AMST 246: Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Faulkner
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Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Faulkner
AMST 246 - Lecture 2 - Hemingway's In Our Time
Chapter 1. In Our Time Publication History [00:00:00]
Professor Wai Chee Dimock: OK, we’re going to get started. And In Our Time, as we’ll find out, many of the titles of the novels are actually from very canonical works, or very ancient works in the case of Faulkner. In the case of Hemingway, the title is from the Book of Common Prayer. “Give us peace in our time, O Lord.” So it’s very much a meditation on war and peace and thinking about what happens in war and also thinking about what happens when we have theoretical peace, but maybe war is still going on in some fashion. It’s really praying for peace.
I should talk a little bit about the publication history of In Our Time. It has a very interesting and complicated publication history. Initially, a lot of the vignettes from In Our Time–what we would call vignettes, Hemingway call chapters–those were published first. They were published in the little reviews. And this one is actually called The Little Review. And there’s some publishing there. And some of the stories, actually, were also published in the little reviews. And this one is called what we now call “Indian Camp” that we’ll be talking about today, that was published in The Transatlantic Review.
And the first edition of In Our Time was actually published in Paris. It was published by the Three Mountains Press, looking handcrafted–in fact, it was handcrafted. Only 30 pages, so really just all the vignettes, all the chapters were in that edition. And only 170 copies were printed. So this is really the very beginning of Hemingway’s career. And it’s really interesting to see that that’s how he started out, someone who really was thinking of 170 people reading his work.
But even though only 170 copies were printed, it actually got very, very warm responses right away. And it is actually amazing to think that it got picked up right away by Fitzgerald, who wrote his editor, Maxwell Perkins at Scribner’s, saying that the vignettes are really remarkable, I’ll look him up right away. He’s the real thing. This is back in 1924 when Hemingway was a total unknown.
The first American edition was published by Boni & Liveright. This is Hemingway’s first publisher. He would then move on to Scribner’s, and Scribner’s is the publisher that controls all the copyright to all the Hemingway novels. But he started out with Boni & Liveright. And there were a few more–not just the vignettes, now–but a few of the stories were included in this 1925 edition of In Our Time, but still a very handmade look.
Chapter 2. The Structure of In Our Time [00:03:41]
And Hemingway did not have a very happy relation to Boni & Liveright, mostly having to do with the structure of In Our Time. On April 22, he wrote to his good friend, author John Dos Passos, saying, “A Mrs. George Kaufman is here and she claims they want to cut it all out–the Indian Camp story. Cut the In Our Time chapters. Jesus I feel all shot to Hell about it. Of course they can’t do it because the stuff is so tight and hard and everything hangs on everything else.”
This is 1925, but already we can see the Hemingway that we recognize later, somebody who loves his material, wants his material to be tight and hard and everything hanging on everything else. But still, it is a very, very strange claim, given the fact that in fact, the publication history of In Our Time suggests that it wasn’t conceived of and it wasn’t initially published as all in one piece. It was actually published separately. But meanwhile Hemingway is going to claim that in fact, he wants everything all in one piece. This is something that we should really think about. We should certainly take Hemingway very seriously that he’s insisting that everything is hanging together. But also maybe entertaining the possibility that maybe a bit looser than he would like to think or that he claims.
So, rather than taking Hemingway completely at his word, let’s just say that we’ll think of the narrative structure of In Our Time as a puzzling structure. And this is something that we can say. There’s not much dispute about it. It doesn’t look like a short story collection. It doesn’t look like anything else that we’ve read – this very unusual structure of the stories being interspersed with the chapters. And there seems to be an apparent disjunction between these two. And there’s also a kind of very rapid shift of location and perspective between those pieces that are set in wartime Europe and those that are set in peacetime America in the Midwest. It doesn’t work as a linear, streamline kind of narrative. It doesn’t look like a traditional novel. It doesn’t look like a collection of short stories. There’s something to think about, to puzzle over.
