The central characters are the ill-fated newlyweds, Catherine and David Bourne. As with other star-crossed lovers in Hemingway's fiction, their love, which begins as a romantic idyll, is destroyed by the end of the book. It is very much to the point of character analysis, however, to see that this love relationship is shattered, not by war, biological fate, or any external agent (as is often the case in Hemingway's fiction) but by the very flaws in the characters themselves. Catherine, driven by a kind of rage for change, insists upon sexual role reversals and inversions. The question of Catherine's character and role changes, it should be said, is handled by Hemingway with a great delicacy, subtlety, and sympathy for her plight. Nor is it, as some critics would have us believe, a simple matter of sexual experimentation which causes her downfall. The various patterns of action and imagery which define Catherine's character—her obsession with darkness, with getting the dark suntan, her hair fetishism—underline Hemingway's concern with evil, with human flaws and insufficiency. The most obvious signal of this concern is Catherine's nickname: "Devil."
For his part, David Bourne is generally viewed as a curiously passive character. Hardly the man of action that most readers expect in Hemingway's male characters, he is first and last a writer, committed absolutely to his craft. This may account for his curious passive quality, as he does little more than stand by and watch the dissolution of his marriage into the menage a trois with Marita, and...
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