God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen Summary

Synopsis

The narrator of Ernest Hemingway's "God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen" (1933) recalls a Christmas Day earlier in his life when he worked at a hospital in Kansas City. Like Hemingway himself during World War I, the narrator may be an ambulance driver, since he sits with two "ambulance surgeons" in the hospital's reception room. As they wait for a call, Doc Fisher and Doctor Wilcox recall the "extremely interesting case" they saw earlier that morning. A young man came in and asked the doctors to castrate him to help him overcome his "awful lust," which he believed was "a sin against our Lord and Saviour." Through this young boy's spiritual desperation, Hemingway raises concerns about the dangers of extreme Christian fundamentalism.

While Doctor Wilcox simply denounced the boy as a "fool," Doc Fisher tried to convince the boy that he had a "fine body" and that there was "nothing wrong" with his sexual urges. The boy left, but returned to the hospital several hours later after mutilating his genitals with a razor.

As the doctors talk, the boy's fate is still undecided—Doctor Wilcox, who was on call when the boy returned, says the boy may die from "loss of blood." Doc Fisher bitterly attributes the boy's critical status to the fact that the incompetent Doctor Wilcox "was unable to find this emergency listed in his book" when he treated the boy.

This odd, brief story takes on a more profound meaning as the two doctors are contrasted with one another. Doc Fisher is capable, caring, and smart ("too damned smart" in Docto r Wilcox's opinion), but has a mysterious past. The narrator does not explain why such a gifted doctor is working in the emergency room on Christmas Day, but he does mention that Doc Fisher's "gambler's hands" once had a "lack of respect for Federal statues," a comment that may allude to the performance of illegal abortions. Doctor Wilcox, on the other hand, is incompetent, so much so that he carries a reference book to help him make diagnoses, and he cannot "get along without it." He also rudely corrects Doc Fisher when he refers to Christ as "our Savior" by retorting, "Our Saviour? Ain't you a Jew?"

By revealing that Doc Fisher is Jewish and Doctor Wilcox is a Christian at the end of the story, Hemingway adds another ironic twist to the day's strange events. The doctor who shared the desperate boy's religious beliefs took no care in treating him, while the Jewish doctor tried to explain to the boy that his arousal was "no sinful state." In his portraits of the two doctors, Hemingway takes aim at anti-Semitic attitudes and also questions the nature of true Christianity.

Ed. Scott Locklear