The Garden of Eden Themes

Social Concerns / Themes

Before engaging in an analysis of The Garden of Eden, it is essential to recognize that this novel presents a set of difficult problems centered on its identity as a posthumously edited work. As with all of Hemingway's posthumously published work, it is impossible to say with any degree of certainty the things that may usually be said about a novel's design, themes, and characters, or to offer perceptive analysis of the author's intent and technique. All of Hemingway's posthumously published work was printed without Hemingway's approval or supervision; all of it has been edited by others. The difficulties presented by this state of affairs are most pronounced in the case of The Garden of Eden.

Hemingway began writing the novel shortly after World War II; by 1947, the manuscript included one hundred typed pages and nine hundred handwritten pages. At Hemingway's death, the manuscript amounted to some fifteen hundred pages. In order to put this fragmented, incomplete manuscript into some kind of publishable form, radical cutting was deemed necessary by Hemingway's publishers. Approximately two-thirds of the manuscript was discarded, major characters, plot lines, scenes, settings, and themes were completely eliminated. Dialogue was taken from the mouth of one character and put in the mouth of another; important details were changed for no apparent reason. So much was cut and changed that some observers have argued that publication was a grave mistake, that this is not Hemingway's novel, that it is a mere editorial do-it-yourself project, and it should not be taken too seriously, in its present form, as an addition to the list of Hemingway's works. This view also holds that the only thing for serious students of The Garden of Eden to do is to read the entire manuscript, or perhaps hope for the publication of the complete manuscript, presented straightforwardly and unambiguously as an unedited, unfinished work.

Another view holds that regardless of how corrupt the current text may be, it is a valuable addition to our knowledge of Hemingway, and an important new novel. Clearly, the latter view is more apt to match the attitude of the general reader, who is not likely to read and try to make sense of a sprawling, confusing, and unfinished work in manuscript form. Thus the answer to the critical dilemma would seem to entail making what sense can be made, and placing such value as should be placed on the novel as presently published. With these caveats in mind, an attempt at engaged analysis is possible.

The general perception of the concerns and themes of The Garden of Eden is summed up well by the banner headline on the Life magazine cover which published a portion of the novel: "A Book Too Hot for the '50s: An Excerpt From Hemingway's Surprising Novel of Sexual Games." The novel's concern with sexual experimentation and a bisexual ménage a trois may explain why the book moved immediately onto the best-seller list in 1986. (Of course, the very name Hemingway would most probably have insured...

(The entire section is 1249 words.)