So what I’d like to do today is actually to give Hemingway the benefit of the doubt. He’s saying that everything hangs together. Let’s read these three pieces as if they did in fact hang together. So this is an experiment in reading. We can never prove for sure that they do in fact hang together. But because Hemingway is so emphatic about it, let’s just do this little experiment of reading these three–two stories and then one inter-chapter–as if they all belong together as a unit. But to say that is also to say that you guys can experiment with other clusters. This is a possible cluster. You can experiment with other possible clusters. When it comes to writing papers, this is a great opportunity to try out to see which goes with what.
Chapter 3. A Possible Cluster [00:07:57]
The three that I’m proposing to read together is, first of all, “Indian Camp.” We know for a fact that that was published separately. So let’s not forget that for a moment. But, even given that it was initially published in The Transatlantic Review, let’s still group it with the other two – “Chapter II” and then “The Doctor and the Doctor’s Wife.” The reason that those three hang together in my mind is that they work on the same thematic register. And they also work on the same macro, micro-registers that we were talking about last time.
So the macro-register: there is the tension between the Anglos and the Native Americans. Both these stories–let’s leave out the chapter first, because it’s obviously about something else. But “Indian Camp” and “The Doctor and the Doctor’s Wife,” they both are about the relations between the Anglos and the Native Americans and about tension and conflict between them. And both stories also share some important similarity on the micro-register. “Indian Camp” obviously is about the phenomenon of pain and about violence to oneself, about injury, about injury to others, about violence to oneself. And “The Doctor and the Doctor’s Wife” is about potential violence. A fight could break out in that story, but it doesn’t. So in some sense, it’s the opposite of “Indian Camp.” It is about the possibility of violence that is being averted. Just on that basis, it would seem that there’s some kind of relation between them.
Let’s look at the macro-register first. It’s not as macro as the history of World War I, but it’s macro in the sense that it really is about important sociological facts about the United States. The stories are set in Horton Bay. Actually, this is where the Hemingway family would go for their summer vacations. It’s in Michigan. And the Native Americans are Ojibway–Anishinaabe is actually the preferred destination by them, but mostly Ojibway, I think, is the more common name–a very well known group, very important group of Native Americans. There’s a whole book written about them. This is the background to the macro-history of the two stories.
Chapter 4. Theoretical Perspectives on Pain [00:10:56]
And I’d like to introduce three additional perspectives now on the micro-level, which is talking about the phenomenon of pain and injury and violence and so on. And you might or might not have read these people, but they are very influential figures, including obviously a great painter writing about pain and injury and so on. Elaine Scarry, Susan Sontag, and Edvard Munch.
Let’s just begin with Elaine Scarry. This is a book that came out in the 1980s. It’s called A Body in Pain. And a lot of it actually has to do–she’s done extensive research using the archives at Amnesty International–with looking at the phenomenon of pain as a consequence of torture. And the argument about the book is that when prisoners are tortured, when there’s really nothing in the world open to them except for the experience of pain, then they lose the ability to express themselves. They lose the ability to have any kind of linguistic relation to the world, including the linguistic relation of being able to describe your own pain.
What she argues is that there’s a breakdown of language under extreme conditions of pain. The pain basically breaks down our world. And the first thing, the most important thing to go is our language. Because according to Elaine Scarry, it is language that anchors and constitutes our world. It is an argument about the power of pain and its ability to dehumanize us, because it takes away our ability to do the most fundamentally human thing, namely to speak, use language. This is one end of the spectrum in thinking about pain.
On the other end of the spectrum, a very different kind of philosophy, is the public intellectual Susan Sontag. She died a few years ago. But her work has been really, really important for decades. And one of her best-known books is called Regarding the Pain of Others. She has a completely different take on pain from Elaine Scarry. She argues that rather than thinking about the phenomenon of pain itself as a kind of experiential reality for us, she’s interested in how the observation of pain in others gives us pleasure, that in some sense we are affirmed, we affirm our own being. We affirm ourselves. We affirm the fact that we are not feeling pain when we see pain in others.
