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Ernest Hemingway FAQ: Characters

Question What is the "Hemingway code hero"?

Answer The phrase, "Hemingway code hero" originated with scholar Philip Young. He uses it to describe a Hemingway character who "offers up and exemplifies certain principles of honor, courage, and endurance which in a life of tension and pain make a man a man."

It's important to note the difference between the "Hemingway hero" and the "Hemingway code hero." Some people (myself included) have fallen into the habit of using these terms interchangeably. The "Hemingway hero" is a living breathing character essential to the story's narrative. Nick Adams is an example of a "Hemingway hero." The "Hemingway code hero" is often times a living breathing character as well, but he doesn't always have to take a human form. Sometimes the "Hemingway code hero" simply represents an ideal that the "Hemingway hero" tries to live up to, a code he tries to follow. An example of the "Hemingway code hero" (in human form) would be white hunter Robert Wilson from "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber." To simplify the theory some, Earl Rovit developed a unique naming system. He refers to the "Hemingway hero" as the tyro and the "Hemingway code hero" as the tutor.

For a more detailed discussion of the "Hemingway code hero," you should see Philip Young's 1966 book, Ernest Hemingway: A Reconsideration (in particular the chapter titled, "The Hero and the Code"). See also Earl Rovit's book, Ernest Hemingway (in particular the chapter titled, "Of Tyros and Tutors").

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Question What is Robert Cohn's role in The Sun Also Rises?

Answer Robert Cohn tries so hard to be included in this group of expatriates, to the point that his attempts at inclusion are pathetic. This type of behavior is not something that is looked upon by the others with much respect, especially by Jake. Along with his futile efforts to court the sex-starved Brett, his romantic perspectives on life, his inability to control his emotions, his excessive concern with his self-image, his need to travel for the purpose of escaping the reality unfolding around him, Cohn is no doubt the black sheep of this novel. He simply doesn't fit in. The more he tries to fit in, the more he ends up alienating himself.

You will also notice how all of the expatriates drink heavily mainly to forget about the war. Drinking, as portrayed in this novel, is a mind numbing experience. Notice though how Cohn drinks considerably less than the others. Why is this? What is it that Cohn is trying to forget? Or maybe he thinks and feels too much. Perhaps that's his problem. Perhaps that's one of the reasons why he's treated as an outcast.

It's a good idea to examine Jake's stance in the novel and perhaps compare/contrast it to Cohn's. Jake seems like the glue of the group, the primary social cohesion. In what sense is Jake an outsider (other than through his war wound)? How does his status as an outsider differ from Cohn's?

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Question Is Jake's love of Brett similar to Santiago's love of the fish? What does their love symbolize?

Answer A good place to start is with the common Hemingwayesque theme of what one loves must eventually be destroyed. Santiago loves this fish, respects its beauty, its size, its power, but still must demonstrate his own power, mainly for the sake of his pride. When he catches the fish, ties it to the skiff, and hauls it back to shore, frenzied sharks begin to feed on the now defenseless carcass. Santiago acts in the great marlin's defense, protecting its beauty, its dignity, as well as his own triumph over the mammoth beast. He needs to be the sole destroyer of this fish. Yet the marlin is still decimated by the relentless sharks, and Santiago feels he must blame himself for the fish's demise.

Now let's take some of these same principles and apply them to the relationship between Jake and Brett in The Sun Also Rises. Who is the hunter and who is the hunted here? Brett has long been condemned as a "bitch goddess" who exploits her sexual desirability for the purpose of destroying the last shreds of dignity that exist in the men she seduces and the emasculated body of Jake Barnes. This seems to make her the hunter and the emasculated Jake the hunted. Yet in what ways does Jake protect his dignity (as Santiago tries to protect the fish's dignity from the feeding sharks)? In what ways is Jake unable to protect his dignity? Who is destroyed at the end of this novel, Jake or Brett, or is it their relationship that is destroyed? Or had their relationship been destroyed long ago?

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Question What is Pilar's role in For Whom the Bell Tolls?

Answer Pilar is one of Hemingway's strongest female characters. Many have characterized her as "the real leader of the guerrilla band." Pablo may hold that title at the beginning of the novel, but as the novel progresses, Pilar's authoritative stature becomes more and more evident.

Pilar is a rather contradicting figure. On the one hand, existing in male-dominated culture, she is fully domesticated, expert in her knowledge on how to perform traditional womanly duties. On the other hand, she is not entirely complaisant or silent willed. She will not hesitate to speak her mind nor will she hesitate to take up arms and fight with the men. She also has enough military sense to lead a group of male soldiers.

Pilar is an advocate of the Republican movement at the beginning of the novel. Do her feelings change towards the end of the novel? Why? What is Pilar fighting for? Who is she fighting for? Herself? The Republic? Pablo? How do her feelings for Pablo change throughout the novel?

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Question Is Margot Macomber a cold-blooded murderer or an attempted savior?

Answer The closing sequence of "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber" has for many years ignited great debate in the critical world. Did Margot Macomber intentionally shoot at her husband to kill him or was she in fact aiming at the buffalo in an attempt to protect him from a certain death?

Many feel that she was trying to kill her husband because he was becoming too brave, too soon. As a brave man, he would have the courage to leave her. After Margot has shot and killed her husband, white hunter Robert Wilson confirms the fact that Macomber would have left her. Perhaps this is what she feared and explains why she had no other choice but murder. If she truly wanted him dead, however, there would have been no need for her to pull the trigger herself. Remember that from her vantage point, it looked as if the buffalo was about to fatally gore Macomber.

If we examine the text more carefully and take Hemingway's words (ambiguous as they may be) at face value, we will observe that Margot indeed was aiming at the buffalo, likely in an attempt to protect her husband. Even if she had killed the buffalo without hitting Macomber, she'd still be depriving him of his courageous act. The buffalo would be her kill and Francis would again be the cowardly runner-up.

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Question What is Nick's purpose in "A Way You'll Never Be"?

Answer "A Way You'll Never Be" is another of Hemingway's wartime stories (set during WWI). Hemingway is attempting to illustrate how the trauma of war can affect a character not only physically, but also psychologically. The character being affected in this case is Nick Adams, who is haunted by the memory of being shot by an Austrian soldier. Nick's wound is apparently in the knees, though there are several instances of dialogue throughout the story to suggest that Nick's problems are in the head, likely a result of his shell shock. Amidst the dead soldiers he sees and the memory of his own wounding, Nick tries to keep himself from cracking, from allowing the visual horrors of war to blur his purpose.

Nick Adams is a character of purpose, as Hemingway intentionally demonstrates. He is given the duty of wearing an American uniform and displaying this uniform as he rides his bicycle through war torn towns in Northern Italy. When Italian soldiers see Nick in his uniform, it might provide hope, making them think that the U. S. ultimately will enter the war. The title of the story, "A Way You'll Never Be," however, seems to imply the irony of Nick's purpose. Whatever injuries Nick has sustained prevent him from being what he once was. If he has indeed become "nutty," he is considered by war standards, purposeless, and therefore kept around for display, assigned to rather fruitless, inconsequential missions.

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