The Mother of a Queen Summary

Synopsis

“The Mother of a Queen” was published in 1933 in Ernest Hemingway’s collection of short stories Winner Take Nothing. Hemingway has traditionally embodied a mythos of masculinity, so this story's theme of homosexuality seems antithetical to the Hemingway canon. Hemingway, however, addresses the issue of sexuality in many works, and in “A Simple Inquiry,” he seems to treat homosexuality with open acceptance—albeit acceptance in closed quarters. In "The Mother of a Queen," Roger blames his young friend's indifference and recent disloyalty on his sexuality, implying that a "queen" behaves with pride and condescention. There is a double meaning here: that of a "queen" as an elite aristocrat and as a euphemism for homosexuality.

This story is about a manager’s frustration with his young client, a bullfighter. The young man keeps delaying his payment of the fee for his dead mother’s burial spot. With each subsequent late notice, the manager, Roger, offers to pay it although he knows the young man has the money. Eventually, the mother’s body is exhumed and put in a public bone heap. The young man seems pleased or indifferent, stating that Roger should mind his own business and that his mother is “about him” in the air like birds and flowers.

Roger is further exasperated with the young bullfighter when he refuses to pay the 600 pesos he owes Roger. Roger again knows the bullfighter has the funds. The young man brushes him off each time with a kind of senseless teasing reminiscent of Melville’s "Bartleby the Scrivener." The young man even gives 50 pesos to a “fellow townsman,” which infuriates Roger. He offers Roger 20 of the 600 pesos owed, but Roger refuses it and leaves. An unspecified amount of time goes by (perhaps a year), and Roger sees him on the street in Madrid. The bullfighter asks Roger if he has been spreading rumors about him. Roger says, “All I said is you never had a mother.” The young man adds that his mother died when he was young and it seems like he had never had a mother. Roger concludes that nothing can touch a “queen,” implying that all homosexuals act this way: vain and selfish. Roger rebukes him then and there, but the young man continues to treat Roger as a friend, which further frustrates him.

Some critics believe the young bullfighter is Paco, a character that appears in Hemingway’s other work. In the context of this story, Paco owes Roger money. Roger attributes the bullfighter's vain, indifferent behavior to his sexuality. Roger may be channeling his frustration to support his prejudice. Because it is not clear when a narrator represents Hemingway himself (with the exception of Nick Adams in other works), readers cannot necessarily attribute this perspective to the author. Another interpretation is that Roger is not just Paco’s (the young bullfighter's) manager but in fact an ex-lover. If this interpretation is correct, Hemingway may be playing with gender roles: in a traditionally heterosexual relationship, perhaps Paco represents the man’s man, a playboy, and Roger is the overly emotional, scorned woman. In this case, the subject shifts from sexuality to relationships and culturally constructed roles.