Fitzgerald and Hemingway
The writings of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway have quite a lot to do with one another. Besides the fact that both men were writing during the same historical period in time, both men were interested in some of the same themes and expressed their feelings through their writings. Two novels, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night and Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, deal with American male protagonists who find themselves in foreign lands following the First World War. Each turns his back on his American nationality and becomes an expatriate, wallowing in the grandeur of foreign pleasures while at the same time serving no real function in the world outside of their indulgences. The men are part of what would come to be known as “The Lost Generation.” This was a group of people who were so impacted by the blood, gore, and inhumanity that they witnessed during the war that they could not or would not return to a normative life. Among the most prolific themes that appear in the novels of these two men are the ideas of supreme masculinity and the dangers that men face when they are confronted by strong female characters.
In the 1920s, America was going through a large psychological change following World War I. Following the raucous teens, Americans were facing prosperity which led to alcoholism, drug use, and sexual promiscuity. The period marked the end of the proper Victorian woman and instead allowed for the freedom of women to create individual lives outside of the confines of a marriage. Women were awarded the type of independence that was only afforded to men of the western world. They could vote. They could drink. They could cut their hair short and wear revealing clothing. They could have sexual relationships outside of marriage. Women as a gender went from a society in which they had no power whatsoever. During Victorianism, women were marginalized socially and politically. Besides voting, they were not allowed to associate with people outside of their homes without the accompaniment of others. This was the period of the “Cult of Domesticity” in which women were allowed to occupy the domestic sphere. That is to say they were allowed a degree of control in their homes, but the final word in all matters was left to the husband. A woman’s finances were not even her own after she became married. In a very short period of time, the entire structure of gender dynamics as people knew it came crashing to an end.
Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night tells the tale of a married couple, Dick and Nicole Diver, who have a difficult and extremely complicated relationship. From the outset of the marriage, Dick is the powerful part of the pairing. He was Nicole’s psychoanalyst and treated her when she had a nervous breakdown. Dick decides to marry his patient and the motives behind his action are up to serious debate. Many of the characters in the novel insinuate the Dick married Nicole for her money and because he realized how easily he could dominate her. Nicole’s wealth allows Dick to establish the life he wishes to live and to have a practice without having had to work to establish a reputation which would have earned him one on his own merits. Of Nicole and Dick’s relationship, Fitzgerald writes: “As an indifference cherished, or left to atrophy, becomes an emptiness, to this extent he had learned to become empty of Nicole, serving her against his will with negotiations and emotional neglect” (168). It is suggested although not explicitly stated that the reason for Nicole’s mental illness is that she was sexually abused by her father. Thus her upbringing was such that she was raised to be subservient to a man’s desires, even if she did not want to participate in activities with that man. By marrying a woman who is already dominated, he does not have to try to indoctrinate her into becoming the submissive partner that he desires. Dick wants the type of woman who lived in Victorian times. The only ones who still allow themselves to be so dominated are those with a large dose of psychological baggage.
Over the course of the story, Dick cheats on Nicole both emotionally and physically with an actress. Rosemary is sexually exciting and provides Dick even more satisfaction in that he can now illustrate his masculinity by controlling two women. However, the status quo is upset when Nicole falls in love with a man who respects her intellectually and desires her physically. Tommy Barban does not wish to dominate Nicole. Instead, he wants to have a relationship with her based upon equality and wherein neither of them has undo authority based upon their gender or economic status. Her eventual growth is foreshadowed when she says early on in the novel, “I am slowly coming back to lifeâ€¦I wish someone were in love with me like boys were ages ago before I was sick. I suppose it will be years, though, before I could think of anything like that” (Fitzgerald 124). Nicole was never the same after her sickness as she was before her implied abuse, just as no child is ever the same once they have been exposed to the perversions of the adult world. She is only made whole when she finds a man who does not wish to dominate her, and thus gives her the individuality she had not known since before the sickness. When this option is provided, Nicole quite understandably leaves Dick and marries Tommy. Dick is left poor and alcoholic with his reputation in shambles. It becomes evident that Dick married Nicole to prove his virility, looking to dominate someone in order to be a man. Without a target to dominate, Dick deteriorates to the point where he becomes a nonentity.
Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises is essentially about a group of expatriates who begin the story in Paris, France and decide to go to Spain in order to see the annual running of the bulls in Pamplona. The protagonist of the story is Jake Barnes. During World War I, Barnes was severely injured and his wound caused him to become permanently impotent. Thus the war caused this man to become physically emasculated. Without the ability to perform sexually, Barnes sees himself as less than the man which he once was. Whenever he is put into a position where sexuality, either his or someone else’s, becomes part of the conversation, Jake becomes irritable and potentially violent. One such example is when Jake Barnes is surrounded by homosexual men. Of them, Jake says, “I know they are supposed to be amusing, and you should be tolerant, but I wanted to swing on one, any one, anything to shatter that superior, simpering composure” (Hemingway 28). Many critics have pointed to this scene as an example of Jake’s homophobia, but it seems more that Jake Barnes becomes angry at anyone who may be having sex. Homosexuals, no matter how any of the individual characters felt, was highly taboo at the time and considered far outside the accepted behaviors of the social norm. Therefore, the fact that these men were having sex outside of the norm when he was unable to have “traditional” sex was even more devastating to his sense of masculinity.
If this were not humiliating enough, Jake Barnes finds himself attracted to a wealthy divorcee named Lady Brett Ashley. Lady Ashley is a divorcee, a role that was not available to many women before the war. The newfound freedom of the female gender led directly to an increase in the number of marriages that ended in divorce. Before the war, a marriage was meant to last a lifetime. Once a couple had been wed, the woman was bound to her spouse until one of them died. Only under extreme conditions was divorce a potential option for unhappy wives. In many ways Lady Ashley is a perfect example of the new type of woman who would be found not just in Europe but throughout the western world. She has affection for Jake Barnes, but does not allow this affection to prevent her from enjoying herself with as many men as she desires. Lady Ashley does not feel any shame for her promiscuity, nor does she feel shame for defying the approved positions of women in the pre-war period. Barnes has to watch as Lady Ashley takes up with lover after lover, including his close friend Robert Cohn and a nineteen-year-old matador named Romero. The war itself caused Jake to become physically emasculated, but it is the new type of woman who has led to that emasculation affecting his psychology as well. He is not only now physically unable to perform sexually but he identifies himself as a kind of eunuch, a man whom women observe and do not see as a potential sexual partner. Becoming wounded and not being able to perform has made him lose not only his sexual potency but also his power that was afforded him because of his gender. At the end of the novel, Lady Ashley tells Jake that she is returning to her fiance although that may not come to pass as the reader has already seen that Lady Ashley is apt to change her mind. In a car, the two discuss what might have been had it not been for his injury. She says, “We could have had such a damned good time together” (Hemingway 251). This is meant to soothe his feelings but it also still serves to underline what has already been intimated. Since Jake cannot have sex with Lady Ashley, she does not see him as a potential romantic mate no matter how psychologically, intellectually, or in any other way compatible.
In both Tender is the Night and The Sun Also Rises, authors F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway explore the ways that men define themselves in terms of women. For Fitzgerald, his protagonist only feels like a man when he has a woman whom he can dominate and emotionally abuse. Dick Diver takes a mentally ill woman who has known nothing but domination and utilizes her pain to his advantage; that is, until she finds a man who does not denigrate and dismiss her, nor uses her for his own selfish gains. Hemingway’s protagonist loses his physical manhood in war. Instead of trying to overcome his wound and to live a fulfilling life, he allows the physical damage to become psychologically disabling as well. In both cases, the men desire women that fit into that Victorian mold of womanliness and, no longer finding such a woman in this new period, become self-involved and ultimately self-destructive.
Fitzgerald, F. Scott. Tender Is the Night. London, 1953. Print.
Hemingway, Ernest. The Sun Also Rises. New York: Scribner, 1996. Print.
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