Hemingway in Eden: The Threefold Expression

Every artist puts at least some of themselves into the work they create. Many times, this is a conscious effort on the part of the creator. In some cases, however, the connection between the artist’s self and their creation is unconsciously expressed and even denied as being expressed by the artist themselves. This is true in the case of Ernest Hemingway. His works are filled with the things he experienced, felt, and wrestled with. By his own admission in a letter to Maxwell Perkins, he writes “…whatever success I have had has been through writing what I know about” (Phillips pg. 21). For Hemingway, the things that drive the best of his work are intimate and derived from his own experience and knowledge base. In fact he even likens writing directly to sexuality in a 1948 letter to Charles Scribner stating, “ I have to ease off on making love when writing hard as the two things are run by the same motor” (Phillips pg.55). Sexuality becomes, for Hemingway, intertwined with his stories on a literal level as he relates instances that closely resemble his life, and symbolically in the development of his characters as he explores his definitions and beliefs regarding gender. In his work, The Garden of Eden, unfinished and released posthumously, he delves directly into the challenges of living within the constructs of the culturally defined masculine and feminine gender roles while presenting a third “middle” gender to disturb the balance. Hemingway’s Garden of Eden functions as a direct threefold expression of his personal gender identity struggle with David Bourne operating as the struggle with manhood, Marita as ideal woman, and Catherine Bourne as the identity struggle created by his mother.

In David Bourne we find a mirror image of Ernest Hemingway in many ways. Much like Hemingway, Bourne is an author who writes in a similar vein. He creates stories of his times spent hunting and adventuring in exotic lands with his work centering indirectly on his strained relationship with his father. David’s unresolved issues with his father’s criticism shape his stories and the way he relates to his new bride Catherine. Hemingway experienced similar scenarios in his life as even after his father shot himself in 1928, he “remained an internalized critic until Ernest also took his life in 1961” (Hallengren). This constant disapproval served as fuel for the self struggle experienced by both David and Hemingway. Nothing seemed worthy of their father’s approval and their emotions and actions were attacked as being less than masculine. Mr. Bourne lashes out violently when confronted by his son’s displeasure with the elephant hunt and admonishes him telling him bluntly, “Be careful you don’t f**k it up” (Hemingway 182). Ernest, having a terrible relationship with his father and a psychologically unsound mother, says it best when asked what the best early training for a writer would be simply stating, “An unhappy childhood” (Phillips 11). Though this novel remains unfinished, David’s new work is alluded to as being something that now easily flows forth and comes back without struggle. He writes line after line of adventure, war, and exotic travel, all trademarks of Hemingway’s style. David uses those lines to cope with his father-son struggles as mentioned in the closing of the novel; “He found that he knew much more about his father than when he had first written this story and he knew he could measure his progress by the small things which made his father more tactile” (Hemingway pg. 247).

David Bourne, much like Ernest, faced a series of bizarre relationships with women and sexuality that challenged the traditional gender roles of man and woman and forced a line of self questioning and discovery which in the end for both, leads to a hyper-masculinization of their writing styles and social endeavors. In Hemingway’s life, he constantly moved from woman to woman, wife to wife, as he struggled to maintain healthy, lasting relationships. He even faced some of his own androgyny issues which directly influenced his characterization of David Bourne. Not only did Hemingway’s mother dress him as a girl during early childhood in an attempt to have the little girl she always wanted, but Hemingway also was involved in a love triangle that challenged heterosexual boundaries. Hemingway’s second wife, Pauline Pfeiffer, shortly after their divorce, began to express her lesbian desires and turned to same sex relationships. She later became the nurse for his fourth wife, Mary Welsh. The two became close friends bringing her back into Ernest’s life. As noted by literary critic Mark Spilka,

The good relations between these wives, as colored by Pauline’s emergent lesbianism, and perhaps also by the resumption of androgynous sexual practices with Mary that recalled Pauline, seem to have confirmed and perhaps even shaped his decision to create fictional versions of his first and second marriages with Hadley Richardson and Pauline: for in those marriages too good relations with lesbian shadings had seemed to obtain between paired wives, and the hair fetishisms from childhood (which Pauline especially had exploited)had similarly led to or had been bound up with androgynous experiments” (Spilka 31)

