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Why Hemingway Would Shoot Himself Again If He Were Alive and Writing Today

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Theories abound as to why, one day, the 1954 Nobel Prize-winning American laureate Ernest Hemingway blew his brains out with a shotgun. Was it due to depression? Heavy drinking? The fear that he was a latent homosexual?

We will probably never know for certain but one thing is clear: Feminist critics, such as Nina Bayme, who labeled the author as “public enemy number one,” were probably pleased that Hemingway added his name to the multiculturalist’s infamous hit list of Dead White Male Authors.

Testorenone-driven, tough guy fictional characters are no longer palatable in today’s literary market. The majority of New York agents, who are female and filled with deconstructionist doctrine fed to them by politically correct professors during their literature college courses, want books that glorify ‘sheroes’ or emasculated men. Unless, of course, they are G.I. Joe carictures that fight the enemy overseas at a safe distance away from contemporary American society.

John Irving, who has also faithfully (and successfully) followed this path, which covertly leads to the coffin-nailing of strong, white heterosexual protagonists, has come full circle with the release of his latest novel, In One Person. Amazon’s book description blurb says the book is about “Billy…an intimate and unforgettable portrait of the solitariness of a bisexual man who is dedicated to making himself ‘worthwile’.”

Indeed. I think I’ll pass on reading it just so I can be labelled homophobic and draw the venom out from a multitude of rainbow-colored fangs because I’m secure enough in my masculinity and discernment capabilites to no longer be influenced or feel threatened by teachers who wield the sword of the good grade above my head.

I met Jim Harrison once in a bar in northern Michigan. At that time, he had just finished writing Sundog,a gutsy male-dominated novel set in the rural upper peninsula and written with a lean, mean Hemingwayesque style. That’s how I would write a novel if I ever did, I thought to myself.

But Harrison was cutting against the grain and didn’t reach the pinnacle of success until he released Dalva, a finely written novel but featuring a strong female protagonist. The winds of change had finally filled his sails and he probably realized that it was pointless to come about and tack against the prevailing publishing forces that earlier had embraced his novella, Legends of the Fall, turning it into a movie starring Brad Pitt as a wild, lonesome, macho renegade.

I could be wrong but I’m not a politician, just a small time critic with very little clout, so I can stick to my guns and not care about polls or potential votes.

Anyhow, the nail that I want to drive home with one single, perfectly centered smash of masculine pride is this: Literary agents may shun my novels because of their white, tough guy, heterosexual protagonists and feminists might read this and curse me for throwing off the shackles of deconstructionist criticism lectures that I suffered silently through in the past, and gay activists might get their knickers in a twist and denounce me as being bigoted and behind the times, but as Clark Gable said in his legendary, aloof and über male portrayal of the character Rhett Butler in the 1939 classic film, Gone With the Wind: “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”

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About John H. Byk

  • Giant YAWN. Moving on…

  • Deke Solomon

    My favorite Hemingway quote: “If any sonofabitch could write, he wouldn’t have to teach college English.”

  • The Lizard

    “Literary agents may shun my novels because” they aren’t well written or don’t meet market demands.

  • Now Sherman throws out a red herring by using the term “cloistered academic criticism”. Not every academic has led a sheltered life in an ivory tower surrounded by books and like minded individuals. I, for one, had many life experiences before I became “cloistered” at the university and I know other teachers and professors who have as well. However, is there not such a thing as a “cloistered” reader who has never experienced more danger than the threat of paper cuts?

  • Deke Solomon

    Bill Sherman — All intelligent criticism is academic, one way or another. There’s simply no other way to write intelligent criticism. BUT this is not to say that all academic criticism is intelligently written. 😎

  • I should’ve been clearer in my quick-burst comment. My fairly simple point was that Byk’s delineation between testosterone-fueled writing repped by Hemingway and the modern works of writers like Irving is a false dichotomy – and that complicated creations like the conflicted Jake Barnes demonstrate this. My not-so-controversial belief: it’s possible for a single reader to enjoy the works of writers like Hemingway and Irving while staying away from the cloistered world of academic criticism altogether.

