Hemingway’s Short Stories of Autobiographical, Immature Males

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Hemingway’s Short Stories of Autobiographical, Immature Males

Hemingway’s short stories Cat in the Rain and The Snows of Kilimanjaro have male characters that are autobiographical. He attempted to dispel criticism of his short stories as autobiographical because Hemingway did not care for critics. His focus on his work as art ignores the autobiographical and psychological content he depended upon to develop characters. His characters are judged by the female characters of the short stories in the same way Hemingway was judged by his wives. Ernest Hemingway wrote stories about autobiographical, male characters that lacked maturity as judged by female characters. He exhibited this in his married life and it may have contributed to his risk taking in war as well as his suicide. As one of the “Lost Generation” of the 1920’s, Hemingway communicated his shortcomings through the art of the short story. Cat in the Rain is a good short story that does two things at once. First, it provides a believable picture of the surface of life and second it also illuminates some moral or psychological complexity that we feel is part of the essence of human life. Firstly, because it is autobiographical, it is a believable picture of the surface of life, his life. Secondly, it illuminates his psychological complexity in ignoring the drive to reproduce which is part of the essence of human life. Hemingway’s story fulfills both of these specifications as a good short story that does two things at once. Cat in the Rain is an autobiographic metaphor for his first wife’s desire to have a baby. The nameless wife in the story agonized as any other woman would whose biological clock is counting down her drive to reproduce before childbirth becomes more dangerous in later life or when her ovaries stop producing eggs. She says, ‘“I wanted it so much,” she said. “I don’t know why I wanted it so much. I wanted that poor kitty. It isn’t any fun to be a poor kitty. It isn’t any fun to be a poor kitty out in the rain.”’ (Barnet 686) Not knowing why something is wanted matches with the instinctual drive to reproduce. Instincts are part of our animal programming and consequently part of the essence of human life. If we ignore our instincts, we are ignoring an important part of our human animal composition and setting ourselves up for failure in our relationships with other humans with the same instinctual programming. This is especially dangerous in intimate relationships like husband and wife. Hemingway’s first wife Hadley wanted a cat as the wife did in the story and she wanted a baby. Carlene Brennen in her book Hemingway's Cats describes the autobiographical events in Hemingway’s life that mirror the drive to reproduce and the corresponding drive to adopt and mother a pet, like the cat, or conceive and raise a child, that he and his wife Hadley could not afford: “When Ernest was working, Hadley spent many lonely hours in their cramped apartment reading, writing letters, practicing on her rented upright piano, and she considered adopting a kitten for company. Ernest loved cats as much as she did, but told his wife they were too poor to own a cat. Their funds were limited, and he could not justify the added expense. These words came back to haunt Hemingway when he noticed how depressed his wife was becoming. Hadley was thirty years old, almost eight years his senior, considerably older than most women in those days who planned to start a family. Ernest knew how much she wanted to have a child. But, for now, having children was out of the question, and so was owning a cat.” (15) If one substitutes a baby for the cat in the short story, you can identify the dialogue Hadley may have felt before her pregnancy. The wife in the short story says, ‘“I want a cat,” she said. “I want a cat. I want a cat now. If I can’t have long hair or any fun I can have a cat.”’ (Barnet 686) Hadley may have uttered the same dialogue in Hemingway’s real life. “Hadley’s unexpected...
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