It’s a very tough and in many ways a kind of disturbing argument, that her basic sense of the world is that we affirm our own being by being able to tell ourselves apart from others. So when we see someone in acute pain, we know that we are someone else, that we are what we are, because we’re not going through that pain. There’s a kind of indirect pleasure from seeing the pain in others, and you can see it in the cover of her book. So it’s a very disturbing outlook, but something to keep in mind.
And both of those models I want to call to your attention, because I think that Hemingway actually has something to say to each of them, actually. And I would encourage you in section to think about what Hemingway would say to Elaine Scarry, what Hemingway would say to Susan Sontag. He obviously wasn’t writing for them, but given the fact that he has written stories that have to do with pain, how he would respond to those theories.
But I think that Hemingway is actually closer to the pain of Munch, and the very celebrated painting “The Scream.” And it’s really about pain as a sound, pain coming out as a scream. And it is a corrective to Elaine Scarry in the sense that even though we might not be able to speak when we’re in acute pain, we still are able to express ourselves, because we can just cry out, even though it’s not a linguistic, it’s not a word that we’re saying. The very fact that something is coming out of us suggests that the capacity for expression hasn’t completely broken down.
Munch is not especially interested in thinking about what the scream would do to others. So basically, this is just somebody who is crying out in pain, and probably not bodily injury either, but just psychic pain, just screaming out. Munch is not putting into the picture what the scream would do to other people listening to that scream. I would like to see Hemingway as collaborating with Munch. Munch is giving us the scream coming out of the person who is suffering, and “Indian Camp” is Hemingway’s extended meditation on the phenomenon of the scream, on what the scream would do to people who are completely vulnerable to that sound of pain. Usually we just think of ourselves as being vulnerable to pain. But we’re also vulnerable to the sound of pain.
This is a very different model from the one suggested by Susan Sontag. I’m already giving you a bit of an argument about Hemingway with saying Sontag is really thinking about pain as a kind of a visual pleasure to other people. We see other people suffering and we get some visual pleasure. Hemingway is about the auditory pain that we get as a consequence of our ears being helplessly open to the pain of others. There’s basically a very important difference between the eye and the ear. And I think most people would agree that we can shut our eyes. We don’t have to see something if we don’t want to. We can’t really shut our ears. We can remove ourselves to a greater distance and shut our ears that way, but if we’re in the neighborhood of someone who is screaming, we can’t really shut our ears. So “Indian Camp” is really about what happens when someone cannot shut his or her ears to a scream.
Chapter 5. A Close Reading of “Indian Camp” [00:18:29]
The story is about a woman giving birth. And Nick’s father, who is a doctor, coming to attend to that woman. It’s about an Anglo doctor coming to a very close-knit Native American community to take care of a Native American woman under very primitive conditions.
But Hemingway spends a lot of time actually not just talking about Anglo and Indian relations, but also about the relations among Native Americans. This is how the man reacts to the woman giving birth and screaming. “The men had moved off up the road to sit in the dark and smoke out of range of the noise she made. She screamed just as Nick and the two Indians follow his father into the shanty.” So this is actually the baseline for Hemingway, that the scream is unbearable, even to her own community. This is someone who is actually inflicting pain and injury on her own Native American community, not because of any conflict with them.
This is a very important point to bear in mind. This is not a sociopolitical conflict, socioeconomic conflict. It is not the conflict between two different ethnic groups. It is an involuntary conflict within one close-knit ethnic group. The woman can’t help screaming. She can’t help causing pain to her own community. So the men are trying to do the best they can to get themselves out of the way of the painful screaming that they’re hearing.
And we can think about what follows from this given, from this baseline. And actually, there are two outcomes. And one outcome is actually very much predicated on the importance of ethnic difference. So here are the Native American men being completely overwhelmed and helpless in the face of the scream.
But there’s one person, one person who’s not affected by the scream. Why is he not affected? “But her screams are not important. I don’t hear them because they’re not important.” Who is it that says that? The doctor–exactly, thank you–is Nick’s father.
