The theme of masculinity suggests itself as an obvious area of focus with Hemingway’s collection In Our Time, as these short stories and vignettes are explicitly concerned with men, male activities, male professions and traditionally masculine areas of human experience such as war, hunting and fighting. The collection is notable for its focus on male characters, most notably figures such as Nick Adams, and for the relative absence of women (indeed, Hemingway titled another of his short story collections Men Without Women). Where women do feature, it is often in a secondary or passive role, with the male characters in the story wielding power in the text and also providing the perspective of Hemingway’s narration.
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This essay will argue that masculinity is a central theme in In Our Time, and moreover that much of the tension within the texts comes from the conflict between characters’ self-perceptions of their own masculinity and the reality of their masculine behaviour. Defining what masculinity means, both for themselves and in the context of other characters’ perceptions of them, is a central concern of Hemingway’s male protagonists in this collection, as in his oeuvre more generally (Fore, 2007). In the early story ‘The Indian Camp’ and the vignette Chapter II, Hemingway presents women from the perspective of men: they are associated with children in general and with childbirth in particular. Notably, women are not given a voice in either of these stories; instead, they are seen from the perspective of men. As passive individuals whose primary role is to give birth, women in In Our Time are figured as secondary. Their lack of masculinity means a lack of driving force in the text, which instead comes from male characters, male actions, and male interactions. Hemingway championed, in his fiction as well as in his life, the notion of the competent, masculine male; his motto on this subject was the masculine notion of ‘grace under pressure’ (Durham, 1976). The ability to perform a task or job well is one that Hemingway values in his life and fiction, and in In Our Time we see this confident, competent male type embodied by Nick Adams’ father the doctor. In the story ‘The Indian Camp,’ his visit to the camp is predicated on the notion that he is an extremely competent doctor, able as he notes to perform a caesarian with a jack knife and stitch it up afterwards. In this same story, the doctor can be contrasted with the Indian father who kills himself, thereby dichotomising the able male and the unable male and introducing another of Hemingway’s key themes: namely, suicide. That suicide in the text is no less gendered than professional competence is made evident in the exchange between Nick and his father which follows their leaving the Indian Camp: “Do many men kill themselves,
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