This relationship seems to be the measuring stick and inspiration for the androgynous sex play that Catherine Bourne enacts with both David and Marita. David struggles with the role that Catherine puts him in socially and sexually, starting first with her hair. Much like how Pauline Hemingway wore a short “boy cut” style, Catherine cuts her hair to be as boyish as possible actually asking the stylist expressly to cut it like a schoolboy’s. David is then pressured to change his hair to make it more effeminate. Catherine pleads with him to have it done the same as hers and he eventually yields to her request. Though unwilling at first, David eventually confronts his feelings on the issue saying, “So that’s how it is…You’ve done that to your hair and had it cut the same as your girl’s and how do you feel?…Say it…You like it” (Hemingway 84). Hemingway too dabbled in this expression. According to Hallengren, “When writing The Garden of Eden he appeared as a redhead one day in May 1947. When asked about it, he said he had dyed his hair by mistake” (Hallengren).

David’s eventual separation from Catherine and his clinging to Marita is representative of Hemingway’s relation to Pauline after their divorce and the relationship he formed with Mary. Mary, who was described as being boyish much like Pauline, was a nurturer and caretaker in Ernest’s life and filled the more traditionally typified role of “wife”. Marita, like Mary with Pauline, does share a certain lesbian expression with the character of Catherine, but ultimately fulfills the role of traditional wife both for David and Ernest respectively. In his search for manhood, both Ernest and David seek out women who challenge the roles associated with the feminine ideal but ultimately find a partner that is willing to embody that stereotype at least partially in their lives to help support the asserted bravado providing both men with fine examples of their manliness.

Key to this process, Marita stands as the development of the ideal woman. Her character is meant to mimic Mary Hemingway in the way that she dabbles in a certain androgyny but ultimately serves as the supportive caretaker for the tortured author. Her influence allows him to write freely, ignoring the symbolic associations with his writing and focusing solely on the descriptive nature of the works. David is afforded the opportunity to write again with the encouragement of Marita. She becomes not only a fan of his work, but a driving force pushing him to create for the craft rather than for the understanding of the stories themselves. Marita becomes the new Catherine, taking her place as one of “the Bournes” and she asserts her new position saying, “I’m your girl…your girl. No matter what I’m always your girl. Your good girl who loves you” (Hemingway pg. 245). Much like the way that Catherine once told David, Marita asserts herself as “his girl” giving him an ownership and stating a certain subservience to his needs. She even asks at one point, “Are we the Bournes?”(Hemingway pg. 243). Through this character progression, Marita becomes Hemingway’s ideal woman. She becomes the supportive, motherly, attendant to the needs and desires of her troubled yet brilliant author husband. Marita does not question or manipulate her mate, rather, she prefers to be molded and guided by him. What better mate for an artist could David choose?

Throughout the story she progresses into the ideal woman for David being molded and crafted by Catherine and him. Her introduction is at first erotic and unwanted, a bizarre gift from Catherine, but slowly she loses her interest in Catherine and clings to David. In a direct correlation to the way that Pauline moved on in Hemingway’s life, Catherine moves on to a new “masculine” life as a new woman enters the picture. She affirms this role change with Marita asserting, “You can spend the rest of your lives together…If you don’t bore each other. I have no further need of either of you” (Hemingway pg. 191).