So what enables him, what is it that insulates him from the scream? It seems that if there is something else that can override that sound, there’s something else that is more important to you than the immediacy of that sound, it can serve as a protective shell. And as it turns out, it is the doctor’s professional identity. Because he’s able to explain to Nick what she’s just going through is something called labor. The baby wants to be born. The baby is trying to be born, she is trying her best so that the baby would be born. He has a completely coherent explanation as to why she’s going through the pain. And he has a completely coherent explanation as to why she’s screaming right now. So the coherence of that explanation, and the fact that he is professionally equipped to put an end to the scream, the fact that he as a doctor can just perform the Caesarian operation so that the scream will stop. Both his ability to explain a phenomenon and his ability to put an end to the phenomenon – these two work together so that the scream, while a fact of life, is not going to be devastating to the doctor.
And we all know that. If doctors were going to be devastated by screams, they wouldn’t be doctors, they wouldn’t be able to operate. So a very important feature of the professional identity of a doctor is that they should be able to take a lot of sensory input that would be unbearable to other people and be able to put that sensory input in its place. Being able to explain it is being able to put it away and being able to cope with it. And here’s a doctor being able to cope with that. So this is one possible outcome, is that it’s basically a kind of neutralization of the scream. It is not piercing, it is not devastating.
But the process of neutralization doesn’t always take place. This is outcome two. The doctor, Nick’s father, is congratulating himself that he’s performed an operation, he’s able to do the Caesarian with just a jackknife. He’s going to write it up for the medical journals. He’s very, very happy as a doctor. He feels very much affirmed.
And then there’s this other development. He looks at the proud father, the person who ought to be the proud father. He quickly turns away and tells Nick not to look. So we know what the outcome two is–what happens when someone who is not insulated by his professional identity is helplessly subject to the scream. “His throat had been cut from ear to ear. The blood had flowed down into a pool where his body sagged the bunk.”
This is a very extreme reaction. I honestly don’t know how common this is, that a father would just go to the extreme of taking his own life because he can’t really take the pain of his wife. But it’s the opposite model from the Susan Sontag model. It’s not taking pleasure from the pain of others but being completely devastated, being completely destroyed by the pain of others to such an extent that you want to take your biological life because your inner psychic life has been so devastated by what you cannot bear to go through anymore.
This is an extreme case of empathy, a husband empathizing with the wife, feeling the pain of his wife to such an extent, it’s almost as if the pain is doing more to him than it is actually doing to his wife.
So this is one way to think about pain, how natural it is. It’s naturalized because it has no socioeconomic explanation to it. It’s just a fact of life that women will give birth. And it is a fact of life that they suffer tremendously when they give birth. And it’s also a fact of life that when they suffer, other people are likely to suffer as well. There is a kind of a transitive relation of pain, spreading out and becoming more and more common, becoming more and more a universal condition of life, because there basically is no boundary between the pain of one person and what someone else is likely to go through.
So we can say that what we see in “Indian Camp” is to some extent a story that gestures in two directions. On the one hand, there’s a lot of interest in the tension between Native Americans and Anglo-Americans. That’s not unimportant. It pulls in one direction. It also pulls in another direction, and it pulls in the other direction of the micro-register in terms of pain, that really the most fundamental drama is almost regardless of the relation between Anglos and Native Americans. You do it to everyone, and you do it every time you go through pain. Every time you go into labor, this is going to happen. So it’s a naturalization of pain as a kind of universal condition.
Chapter 6. A Close Reading of “Chapter II” [00:27:33]
Let’s look at the inter-chapter and test this possibility whether or not Hemingway is really wanting to explore the phenomenon that there’s nothing to be done about pain, that it is the most fundamental fact of life, that it is as natural as the sense of hearing. I think that in “Indian Camp” there’s a sense that just as we can’t help the fact that we have a pair of ears, we can help the fact that we’re going to be vulnerable to the sounds of pain made by others.