  • Hear, hear, Deke.

  • Deke Solomon

    Those who have not seen the elephant and lack the courage to go looking for it have no right to criticize Ernest Hemingway, who set out as a young man to find the elephant and get a good long look at the Beast, and then describe it for the rest of us. As a young man he did not yet realize that few people are as brave and as honest as he.

    He went. He saw. He wrote. He told us all about it — and scarcely anyone believes him. Those who don’t tell the few who do that Papa was a fool and a bad man. So it is in life as it was in “The Old Man and the Sea.” Now that the big fish is dead, little ones come to savage the corpse.

    Nobody who has the least thing to lose has a true friend in this life. Those who have nothing may yet find a friend. Papa knew.

    Not in the least intimidated by the physical and philosophical heft of ‘Moby-Dick,’ ‘The Old Man and the Sea’ stands next to Melville’s triumphal door-stop and dares to ask which is the ultimate fish story. This writer, being a coward, chooses ‘The Old Man and the Sea’ on technical grounds: Moby-Dick was not a fish. Thus thoughtful readers are left to decide for themselves.

  • Insightful feedback, Bill, but labeling my opinion as a straw man argument is a bit of a stretch, no? From Wikipedia: “Critics have seen Jake as an ambiguous code hero of Hemingway manliness. Critic Philip Young believes that Jake is an extension of Hemingway’s autobiographical character Nick Adams, first introduced in his earlier short stories. However, Kathy and Arnold Davidson write in “Decoding the Hemingway Hero” that neither Jake nor the novel itself should be minimized to such an extent, for there are many ambiguities. For example, in the bar scene in Paris, Jake is angry at the homosexual men. Elliot believes that Hemingway viewed homosexuality as an inauthentic way of life, but he aligns Jake with homosexual men because, like them, he does not have sex with women. Jake’s anger shows his self-hatred at his inauthenticity and lack of masculinity. His sense of masculine identity is lost—he is less than a man.” Hardly a straw man argument but a worthy topic of debate for feminist deconstructionists in contemporary perspective. Sorry I don’t have more time to expand my thesis. Time to go fishing.

  • To this reader’s eyes, Byk is conveniently overlooking Hemingway’s subtleties as a writer in the interests of advancing his straw man argument. Been a few years since I’ve read it, but I seem to recall one of Hemingway’s earliest heroes (Jake Barnes) with a rather significant emasculating war wound. Rather John Irving-esque, no?

  • Boeke

    I thought Hemingway had cancer.

  • No doubt about it, Victor. Hemingway did put himself in harm’s way and he wrote a lot about death and about life, too. But does that mean he nurtured a death “wish”? A lot of writers and people in various occupations put themselves in harm’s way all the time. Is every war correspondent suicidal? I’m sure you know more about Hemingway than I do but I see him as an adventurer more than a manic depressive looking for a way out. Maybe he just felt the thrill of life was gone. Anyhow, the point I was trying to make is that in today’s world where war is sanitized by the mainstream media and death is a taboo subject in American society, Hemingway might not have been as well received (if he would be at all) by the contemporary literary millieu. There is an interesting interview with author Joyce Longfellow on my podcast blog, 2012writersALIVE in which she discusses her book, “I Never Could Say Goodbye,” and the American denial of the inevitable.

  • I enjoyed your article, John. I was writing my dissertation on Hemingway when my mentor died, so I never got to finish it (with a new mentor I went on to a different author).

    As I researched Hemingway’s life, the most salient thing was his death wish. He had it from early on, and you can find it in his stories (think “Indian Camp”). He also put himself in harm’s way from World War I and many other times.

    Why did he kill himself? In the end we can say we don’t know as much as we say it about Junior Seau, but it could be as Hemingway wrote that sometimes a man commits suicide “because he couldn’t stand things.”