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Hemingway’s Twentieth-Century Medievalism

Hemingway’s Twentieth-Century Medievalism

Hemingway’s Twentieth-Century Medievalism

By Robert Melton Hogge

PhD Dissertation, University of Arizona, 1980

Abstract: This study opposes the traditional argument that Ernest Hemingway uses settings in his major full-length fiction which primarily depict modern man’s rootlessness. On the contrary, he carefully chooses settings, with Spain as the metaphorical center, which evoke a sense of the medieval past, a concept which I define and describe as “twentieth-century medievalism.” Although it is argued that Hemingway is cosmopolitan in his choice of settings, he excludes those settings which are not fundamentally Roman Catholic. In addition to his careful choice of settings and his use of medieval motifs, Hemingway also establishes the love relationship between man and woman as a central symbol for twentieth-century wholeness and unity.

Once the concept of “twentieth-century medievalism” has been defined within Hemingway’s major full-length fictional canon, the study then focuses on The Old Man and the Sea as the novel which consummately exemplifies how Hemingway’s medievalism suggests microcosmic unity. An analysis of criticism written on The Old Man and the Sea shows the approaches to be highly eclectic and an important issue (whether the novel is a tragedy) to be unresolved. This study shows how “twentieth-century medievalism” provides a unified fictional microcosm for the novel and serves as a backdrop from which Hemingway projects his uniquely medieval modern-world tragedy. The Old Man and the Sea, however, is not simply a tragedy but is an artistic novel which correlates time (complete twenty-four-hour periods) with four literary modes of expression: comedy, lyricism, the heroic, and tragedy. During the initial days, Santiago is gradually transformed from a common fisherman to a lyric questioner of life’s meaning, then to an epic hero, and finally to a tragic protagonist who acts out his role in a carefully delineated Aristotelian tragedy. Throughout the novel, the comic sense reminds both Santiago and the reader that the fisherman’s experience is ultimately a comedy of transformations.

The study concludes by relating the concept of artistic transformation to the emergence of the Hemingway myth and argues for a more sensible interpretation of the myth. Finally the study affirms that the intricacies of Hemingway’s artistry have not been fully explored and offers the concept of “twentieth-century medievalism” as a technique to make more comprehensible Hemingway’s romanticism.

Introduction: Ernest Hemingway has left a lasting impression on modern literature, not only for his stylistic contribution but also for his portrayal of heroism. In the creation of terse dialogue (The Killers), the use of concise descriptive passages to establish both theme and tone (the opening paragraph of In Another Country), and the development of fictional intensity modulated by a perceptive sense of irony (the climactic episode in A Canary for One), Hemingway’s art, although widely imitated, has been seldom reproduced. Popularly, Hemingway is known more as a hero than as an artist. Those people who have never read Green Hills of Africa, The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber, or The Snows of Kilimanjaro still think of Hemingway as a big-game hunter. Throughout his highly publicized life, he was also recognized as a boxer, a tennis player, a skier, a fisherman, an aficionado, and a heroic soldier. Being conspicuously in the news from his heroic 1918 wounding until his dramatic 1961 suicide, Hemingway the man often overshadowed the accomplished literary artist.


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