In “Chapter II,” Hemingway is testing this possibility by this same kind of play between the macro and the micro-register. The macro-register is the Greco-Turkish war which we already looked at last time. And this is about the evacuation of the Greek civilians when the Turkish army was just advancing on them. It’s the largest possible context, large-scale geopolitical warfare. That’s the macro context.
But it’s interesting that in this one very short paragraph, Hemingway has transitioned to something else. Let’s just read this paragraph. “Greek cavalry herded along the procession. The women and kids were in the carts, crouched with mattresses, mirrors, sewing machines, bundles. There was a woman having a kid with a young girl holding a blanket over her and crying. Scared sick looking at it. It rained all through the evacuation.”
Obviously this is classic Hemingway. About as much is packed into this one short paragraph as could be packed into any short paragraph. Beginning with the macro context of the evacuation of Greek civilians, we move on to something that clearly is picking up on the thematic residue from the first story, from “Indian Camp,” a woman having a baby. And it follows the same structure as well. Not just a woman having a baby, but someone watching that, observing that, and being terrified of that fact of life.
So even though we do know that “Indian Camp” was published separately, I think that we have to grant Hemingway the truth of his statement that the stories and the inter-chapters are really connected. They’re connected after the fact. The inter-chapters, at least this particular one, is obviously written as a continuation of a meditation on the pain of childbirth. And not just the pain of childbirth as experienced by the person who’s going through that phenomenon, going through the experience, but also as an observational pain in someone who is just an onlooker, what it does to the onlooker.
It’s the same kind of dynamics of being terrified, being scared sick looking at it. So it’s not quite as extreme as the husband cutting his own throat. But being scared sick looking at it, I would say that is a fairly extreme response as well to the phenomenon of childbirth. Hemingway is obviously interested in people being helpless, being unable to protect themselves when they’re faced with the injury of others. It’s the lack of protective insulation. That is a phenomenon that Hemingway is interested in. It’s why is it that only a few people, only people with professional credentials, like doctors, are well protected, and that most of us actually tend to be open to injury, open to suffering from others in a fairly helpless way.
And it’s because of that basic configuration–openness to the injury, openness to the pain of others–that Hemingway moves on to the last line of this little vignette. “It rained all through the evacuation.” On the face of it, no connection whatsoever with the preceding passage. It was just about evacuation. All of a sudden this detail about it raining–the only connection that I can think of, and it’s a conjecture on my part, is that Hemingway has so far been talking about human phenomena. War is very much a man-made event. Childbirth is a human, man-made as well. I mean, it’s natural, but human beings need to bring it about. Rain is truly a natural phenomenon that is without human input, without human agency.
So what we see in this little vignette is a movement in the direction of naturalization. By the time we get to the end of the vignette, we get a completely natural process without human input, about which human beings can do nothing. And this is the resting point. This is the place that Hemingway wants us to get to, a place where we are just passive recipients of something that is coming to us. Rain is something that just happens to us. We know this, we’ve just been through this. Rain is something that happens to us. We are passive recipients, something that happens to us.
The pain of others is natural in exactly the same way. And we’re also passive recipients of the pain of others in the same way that we are passive recipients of rain. There is one experiential register that is very, very human that is almost independent of human agency. It is an experience simply defined by us as recipients, as people who just stand there and things being visited upon us.
This is, I think, very much an affirmation of the line of thinking already started in “Indian Camp.” It’s that no matter how well protected we think we are, and no matter how good we are, actually, at what we set out to do–and the doctor, obviously, is a very good doctor–no matter how good we are at what we set out to do, there is a limit to what can be accomplished in the world. And the expertise, the professional expertise of a doctor is always going to run up against a natural limit. And the pain of childbirth is, in fact, that natural limit. So it’s very much a concession in the direction of the naturalness of pain and the unavoidable intensity, and the unavoidable violence that they can do to other people.
