One of the biggest lessons I learned in a Hemingway class that I took is that poor old Ernest got a really bad rap. The guy just wanted to get wasted, enjoy the company of beautiful women, and participate in the most masculine sports of the day (which, unfortunately, often included the killing of animals). While I highly dislike his choices of entertainment (I find no pleasure whatsoever in the idea of killing animals for sport) I do think that his writing reveals that there was more to the man than first meets the eye. My dear teacher worked tirelessly to convince us all that Hemingway was no misogynist, and I personally believe that he was right. Many critics have accused Hemingway of being unable to write a strong and complex female character. Though his strongest characters are often men, Hemingway has written some truly interesting and even dignified scenes for women.
So here I present Exhibit A in Hemingway’s defense. His short story, “The End of Something,” shows a woman (well, a teenager) walking away from a not so perfect situation with her head held high and her pride intact. Far from heartless, this girl was able to simply recognize where she was not wanted and move on to something new.
(Plot details ahead, go on and read the story now before finishing the post if you are worried about spoilers)
“The End of Something” was originally published in a volume of stories called In Our Time, which was released in 1925. Like so many of Hemingway’s stories, this one revolves around the theme of disillusionment. Nick and his girlfriend Marjorie are on a fishing trip and row down the river by an old mill. The mill, long abandoned, stands as a symbol of the couple’s relationship and their dissimilar ideas about the dilapidated building reveal that their hearts and minds are in two completely different places. Marjorie, who is happy with Nick, sees the mill as a castle and is intrigued by it. Nick, on the other hand, who has grown bored (though he seems to have grown bored not just with Marjorie, but with himself and the rest of the world), sees just a broken building. As the title implies, Nick reveals that he is not having any fun and Marjorie takes that as her cue to row away, back to wherever it is that they came from.
I love feminist literature that shows the abilities of a woman without taking it too far, and I think that Hemingway has achieved that here. Before you start gawking at my insinuation that Hemingway has written a piece of feminist literature, and before you decide to never visit this blog again because you think I must be flat off my rocker, listen to the reasoning. Hemingway’s writing is focused on men. That is what he knows; Hemingway’s life experiences are highly reflected in his work, although his work is not autobiographical per se. His idea of a woman, according to many critics, is that of an object to be used for pleasure, for company, for entertainment. But this attitude is not reflected in this short story. “The End of Something” shows a woman interacting with a man and holding her own. Granted, Marjorie is highly peripheral to Nick in this scene, but she is still able to walk away from a man with her head held high and her dignity intact– something no simple object would be capable of.
I understand that many people dislike Ernest Hemingway because of his lifestyle, but that should not get in the way of their appreciation of his writing talents. If you haven’t read Hemingway yet I highly recommend picking up a collection of his short stories and diving right in. A man who lived and breathed adventure, Hemingway has made countless contributions to the literary world and should be recognized for his genius, not just critiqued for his lifestyle. Besides, where else can you read about drunken safaris, disillusioned soldiers, teen angst long before it was cool, and a fine appreciation of nature all in one volume? What do you think– is Hemingway capable of bringing to life a believable female character?