From the onset of the story, Catherine exists as not only a catalyst for David’s self reflection and change, but also as a personification of Hemingway’s inner gender identity struggle. The progression of her character in the story lines up quite closely with Hemingway’s life experience. Early in the novel, Catherine begins cross-dressing and bending gender roles openly. In the infancy of her marriage she expresses herself as the desired sex much like Hemingway’s mother dressed him as a little girl for the early years of his life. She wanted a little girl and decided to express the outward appearance of her son as feminine very much like Catherine’s move into “boyhood”. Even in her domination of David, Catherine closely resembles the gender struggles that Hemingway experienced as a result of his bizarre mother-son relationship. According to an article from TimelessHemingway.com, “Clarence Hemingway (Ernest’s father) allowed himself to be dominated by his wife. Grace was…almost exploitative of her husband’s leniency, rarely seeking his approval in her childrearing experiments” (The Mother Complex pg. 2). David becomes dominated the same way as he gives in quite easily in each instance of Catherine’s demand. Catherine becomes an embodiment of Hemingway’s gender uncertainty in this way. Having two parents that seem to be equally demonstrative of both genders, Ernest Hemingway grew up with no defined reference for modeling his gender identity. Having a father that approved of nothing he did and a mother who dominated the house in a patriarchal manner leads directly to the creation of Catherine Bourne. Hemingway’s mother fully dominated the lives of the men in her life and took out her anger over her desire for the unfulfilled career life that she gave up having married by cruel and manipulative means. Catherine eventually leaves David to pursue her own endeavors while in Clarence Hemingway’s case, he commits suicide. Ernest placed blame for this solely on his mother but didn’t wish to express it in writing directly. By Ernest’s own statement, “I did not think that a man should make money out of his father shooting himself nor out of his mother who drove him to it” (Phillips pgs. 66-67).

There are two dominant scenes in the novel that present allusions to Grace Hemingway’s emotional and physical dominance of her husband and Ernest. First, an examination of the role reversal love scene between David and Catherine must be examined:

He had shut his eyes and he could feel the long light weight of her on him and her breasts pressing against him and her lips on his. He lay there and felt something and then her hand holding him and searching lower and he helped with his hands and then lay back in the dark and did not think at all and only felt the weight and the strangeness inside and she said, “Now you can’t tell who is who can you?”


You are changing,” she said. “Oh you are. You are. Yes you are and you’re my girl Catherine. Will you change and be my girl and let me take you?” (Hemingway pg. 17).

We can see here that Catherine takes complete dominion of her partner. Just as Ernest’s mother decided to define his gender and sexuality through forcing a change upon him as a child, Catherine asserts a physical and aesthetic dominance over David’s role as a sexual partner and man. The act of sexual dominance in this scene can be seen as a directly emasculating act done to David in an attempt to take the masculine role over from him. While the act of sodomy is not necessarily a violent, masochistic, or emasculating act whether performed on a man or woman, the fact that it is coupled with Catherine’s insistence that David had now become her girl and could not tell the difference between them sets this scene apart from being just another sex act. Several times this theme recurs in the novel, but it is this first instance that really serves as a shock for David and a blow to his gender identity. Hemingway uses this scene to express the emotion he must have felt as a young boy being scared and confused while a woman he loved and trusted forcefully usurped his male identity and replaced it with a false pre-crafted “female” identity. In a strange Oedipal crisis, Ernest Hemingway had his sexuality assaulted by his mother. This is not the first time Hemingway had used sexual taboos in his work. His scenes range from amputee sex to enemas. A direct result of his mother-son complex, Hemingway’s poorly formed sexual identity leads to odd explorations and to a lesser degree, homoeroticism. Laura Frost states, “What ultimately emerges is a Hemingway that isn’t especially masochistic, but is, rather, queer” (Frost 351).

The second scene of great importance to understanding the role of Catherine Bourne comes at the end of the novel. In a moment of total disregard for David’s feelings or craft, Catherine burns all of his manuscripts for the new Africa story of the elephant hunt. The scene plays out:

“”Where did you put them, Devil?” David asked…she said, “I took care of them.”

I wish you would tell me,” David said, “because I need them very much.”

No you don’t,” she said, “They were worthless and I hated them.”

…”Where did you burn them Devil?” David asked…”In the iron drum with the holes that Madame uses to burn trash…Yes, I poured some petrol from bidon in the remise. It made a big fire and everything burned. I did it for you, David, and for all of us” (Hemingway pgs. 220-221).