Chapter 7. A Close Reading of “The Doctor and the Doctor’s Wife” [00:35:51]
So this is basically just repeating summary of what I just said. I want to go over it so that you can think about this. Let’s move on to “The Doctor and the Doctor’s Wife.” And this one, on the face of it, it really isn’t so much about pain, unless we think about guilt or shame as a kind of pain. But it’s nothing like the extreme kind of mind-numbing, mind-destroying pain that we see in “Indian Camp.” Instead it is about the tensions between Anglos and Native Americans.
We’re back to the macro level about the kind of socioeconomic tension between two ethnic groups. And the tension has to do with the logs that wash ashore that really belong to the logging company that Nick’s father claims–and because as far as he can see, it’s actually true–that they belong to nobody. He’s trying to hire the Native American workers, just day laborers, to cut up the wood. And he gets into a row with the Native American workers. Dick Boulton is basically taunting him, rubbing it in that those logs are stolen, that they don’t belong to him, and he’s doing something illegal.
So the professional doctor is getting more and more flustered as this conversation goes on. And it looks like something’s going to happen. And we know that Dick is a very big man. He’s proud of the fact that he’s such a big man. He’s not afraid of getting into a fight. So the stage is set, really, for a real inter-ethnic conflict.
And this is actually what I like to say as the first step towards the end of the story which we know is actually a happy ending. The stage is set for the fight to take place, the fight doesn’t take place. What is it that stops the fight from taking place? What is it that makes what might have seemed a natural scene of violence from actually being less than natural, that is to say preventable? Preventable violence, preventable injury, this is what the story’s about.
So this is my candidate for the first step in that direction towards the resolution of violence in the direction of peace, which is what Hemingway is praying for in all of these stories. “Dick said something in Ojibway. Eddy laughed but Billy Tabeshaw looked very serious. He did not understand English but he had sweat all the time the row was going on. He was fat with only a few hairs of mustache like a Chinaman. He picked up the two cant-hooks. Dick picked up the axes and Eddy took the saw down from the tree. They started off and walked up past the cottage and out the back gate into the woods. Dick left the gate open. Billy Tabeshaw went back and fastened it.”
I think it’s a really fascinating portrait, and, for a writer who prides himself on being completely economical, these are some interesting details. I can’t for the life of me figure out what the point is for comparing Billy Tabeshaw to a Chinaman. It’s just an interesting detail. It’s something to think about. I can’t offer you an explanation why that particular detail is in there. The only possible reason is that Hemingway really wants to highlight the fact that because he’s not an English speaker. Therefore, all of this is really Greek to him. And I wouldn’t put it past Hemingway that he’s resurrecting the Greeks in this way. English is Greek to Bill Tabeshaw.
Once again it looks squarely in the direction of inter-ethnic conflict, and granting primacy to that inter-ethnic conflict. And it goes so far as to say that here is someone who really is completely not in the Anglo camp, not sharing the language at all, not even having that common ground. But what is really odd, and I think that that really is the point in emphasizing that Dick obviously is totally fluent in English, Billy is not fluent at all, can’t understand anything. But even though he doesn’t have the language to share a common ground with the Anglos, he nonetheless knows. There’s something about the chemistry and the atmosphere of an incipient fight that people can pick up on even if they don’t understand the language.
Hemingway is already going some distance in the direction of naturalizing conflict. It is such a natural process that language as an artificial human invention is not necessary. It’s not necessarily for us to understand that something is about to happen. The fact that Billy is completely, fully in comprehension of the situation suggests that conflict is very deep. And it is so deep that we have kind of a primitive apprehension of its incipience.
What is also interesting is that as the Native Americans, the Indian laborers leave, they pick up all their tools that could be used as potential weapons. They’re not using those things yet as weapons of aggression, or self-defense, or anything like that. They’re just still using those as tools, they’ve done the work, they’re going to take those things away, still as tools.
