The debate on whether Ernest Hemingway is a misogynist still rages with critics and adherents backing their side of the story. Nevertheless, a closer investigation into his works might give a hint or two concerning this controversial topic that has refused to exit from scholarly circles.
According to Johnson, “misogyny is a cultural attitude of hatred for females because they are female (1); therefore, a misogynist is someone who upholds this culture. From Hills like White Elephants to The Short Life of Francis Macomber, Hemingway’s style of writing is full of misogyny. It becomes very easy therefore, to state with clarity Hemingway’s perspective towards women in general.
Firstly, in majority of his short stories, unhealthy man-woman relationships are prevalent characterized by imperfections and doomed to failure. Interestingly, in all these cases, women are to blame, as they appear nagging, inadequate, domineering and selfish. Generally, in Hemingway’s eyes, women are utter failures plunged in emotional apathy by their inability to express their feelings. In short, Hemingway is a misogynist as exposited in Hills like White Elephants and The Short Life of Francis Macomber.
The Short Life of Francis Macomber
The main character in this story that turns out to be pathetic is a woman, Margot Macomber. As the story opens, Margot is domineering, literally dictating the life of her husband, Francis. Interestingly, when Francis wields courage to rise above his wife Margot, she cowardly takes his life. What a timid way of dealing with struggle for power.
Nevertheless, in this case Hemingway insinuates that the only way women can remain in power is through intimidation. As aforementioned, at the beginning of the story, Margot is tyrannizing while Francis is intimidated. Wilson, the hunter, is the only man who exudes any trait of manhood. Hemingway uses Wilson deliberately as an ideal man that Francis would be if Margot got out of the way.
Hemingway does not hide the uselessness of Wilson in eyes of Margot; she only uses him as a toy and even after, they have sex Hemingway still questions it. He says, “What’s in her heart, God knows, Wilson thought. She had not talked much last night. At that it was a pleasure to see her” (Hemingway 21).
Even Wilson feels his uselessness in this woman’s life as he concludes only God knows her intentions in taking him to bed. In this incidence, Hemingway depicts Margot as emotionally incompetent being who cannot express her feelings freely and earn her place in a man’s heart by merit. She has to employ the only tool she has, intimidation. This is just but an introduction to many of Hemingway’s misogynist nature through Margot.
Francis finally starts to show gradual change towards reclaiming his position as the head of the family only to face a stubborn and scheming Margot. Being the man he is, Wilson sees and applauds Francis’ efforts towards becoming a man albeit minimal. Pointing at Hemingway’s misogyny, Weeks offers, “Wilson… is the man free of woman and of fear. He is the standard of manhood…His dominance over the lady is apparent from the moment she sees him blast the lion from which Macomber ran” (Weeks 120).
Not that Margot cares or even loves Wilson; far from it, she is only interested in the boldness, a trait of masculinity that he possesses. Unfortunately, due to her weaknesses, Margot cannot contain a permanently dominating man in her life; she can only have one on demand and Wilson comes in handy in this case. Hemingway simply hates Margot by virtue of being a woman and this underscores the misogynist he is.
Hemingway’s choice of words exposes his dark side, the grimy side of a man who would otherwise pass for a good writer of all the times. At the slightest show of Macomber’s courage, Francis becomes “clearly a changed being, one who will never allow again his wife’s domination. Complementing this reversal of roles we find that Margot had been afraid during the chase, and now, feeling nauseous, wants refuge in the ambiguous and evasive shade” (Monk 136).
What more could a weak, insufficient, selfish and emotionally pathetic woman do? Well, Hemingway knows better and he best one can offer in reciprocation is hatred; something he offers philanthropically. He hates women with passion; no wonder, Margot could only be a failure in this story. To cap her weaknesses, Margot kills Francis after realizing his growing dominance in their relationship. Surely, Francis’ life is shorter than what Hemingway evokes in the title of the short story, courtesy of Margot.
Hills like White Elephants
The unlucky woman in this short story is Jig, an incompetent woman incapable of communicating her feelings or making any independent judgment. Hemingway introduces Jig as ‘the girl’, “the American and girl with him sat at a table in the shade, outside the building” (Hemingway 87).
Jig here passes for a nameless girl, at least in Hemingway’s perspective. Throughout the short story, Hemingway fails to bring out clearly the “girl’s” emotions or perspectives concerning anything that happens around her. Hemingway paints Jig as a clueless, pathetic and tasteless woman who cannot make simple decisions like what to drink. She admits that it is hot; nevertheless, she cannot state with clarity what drink to take.
Instead, she asks, “What should we drink” (Hemmingway, 87). As aforementioned, Hemingway deliberately chooses his words to belittle women at every encounter. The fact that Jig cannot take a stand and say I will take this or that opting to consult the American is a strong indication of how frail she is. Jig’s naivety comes out clearly; after it emerges that, she cannot even order the drinks for she does not understand Spanish.
Therefore, she has to depend on the male figure in this case. As opposed to The Short Life of Francis Macomber, where Margot is domineering, Hemingway uses Hills like White Elephants to show how voiceless and weak women are by their failure to stand on their own. The indecisiveness of Hemingway’s female characters stands out conspicuously when the issue of abortion raises in this short story.
Jig knows for sure she does not want to abort her child; however, she chooses to remain silent about the issue. When the American suggests, “I know you wouldn’t mind it, Jig. It is not anything. It’s just to let the air in” (Hemingway 90), Jig remains silent. She finally gives in citing that, “I don’t care about me…I care about you” (Hemingway 90).
In this case, Hemingway gives the impression that women are indecisive, bound to compromise their principles in the name of love and care. If Jig does not care about herself, she cannot probably care about anyone else. One cannot give what she/he does not have. How can she care about the American if she does not care about herself? Hemingway uses this instance to ridicule women and satisfy his misogyny.
Reducing women to such humbling levels is tantamount to stripping them of their dignity and self worth. Nevertheless, the reason why Hemingway does this is that he hates women with passion for reasons best known to him. The reader can only speculate and the only valid speculation here is that, he hates women by virtue of being women and this underscores him being a misogynist.
To some extent, Jig is also gullible. She keeps on changing topics even in the middle of a seemingly important discussion. For instance, she keeps on referring to the ‘bead curtain’, which is unrelated to the point in discussion; that is, abortion. Portraying women, this way strips Hemingway of any respect for women exposing the misogynist that he is.
Whether Hemingway is a misogynist or not, is no longer a point of debate; his works speak it all as exposited in this writing. Women, just like anybody else have shortcomings and strengths alike; unfortunately, Hemingway is blind towards the strengths, he can only see the weaknesses.
Consequently, he writes what he sees viz. weaknesses and this explains why his writings concentrate on exposing women’s weaknesses. Margot in The Short Life of Francis Macomber rules her husband only to silence inferiority screams that rage within her. On the other hand, Jig in Hills like White Elephants cannot make even a simple decision like choosing the drink to take. At his best, Hemingway is a misogynist, a woman hater for no apparent reason.
Hemingway, Ernest. The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway. New York: Scribner, 2003.
Johnson, Allan. The Blackwell Dictionary of Sociology: A User’s Guide to Sociological Language. Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishers Inc, 2000.
Monk, Donald. “Hemingway’s Territorial Imperative.” The Yearbook of English Studies 8.1 (1978): 125-140.
Weeks, Robert. Hemingway: A Collection of Critical Essays. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1962.