In many of the short stories by Ernest Hemingway, readers are consistently plagued with the question of whether or not Hemingway hates or loves women. Hemingway is always questioning the value of women and the worth of men retaining relationships with women. Though there are many offhand and negative comments about women in Hemingway’s short stories, there are also many subtle and powerful comments that spawns the belief that Ernest Hemingway may in fact have feminist beliefs.

The character of Nick Adams is a person who undergoes much change and growth throughout his life in the numerous short stories that Hemingway wrote about him. It is the Nick Adams short stories that some of the most important lines about the subject of women are discussed. Within the stories “Ten Indians” and “The Three-Day Blow,” some of the strongest evidence to support the feminist beliefs of Hemingway are displayed both subtly and forcefully among the readers. The two stories chronicle a different period of Nick’s life from a little boy to a young man who has yet to see much of the world. It is in these stories that it seems that Hemingway is painting guideposts for Nick on how to achieve happiness in life by making note of the important roles that women play in a man’s life.

The first important and dominant female figure in a child’s life is that of his mother. In the short story “Ten Indians,” Ernest Hemingway demonstrates the importance of having a good wife and mother as a way to provide happiness and warmth in a child and adult’s life. From what is mentioned in the story, Nick Adams has no mother and the reader does not know how long she has been vacant from his life. Nick lives alone with his father, while in some cases a single parent home is not a bad situation, yet still the situation still does not provide a young child with the warmth and loving care that is associated with a mother. The first blatant quote in the story that is positive about women comes when Mr. and Mrs. Garner are joking in the wagon and Mr. Garner makes a simple statement about his wife: ” ‘I got a good girl’ ” (Hemingway 254). This quote appears amidst a shared conversation between the husband and wife and it is this sharing moment that it seems as if this quote would be enough for some readers to recognize the positive relationship between the married couple. This should be a significant comment because it is almost as Hemingway wants the reader to envy this relationship for that it presents an equal sided relationship as a positive thing.

See also  Beloved by Toni Morrison - a Book Review

Mrs. Garner is also the representation of warmth and light that is commonly associated with the roles of motherhood. There are two instances that Hemingway provides that is more subtle than other comments, but equally important: ” Mrs. Garner unlocked the door, went inside, and came out with a lamp in her hand” (Hemingway 255). A similar comment is made a few lines down: “Mrs. Garner was building a fire in the stove” (Hemingway 255). Mrs. Garner ventures into the darkness of the house and emerges with the light when light is needed. Mrs. Garner is also the one to build a fire in the stove when warmth is necessary. It seems that Hemingway is trying to have his readers recognize these little instances in the story as being very significant comments about the importance of a woman in a man or child’s life where she will provide what is necessary when at times a man cannot. The reader will then witness a situation in “Ten Indians” when a man alone is inadequate at providing the necessary elements in a boy’s life as is depicted when Nick returns home to his father.

Nick’s father can be seen as a cold and dark person by the subtle use of imagery that Hemingway uses when Nick is about to eat dinner with his dad: “His father brought in a piece of cold chicken on a plate and a pitcher of milk and put them on the table before Nick. He put down the lamp” (Hemingway 255). This is the complete opposite of what young Nick witnessed at the Garner household where Nick’s father gives him cold food and does not hold on to the lamp yet leaves it aside for the missing mother that will not be there to pick it up and carry its weight. Harold L. Hannum has stated that Nick’s father is correlated then with both coldness and darkness, which seems sufficient enough proof that Hemingway believed that there is just certain things in life that a man without a woman can not provide (Hannum 103). Within the story of “Ten Indians,” Hemingway must be telling his readers that he knows what a man or child needs to have a warm and bright life: a woman.

The significance of women in relationships is explored more deeply in Hemingway’s short story, “The Three-Day Blow.” Where the subject of motherly importance was the major theme of feminism in “Ten Indians,” the importance of relationships and love is displayed within “The Three-Day Blow.” Nick Adams is now a young man in “The Three-Day Blow” and it appears that he has had some problems with a young woman, Marjorie, in his life. Now, the fact that this bothers Nick is proof enough that Hemingway is influenced by and recognizes the importance of a relationship in anyone’s life. If Hemingway was a true woman-hater, he would never have given the time of day to question what problems people have within relationships. This is shown by blatant display of utter ignorance of relationships with the character of Bill, Nick’s friend in the following lines:

See also  Analysis: Volpone by Ben Jonson

” ‘Once a man’s married he’s absolutely bitched,’ Bill went on. ‘He hasn’t got anything anymore. Nothing. Not a damn thing. He’s done for. You’ve seen the guys that get married’ ” (Hemingway 90).

It seems obvious enough that this is foolish thinking and nothing more than the opposite of what Hemingway wants he readers to believe about women because he later proceeds with Nick’s thoughts: “The big thing was that Marjorie was gone and that probably he would never see her again. He had talked to her about how they would go to Italy together and the fun they would have. Places they would be together. It was all gone now” (Hemingway 91) David J. Ferrero believes that this offhand thought that Nick has demonstrates how important having a woman in his life is, completely the opposite of what Bill believes (Ferrero 25). Nick is always the protagonist in his stories, where the reader wants him to be happy and find a love that it seems he is so desperately seeking. The reader doesn’t feel this way towards Bill. Most people will see the blatant ignorance that Bill has towards relationships and how a life without a woman is twisting Bill into a woman-hating individual.

There is one simple line within Nick’s thoughts that is a very important insight into what most likely Hemingway himself thought of women: “…and the fun they would have,” (Hemingway 91). Hemingway himself must view relationships as fun as long as there is a woman there for him to love. It is in these subtle thoughts that it seems that the true beliefs of Hemingway can come out from behind his masculine persona that he was so famous for. It seems as if in “The Three-Day Blow” that the hopeless romantic thoughts of Nick are in truth the ideals that Hemingway believes every man should have.

See also  Alfred Hitchcock's "Frenzy"

The importance of the Marjorie in Nick’s life is displayed at the end of the story when he finally decides he is going to try and see her again: “He felt happy. Nothing was finished. Nothing was ever lost. He would go into town on Saturday. He felt lighter, as he had before Bill started to talk about it. There was always a way out” (Hemingway 92). Nick is finally able to feel happy once again because Nick has realized what is important to him in life and it has alleviated all the invisible burden of lost love that was on his shoulders. There is always a way out of personal misery if you decide to bring a woman into your life. This is the some of the most hopefully romantic writing that Hemingway has done where it is so subtle that some readers may take the writing to lightly and miss the deeper emotions that Nick is feeling. If readers are able to push aside the stereotypical beliefs that many critics have about Hemingway, readers will see his true love of women within some of his stories.

Women have come to represent in “Ten Indians” and “The Three-Day Blow” as a means of being happy and shrouded in light and warmth for the remainder of a person’s life. It seems as though Hemingway is trying to guide Nick by giving him subtle hints on what is truly important and on what can make a person feel complete in life, whether it is a boy or man. Though Hemingway would never have thought of himself as a feminist, it is in his characters and stories that the love and praise of women come to life.

Works Cited

1. Ferrero, David J. “Nikki Adams and the limits of gender criticism.” Hemingway Review 17 (Spring 1998) : 18-31.

2. Hannum, Howard L. “Scared sick looking at it’: A Reading of Nick Adams in the Published Stories.” Twentieth Century Literature 47 (Spring 2001) : 92-114.

3. Hemingway, Ernest. The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway. New York: Scribner. 2003