In this scene Catherine does everything in her power to exert a complete rejection of David’s work and make known that she does not approve of his writing or writing style. In fact, she takes full credit for having burned them and doing it for “all of us”. A similar event occurred to Ernest early in his career involving his mother and father. Copies of his book In Our Time where sent to his parents house only to be sent back with his parents disapproval for what they called filth. In a letter to his father in 1925 explaining why he hadn’t sent further works and the nature of his literary process, Ernest writes, “That looked as though you didn’t want to see any. You see I am trying in all my stories to get the feeling of actual life across…you can’t do this without putting in the bad and the ugly as well as what is beautiful. Because if it is all beautiful you can’t believe in it. Things aren’t that way” (Hallengren). It is obvious that a certain degree of rejection was delivered by the act of sending his works away in effect negating all he had done. Catherine Bourne plays that role for David in the novel. She poses an ultimate rejection not just of David’s stories, but of David himself, as he identifies deeply with the writing and the role of author. In destroying the manuscripts, Catherine essentially destroys part of David the same way that Hemingway’s parents negated a large part of his identity by shunning his work.

Catherine serves to shape the hyper-masculinized David that exists at the end of the story turning him into a man who can see his definite anatomy but has trouble with creating a masculine identity for himself. David compensates by taking a newly feminized, submissive wife and by writing masculine stories freely and graphically the same way that Hemingway did. Ernest’s stories are a direct exploration of how to exhibit masculinity and assert a pervasive and unquestionable manliness just like David Bourne’s work. In this regard, TimelessHemingway.com’s article The Mother Complex offers insightful commentary remarking,

Having never been socially defined by his parents, never nurtured exclusively as a masculine or feminine entity, his gendered identity remains unconceptualized. A gender confused boy grows into a gender confused man, who devotes the remainder of his life to the pursuit of his own sense of self, an “idealized self” one defined neither by his parents nor by society” (TimelessHemingway.com).

In other words, Hemingway, like David Bourne, is working through his gender identity struggles without any base to model himself after. His father relationship offers nothing to help him define masculinity, society offers only a caricature of manhood to be emulated, and his mother, like Catherine Bourne, blurred the lines between the sexes while inserting a falsely created identity. Such persons are destined to search their lifetimes for understanding. In many ways, Hemingway’s travels and fishing trips were all attempts to connect with what ought to be considered male hobbies and interests. Though he may have truly enjoyed them in and of themselves, his public display of these interests act more as a posturing than as a circumstantial observance of his life.

In 1937 Max Eastman taunted Hemingway saying, “Come out from behind that false hair on your chest, Ernest. We all know you” (Frost 347). Essentially, Eastman was making the claim that everyone knew that Ernest was “playing pretend” with his sexual identity and this attack only fuels the fire of debate over just what Ernest Hemingway was trying to convey in his work. What might he have been hiding in his symbolism? On the one hand, Hemingway did say in a 1952 letter to Bernard Berenson, “The sea is the sea. The old man is an old man…all the symbolism people say is s**t” (Phillips pg. 4). So there is a definite denial of underlying motive to his work. He did also say, however, in 1953 to Alfred Rice, “Most of the people in this story are alive and I was writing it very carefully to not have anybody identifiable” (Phillips pg. 65). What now seems most likely is a combination of the two statements. Hemingway didn’t necessarily use his stories or characters to be symbols of a deeper meaning intentionally, but he did create intentionally from what he knew. When writing to F. Scott Fitzgerald in 1934, Hemingway said, “…you especially have to be hurt like hell before you can write seriously. But when you get the damned hurt, use it- don’t cheat with it. Be as faithful to it as a scientist” (Phillips pg. 19-20). Hemingway obviously drew from a wellspring of pain which lead him to cause pain in his relationships in daily life. This fueled a career’s worth of writing filled with the bad and ugliness of the world making his work very real to the reader and very expressive of his inner turmoil. The power of his work lies in the experience he drew from. Creating characters that mirrored persons from his life and embodied ideas that he wrestled with was more than entertainment; it was catharsis.

