Ernest Hemingway’s Masculine Dominance Essay (Critical Writing)

December 24, 2021 by Essay Writer


In many of these works, Ernest Hemingway portrays male dominance and masculine power as dominant features of the main characters. Critics admit that the structure that Hemingway establishes for the telling of stories, the apparatus and technique he uses, is complex. As he essentially describes a psychic battle, he interprets his terms broadly and mythically. Male dominance and authority portrayed in his works are caused by life experience at war and hatred towards his mother.

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Due to poor health, Hemingway was not enrolled in the army during WW!, but he joined the Red Cross Ambulance Corps. He took no orders and gave no orders, and came and went wherever he pleased. This allowed him to understand hardship and cruelty of war, communicate with soldiers and record their memories. During the First World War, the United States got into the fighting so late that an American with true war stories to tell, and a wound besides, was something of a rarity (Meyers 65). Such, of course, was Hemingway’s situation. Hemingway’s compromise indicates that even while writing The Sun Also Rises he was conscious of the problems his realistic language and sexual content could cause. Masculine dominance and language prevail in this novel. At the same time, Hemingway was not interested in challenging the censorship codes of the period. He often changed words to avoid such a confrontation. However, he was dedicated to his craft and to the integrity of his stories; an integral aspect of this dedication was presenting experiences as realistically as possible. The main characters of the novel, Brett Ashley and Jake Barnes experience psychological pressure caused by WWI. He says “A man can be destroyed but not defeated” (Hemingway 103). Consequently, he felt the language and sexuality of his characters had to support and reflect this realism. His major pattern associates the Fascists with the Apollonian and all that might be associated with that, and he largely places the cyclical, the “revolutionary,” with the Dionysian (Meyers 76; Meyers 198). These polar oppositions become in a broader perspective and another vocabulary masculine and feminine, and the struggle between them emerges partly as a solar battle in which male powers accept feminine control and the solar world yields to the lunar. Following Fantina, “

The heterosexual David Bourne shares the masculine identification that prevails in much of Bersani’s view of the gay man. Hemingway, of course, also identifies most emphatically with the masculine, and with phallocentric power arrangements as well. Here we can see how Hemingway’s masochism may not be entirely progressive” (84).

Certainly, in Hemingway’s style, as in any work of art, such basic oppositions are neither simplistic nor unvarying, while they serve to define a struggle between opposing forces.

Homosexual orientation and homosexual relations are often cited as main sources of Hemingway’s style and inspiration (Fontana 84). Thus, some critics reject this opinion stating that male bonding is caused by dual nature of his personality and a strong impact of his mother. His mother wanted twins but when she born a boy (further called Ernest) she was disappointed and dressed both of her children, Ernest and his sister in similar close. Following John Dos Passos “Ernest Hemingway was the only man he had ever known who really hated his mother (Lynn 395). This biographical fact explains male dominance and masculine features in many of his works. Lynn admits that it was partly his mother’s standards of beauty–elegant, inflated language supporting hypocritically held values–that Hemingway revolted against in his insistence on simplicity of style” (Lynn 395).

Similar to The Sun Also Rises, the majority of his works are based on a central male character who fights against life circumstances and destiny. His most popular short stories are The Killers, A Clean Well Lighted Place, The Snows of Kilimanjaro, and Indian Camp. Hemingway biographer Meyers links the author’s long-standing fascination with the American West to the development of his central male characters. Meyers points to a sharp break between the passive men of Hemingway’s early fiction and the self-reliant males who populate his books after 1928 (Lynn 76). A Clean, Well-Lighted Place is a unique story in which the characters do not come in total contact with death, but nothingness hints and causes death. The cup of “nada” represents the emptiness in the old man’s life. The old man’s attempted suicide is linked to the emptiness and death as well (Meyers 20). Indian Camp is considered one of the classic stories. Nick Adams is a young boy who lives in the North woods. Nick, his father, and his uncle George set out on a trip to an American Indian camp that sits on the other side of a lake. Nick’s father is a Doctor, just as Ernest Hemingway’s father was a Doctor.

