The Way It Felt: Hemingway's Apprentice Years

If strange things are happening in the academy, perhaps none is stranger than the debate concerning the American literary canon provoked in part by the current reassessment of Ernest Hemingway's fiction. Recently, for instance, Professor Lawrence Buell of Oberlin College demanded a new non sexist literary criticism that will "foment reorderings in the pre-feminist canon (the demotion of Hemingway, for in stance)." Hemingway demoted? Is Papa now out? So it seems-at least with some professors for whom purity of style, clarity of image, and vividly rendered dramatic action are no longer literary values.

Hemingway's detractors have two basic objections to his work. The first is that its subject matter is too masculine (warfare, safaris, deep-sea fishing, fighting, drinking, and making the earth move). His portraits of men, they argue, reflect mere sexism and violence. Not long ago, Professor Martin Green attacked Hemingway in The Great Adventure (1985) for writing stories that-in celebrating "such virtues as courage, fortitude, cunning, strength, leadership and persistence"—brainwash young men into serving the ideological purposes of a capitalist, anti-Christian, and anti-democratic society. We'll never attain Utopia, Green argued, unless we stop glorifying writers like Hemingway.

The second complaint involves Hemingway's characterization of women. Let us have no fictional...

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