Hemingway Essay - Critical Essays

Hemingway

Most readers of this biography will be shocked to discover that Ernest Hemingway, big-game hunter, pugilist, bullfight aficionado, war correspondent, and world-class trout fisherman, was a painfully insecure and tormented man who never fully escaped the smothering affection of his buxom mother, Grace Hall Hemingway. Grace dominated and often humiliated Ed, her henpecked husband. It was Ed, the good provider and expert woodsman, who taught his son Ernest a lasting love of all things wild. When Ed committed suicide in 1928, an act which foreshadowed Ernest’s own suicide in 1961, Ernest blamed his mother for the tragedy. In this admittedly Freudian biography, however, Lynn accuses Grace of an even greater crime, that of deliberately creating a confused sexual identity for Ernest. She dressed young Ernest like a little girl for several years and later tried to promote an unhealthy relationship between Ernest and his older sister, Marcelline. Ernest was to be haunted by ambiguous sexual drives for the rest of his life, as became clear in THE GARDEN OF EDEN (published posthumously in 1986), a work on which Lynn relies heavily in his arguments about Hemingway’s psychosexual development.

Most troubling about Hemingway, however, was his unfailing habit of betraying his friends. Fiercely competitive, he tended to downplay the considerable help he received -- directly and indirectly--from all the writers he knew, including Sherwood Anderson, Ezra Pound, James Joyce, Gertrude Stein, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Yet Hemingway largely succeeded in his one-man campaign to create an enduring myth of himself, a task in which he was unwittingly aided by editors, critics, and reporters.

Underneath all this posturing, Lynn suggests, lies “a more truly heroic figure” who tried to create new fictions for the twentieth century. Hemingway battled writer’s block all of his life, and the agony of the unfinished page was more terrifying to him than any wild bull or charging elephant. These psychological torments combined with his catalog of physical ailments to make his life unbearable. On July 2, 1961, he blew his head off with a shotgun. Tragically, “the battle he finally lost was with himself.”