Hemingway is spawning characters that are similar to his own life experience.

Nick’s father travels to the American Indian Camp because a young American Indian girl has been having severe labor pains for two days. She is still unable to deliver her baby, so Dr. Adams decides to help. When the family arrives the mother is in pain and her husband suffers from an axe wound to the leg from a few days earlier (Lynn 72). A group of four American Indian men holds down the woman and Dr. Adams performs a makeshift procedure. He uses his jackknife as a scalpel and performs a cesarean section on the pregnant woman. Hemingway, during his service in World War I was injured by Austrian mortar fire in both legs. His use of injured legs in Snows and Indian Camp is an obvious and personal inclusion of his own life. His own mortality is a reference point and the injured leg in each story is a successful attempt by Hemingway to make the reader feel what Hemingway feels. Following Forter: ”My own sense is that inventing a masculinity less committed to the sanctity of its borders would be the beginning of a genuinely revolutionary project about gender” (133).

Critics admit that masculine lifestyle and hobbies (hunting and fishing) had a great impact on his themes and motifs used in the works. In the novel For Whom the Bell Tolls Hemingway, moderate in height, sight, in his masculinity, and in his faith which he moderates because of love, he finally nearsightedly rushes towards death “blindly,” believing he is rushing towards his wife who calls his name. His final blindness is an important self-dethronement of the world, as it speaks of the substitution of the woman for sight (Lynn 23). The anomaly of Don Guillermo Martin speaks to the two worlds that are in delicate balance within him. On the simplest of levels, the reference to the lost eggs is, of course, to lost testicular power or male potency in the struggle for power and authority that Jordan has witnessed within the cave, a battle that has culminated in Pablo’s overthrow as he has been unmanned and cowed by Pilar as she, inverting her stirring spoon, has made the baton of her cyclical function the new emblem of power in the cave.

The theme of masculinity and male dominance is depicted through the theme of struggle and fight. For instance, in The Old man and the Sea people struggle with life similar to Santiago who could not catch a fish during eighty-four days and become the laughingstock. Despite his old age, Santiago is strong enough to continue his battle with nature and sea. “Everything about him was old except his eyes and they were the same color as the sea and were cheerful and undefeated’ (Hemingway 10). Male characters are depicted as the persons who are full of life experience, but still have not found the truth of life (Meyers 1997). For instance, Santiago says: “It is good that we do not have to try to kill the sun or the moon or the stars. It is enough to live on the sea and kill our true brothers” (Hemingway 75). In all of his stories and novels, Hemingway creates a powerful and true-to-life story about real experience of many soldiers who came home but felt lack of understanding and social support.


In sum, themes of male dominance and masculinity are caused by poor relations with his mother and personal experience during wartime. Hemingway underlines masculinity m order to impress the reader and convey the message. His structural and stylistic devices reveal a variety of interpretations as to the meaning in the novels. Through the theme of life struggle Hemingway describes that a person has only one life, which cannot be “restored”. Also, male characters in most of his works show the hopelessness and futility of people’ dreams when the life was to be taken as the true image of the human condition: frightened, lonely,

Works Cited Page

  1. Burwell, R. M. Hemingway’s Garden of Eden: Resistance of Things Past and Protecting the Masculine Text. Texas Studies in Literature and Language, 35 (1993), 198-221.
  2. Fantina, R., Hemingway’s Masochism, Sodomy and the, Dominant Woman. The Hemingway Review, 23 (2003), 84.
  3. Forter, G. Hemingway’s Fetishism: Psychoanalysis and the Mirror of Manhood. The Hemingway Review 18 (1999), 133.
  4. Hemingway, E. Sun Also Rises. Scribner, 1995.
  5. Hemingway, E. The Old man and the Sea. Scribner; Reissue edn, 1995.
  6. Lynn, K.. Hemingway. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1987.
  7. Meyers, J. Ernest Hemingway: The Critical Heritage. Routledge, 1997.
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