But the fact that Dave has left the gate open suggests, for me, that he’s also leaving open the possibility that those cant-hooks, the saw, that those things that right now are serving only as useful tools could also be used as weapons. He’s leaving open that possibility. And he would be pleased, actually, if those tools were to be put to a secondary and more deadly use. What is interesting is that Billy–who doesn’t understand English, but who completely understands the situation–is the one who goes back and fastens the gate. This is a very important detail from Hemingway, that it is someone who really has no personal relation, has no ties, really, to the Anglos. He’s the one who actually performs the important task of closing the gate. So he’s one peacemaker coming from a very unexpected place.
The fact that it is Billy who is performing that function suggests that it’s almost a counterpoint to the natural violence. Just as there’s a kind of a natural tendency towards violence, there’s also a natural tendency to keeping the peace. They both are firmly embedded in us, both are primitive in us. And by primitive I mean very, very powerful. The more primitive they are, the more deep-seeded they are, the more likely they are going to play out. So being a peacemaker is actually a very deep-seeded desire, really, in all of us. It’s being played out in Billy.
And so I’d like to test another possibility, who else is Billy being aligned with? If Billy is taking the first step to stop the conflict, is there anyone else in the story that’s completing the work for him? Is there anyone else in the story that actually finishes the task that is begun by Billy? And obviously, if we turn to the ending of the story, we see that there’s a very crucial conversation between the doctor and the doctor’s wife, the two people who are named in the title of the story.
“ ‘Dear, I don’t think, I really don’t think that anyone would really do a thing like that.’ ‘No?’ ‘No. I can’t really believe that anyone would do a thing of that sort intentionally.’” The doctor is saying that Dick is picking up a fight so that he wouldn’t have to pay the medical bills, that this is all intentional on the part of Dick, that getting into a fight would mean that everything would be off between the two of them, no medical bills to be paid. The doctor’s wife is saying no.
She’s saying, OK, no, that’s not likely. “The doctor stood up and put the shotgun in the corner behind the dresser. ‘Are you going out, dear?’ his wife said. ‘I think I’ll go for a walk,’ the doctor said. ‘If you see Nick, dear, will you tell him his mother wants to see him?’ his wife said.” It’s an interesting thing to say. It’s not surprising for the wife to say, OK, if you see our son, tell him to come in. Except that right after she says that, and the doctor goes out, he slams the door. And the wife catches her breath as he goes out and slams the door.
Let’s think for a moment about the two things that the wife says. One is that she doubts that Dick is picking a fight so that he wouldn’t have to pay the medical bills. And the other thing that she says is if you see Nick, tell him that I want to see him, and he should come in to see me. What is the effect of saying that? The doctor says that to Nick. What does Nick do? He says, I want to go with you. He doesn’t want to go in to see his mother. He doesn’t want to go into the house.
So the effect of the mother saying I want to see Nick actually has the effect of what is demonstrated in the ending of the story, which is that Nick is going to go with his father. And we can’t think of a better companion, a better tool for the mother to use to stop the doctor from getting into a fight with his Native American workers. As long as Nick is there, we know that he’s never going to get into a fight.
So the way I’m reading the story–and you know, obviously a conjectural reading–but this is the best the doctor’s wife can do as a peacemaker, is to engineer a scenario in which a fight is highly unlikely to take place. And it turns out that she is an expert in engineering that scenario, by telling Nick to come in to see her, she’s succeeded in achieving the outcome of the story: Nick going off with his father to see the black squirrels, no violence happening.
Chapter 8. Meditations on Pain and Violence in the Proposed Cluster [00:48:43]
So we can say that the three–the two stories and the inter-chapter–that together all three of them perform an all-around meditation on violence and pain. One pointing in the direction of the naturalness of violence and pain, the other pointing to the equal naturalness of peace prevailing. Violence doesn’t have to be. Pain to others, pain to oneself, doesn’t have to be. It could be stopped. It could be prevented.
I would say this is very typical structure in Hemingway, giving us a meditation on both sides of the spectrum, testing both possibilities, and allowing the three to be in dialogue. So as far as I can see, I think that Hemingway is right, that everything, in fact, hangs on everything else, and we really should see them in relation to one another. We’ll come back on Thursday and we’ll try out another way of clustering the stories.
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