, the river, and the second heart of life behind it all, the pulse of the life force herself.  Alone, near the end of The Sun Also Rises, Jake Barnes goes swimming twice: “As a roller came I dove, swam out under the water, and came to the surface with all the chill gone.  I swam out to the raft, pulled myself up, and lay on the hot planks.  A boy and girl were at the other end.”(Hemingway, Sun Rises 238-39)  The ending symbol of immersion of the male body is doubled in the two scenes.  The waters of the earth are like the ancient waters of baptism; or deeper still in human memory, both personal and collective, they are the waters of the womb.  They are the female waters, the oceans that gave us birth, and the winding rivers that will take us home one day. 
The three days of Robert and Maria’s union are like the three days that bring resurrection in the Easter story.  All of the action takes place in that trinity time, in a cave in Spain, those three sacred days.  The man and woman are like the body of Christ dying and rising.  The rising at the end, however, is in the life of Maria alone, the sacred survivor who deserves to live, who has learned to live truly.  With the Mary who gave him life, and Mary Magdalene who lives on after his death and resurrection, the Christ character is implied by Robert Jordan’s sacrifice of his own life.  For Robert Jordan, Maria is the alpha and omega of his consciousness.  The still hidden shape of the old gospel is the golden woman who rises in mystery, especially at death.  There can be no debating that Hemingway was a flawed human being who obstructs as much as he reveals about the human soul, in duality and in seamless union of male and female, in joy and in sorrow.  But it is because of artists like Ernest Hemingway that we can see further in our own time. 

End Notes
  1. Hemingway, Ernest. For Whom the Bell Tolls. New York: Simon & Schuster Inc, 1940, p. 176.
  2. Barlowe, Jamie. “Re-Reading Women.” Ed. Lawrence R. Broer and Gloria Holland, p. 31.
  3. 3.  Baker, Carlos. Ernest Hemingway: A Life Story. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1969, pp. vii.
  4. Lynn, Kenneth S. Hemingway. New York: Fawcett Columbine, 1987, p. 9.
  5.  Nobel Prize in Literature: Laureates [1954]
  1. Hemingway, Ernest. The Sun Also Rises. New York: Simon & Schuster Inc., 1926, p. 34.
  2. 7.  Sinclair, Gail D. “Revisiting the Code: Female Foundations and ‘The Undiscovered Country in For Whom the Bell Tolls.” Ed. Lawrence R. Broer and Gloria Holland.  Hemingway and Women. Tuscaloosa: The University of Alabama Press, 2002, p. 93.

Works Cited List

Baker, Carlos. Ernest Hemingway: A Life Story. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1969.
Barlowe, Jamie. “Re-Reading Women.” Ed. Lawrence R. Broer and Gloria Holland.  Hemingway and Women. Tuscaloosa: The University of Alabama Press, 2002.
Hemingway, Ernest. A Farewell to Arms. New York: Simon & Schuster Inc, 1929.
Hemingway, Ernest. Banquet Speech (in absentia). Swedish Academy. Stockholm, 10 December 1954.
Hemingway, Ernest. “Big Two-Hearted River.” The Nick Adams Stories. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1972.
Hemingway, Ernest. For Whom the Bell Tolls. New York: Simon & Schuster Inc, 1940.
Hemingway, Ernest. The Garden of Eden. New York: Simon & Schuster Inc., 1986.
Hemingway, Ernest. The Sun Also Rises. New York: Simon & Schuster Inc., 1926.
Lynn, Kenneth S. Hemingway. New York: Fawcett Columbine, 1987.
Osterling, Anders. Presentation Speech. Swedish Academy. Stockholm, 10 December 1954.
Sinclair, Gail D. “Revisiting the Code: Female Foundations and ‘The Undiscovered Country in For Whom the Bell Tolls.” Ed. Lawrence R. Broer and Gloria Holland.  Hemingway and Women. Tuscaloosa: The University of Alabama Press, 2002.

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