The Hemingway Hero: Modern Fiction’s Knight Without Armor

UNCP Author/Contributor (non-UNCP co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Ann Bellamy Russell (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Pembroke (UNCP )
Web Site:
Dr. Richard Vela

Abstract: After noticing unusually high identification with Hemingway's characters among my high school readers, I set out to determine why this identification occurs. Since these students do not know of Hemingway's life and since they have no critical knowledge from which to draw, I felt their personal reactions had to stem from something intrinsically present in the characters them¬selves. Thus began my odyssey to define the element in the characters that can so touch teen readers. Examining both Hemingway's life and as many critical analyses of his work as possible provided insight into what finally emerged as a new hero who withstands the disi1lusionments of the twentieth century. Since most accepted scholarly theory on Hemingway's work concludes that his fiction is his life written down, I began by examining areas of convergence between his life and his fiction. What emerged from this study of well publicized convergences were telling areas of divergence. Though Hemingway's life frequently touched his fiction, his characters' coping abilities far exceed any their creator ever acquired. This is the most profoundly important difference between the creations of Hemingway and the man himself. The man Ernest Hemingway took his own life when he realized that his creative abilities were diminishing. The writer-artist Ernest Hemingway created a hero, who in his most mature version—Santiago, lives at peace with himself and the world, satisfied with his manhood and his humanity. Studying the criticism of Hemingway's work helped clarify its important role in defining a literary hero for the twentieth century. Hemingway's hero completes the modernization of the literary hero begun with Huck Finn. From Hemingway's fiction, emerges a hero figure recast to live in the wasteland of the twentieth century. This hero has no illusions about saving society; he is simply trying to save himself. Ultimately, Hemingway's hero becomes fully cognizant of the nada facing modern existence. In this awareness and in the ensuing battle not to be defeated by it, the hero gains his heroic stature by struggling for control. For the Hemingway hero, success in society's eyes is not the issue. Rather, his success lies in controlling the terms of his inevitable loss. With these two conclusions—that Hemingway's life cannot be conformed to that of his hero and that this hero is representative of mankind's existence in modern society--I began to understand why my students make personal identification with Hemingway's work. Sixteen year olds also struggle to make their way against obstacles they have little practical chance of over-coming. Whenever my students can exercise control, even within losing struggles, they claim victories. Like Jack in "Fifty Grand," they win when they choose how they lose. They also admire this hero because, as they see with Santiago in The Old Man and the Sea, this hero is a winner when he satisfies himself. He does not need the affirmation of society to feel successful. High school age readers truly admire this trait and long for it on a very personal level. This hero, who is so often vulnerable, has the inner courage to make his own code for living. He be¬comes an armorless knight stripped of tradition's pro¬tection, but able to survive by building on the strength of the lone individual forging a meaning from nothingness. It is this loner's code that so touches my young readers, for they too must struggle to find meaning in the face of overwhelming odds.

Additional Information

School of Graduate Studies
Language: English
Date: 1992
Hemingway, Ernest, Literature, American Authors, Journalists, Fictional Heroes
American literature -- 20th century
Authors, American -- 20th century

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