The Garden of Eden by Ernest Hemingway is truly a threefold expression of his gender issues and biases formed during his early childhood. The story utilizes the characters as direct personifications of various aspects of the author’s life and relationships with both himself and his sexual partners. David Bourne is representative of the personal struggle of Hemingway to find a true definition of manhood and the fight to express that through writing. His encounters with Catherine and Marita mimic the major relationships with women in Hemingway’s life and help to develop a character representative of Hemingway and his growth and struggles with gender over time. Marita exists as a representation of the feminine ideal for Hemingway. She is a woman that is passive, submissive, and nurturing, all opposites of his mother. Her character takes David into a place of writing once again, and closely resembling Hemingway’s fourth wife Mary, acts as a caretaker to David. And finally, Catherine Bourne embodies the psychosexual influence of Grace Hemingway, Ernest’s mother. Her very masculine command over both David and Marita occupies an unsettling middle sex that dominates the scenes of this book. Catherine manipulates and creates a new reality around her to fit the image created by her ego. She forces each individual operating in her life to adopt the truth as she sees, not allowing for dissension in the ranks. She stops at nothing to assert her desires, going so far as to destroy manuscripts, change her husband’s appearance, and lord her monetary control over the life of David Bourne. In Hemingway’s life, his mother, Grace, played that exact part in her husband and son’s lives. Her sheer dominance and cruel gender experimentation with each may very well have been a key contributing factor to the suicides of both men.

Ernest Hemingway uses these characters to express this fact by loading each of them with a great deal of traits found in the relationships of his own life. The Garden of Eden acts as a platform to examine a threefold expression of gender. Typical of modern writers, Hemingway’s stories rebel against the traditional norms and mores of society. According to Cary Wolfe, when studying this rejection, “Hemingway’s rebellion must also be viewed in more pointedly psychoanalytic terms, as a war against the largely unmitigated horrors of living in a universe relentlessly organized by an Oedipal regime of subjectivity” (Wolfe pg. 225). In brief, Ernest uses his work to combat the scars and neurosis left on his psyche by Grace Hemingway. While struggling his entire life to come to terms with his identity issues, Hemingway filled his stories with what he knew; pain, confusion, fear, sex, and death. His own death carries with it a sad symbolism. As asserted by his wife Mary in the New York Times the day after his death, Ernest was just “cleaning his gun” when it went off, shooting him directly in the head. But Ernest had been cleaning his gun his whole life, emptying both barrels into each story and each character until there remained no more story to tell. And on July 2, 1961, he cleaned and emptied his shotgun for the last time, finishing the greatest story he would ever tell; his life.

Works Cited

Frost, Laura. “Queer as Papa.” Rev. of Ernest Hemingway: Machismo and Masochism by Richard Fantina. Twentieth Century Literature, Vol. 52, No. 3 Fall 2006: 347-51. Print.

Hallengren, Anders. “A Case of Identity:Ernest Hemingway.” Nobelprize.org. 28 Aug. 2001. Web. 14 May 2010. <http://nobelprize.org&gt;.

“Hemingway Dead of Shotgun Wound; Wife Says He Was Cleaning Weapon.” Editorial. The New York Times 3 July 1961. Web.

Hemingway, Ernest, and Larry W. Phillips. Ernest Hemingway on Writing. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004. Print.

Hemingway, Ernest. The Garden of Eden. New York: C. Scribner’s, 1986. Print.

“The Mother Complex.” Timeless Hemingway. 1998. Web. 01 May 2010. <http://timelesshemingway.com&gt;.

Spilka, Mark. Hemingway’s Barbershop Quintet: “The Garden of Eden” Manuscript. Novel: A Forum on Fiction. 1st ed. Vol. 21. Duke UP, 1987. 29-55. Web. 31 May 2010. <http://jstor.org&gt;.

Wolfe, Cary. Fathers,Lovers, and Friend Killers: Rearticulating Gender and Race via Species in Hemingway, 2002 Duke University Press

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