Wine of Wyoming Summary

Synopsis

Ernest Hemingway's “Wine of Wyoming” was originally published by Scribner’s Magazine in August 1930. It was republished in 1933 as part of Hemingway’s third collection of short fiction, Winner Take Nothing.

The story is often overlooked as part of the important Hemingway canon despite the praise of several well-known literary critics of the 1930s. Horace Gregory of the New York Herald Tribune praised the story as “[a] sudden expansion of Hemingway’s range” and claimed it contained “the most universal of human experiences.” The Cincinnati Enquirer’s reviewer said the story communicated a wonderful “expression of human sympathy."

Perhaps one of the main reasons why “Wine of Wyoming” is often ignored by modern readers is its extensive use of French in the dialogue. At the time, this was not a problem for Hemingway, who wrote his editor, Maxwell Perkins, “Everybody that reads Scribner’s knows some French or knows somebody that knows some French.” Although that may have been true in the 1930s, Americans today are more likely to speak Spanish rather than French, thus making “Wine of Wyoming”less accessible than other Hemingway short fiction. The story has never been separately reprinted or anthologized in English, but translations have been made into Norwegian, Korean, and Czech.

Like “Indian Camp” and “In Another Country,” “Wine of Wyoming” relates the dynamics of a culture clash. In this case, the clash is between a sweet-natured French couple who have immigrated to the United States, and crass, insensitive Americans. The unnamed first-person narrator, who has much in common with Hemingway, recounts the clash.The story is set during Prohibition in the United States. It opens while the narrator is ironically enjoying a bottle of beer at the home of Madame Fontan and her husband, two French immigrants to America. It is a hot afternoon in Wyoming. As with many of Hemingway’s stories, the description of the setting is very important. The narrator mentions that the pristine mountains topped with snow could be seen but “were far off.” However, the road near the narrator was “dusty with cars passing” and the houses “at the edge of the town were baking in the sun.” This immediately sets a familiar Hemingway tone of loneliness and alienation. However, the Fontan home is described as “very clean and neat.”This is Hemingway’s method for implying that the French immigrants' home is superior than its surroundings, an idea reinforced when the idyllic scene is shattered by some drunken Americans driving up and demanding beer. Madame Fontan lies and says she is out of beer. It is obvious that she sees the drunken Americans as “trouble” and refuses to give them any more alcohol. The irony is that Madame Fontan, a bootlegging foreigner, is passing judgment on the Americans. As the story continues, Madame Fontan and her husband are characterized as simple, decent people who love making good but illegal beer and wine and selling it to people who enjoy “a good drink in good company.” However, they cannot understand Americans who “pour whiskey into beer” and make themselves sick so that “they’ll know they’re drunk.” As the story continues, Madame Fontan and her husband also cannot understand why Americans “have so many churches.” She sees the prejudice of Americans against Catholics, like herself, and cannot understand why “Schmidt” (Al Smith, the first Catholic to run for president) will not win the presidential election. On the other hand, she also expresses prejudice against her daughter-in-law who is a Native American (“Indienne”). Madame Fontan complains that the girl“weighs 250 pounds” and gives her husband “beans en can” to eat.

Most important, Madame Fontan keeps repeating that her husband is “crazy” for wine.Unfortunately, the wine they have been making is not quite ready to drink, so Madame Fontan insists the narrator return later to get a taste of the wine. Even though the narrator shares many values with the Fontans, he ultimately disappoints them. He makes a promise to return the following night, but breaks his promise because he is “too tired” to keep his word. When he finally does return, he finds that Monsieur Fontan drank the three bottles of wine meant for the narrator’s dinner. Fontan tries to get more wine from his son’s house, but the wine is locked away and Fontan cannot get to it. Thus, the wine becomes a symbol of unfulfilled desires. The story ends with the author’s plaintive statement, “We ought to have gone” last night. The narrator must leave the embarrassed Fontans without ever tasting the “Wine of Wyoming.”

The tale is unusually long (6,000 words) for a Hemingway short story.Still, it contains many of the hallmarks of Hemingway’s writing. Although the story is told in a simple, direct style (even when the dialogue is in French), the subtext of the story is equally as important. The imagery, realistic dialogue, simple plot, and uncompromising theme make the story a typical example of Hemingway’s prose.

 

Ed. Scott Locklear