Academic journal article The Hemingway Review

"He Only Looked Sad the Same Way I Felt": The Textual Confessions of Hemingway's Hunters

Academic journal article The Hemingway Review

"He Only Looked Sad the Same Way I Felt": The Textual Confessions of Hemingway's Hunters

Article excerpt

Hemingway's African big-game texts not only focus on the excitement of the hunt and the kill, but also reveal sympathy for the hunted and sorrow over the act of killing. Green Hills of Africa, "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber" "An African Story," and True at First Light show Hemingway's changing attitudes toward hunting over a twenty-year period. In various ways, the author's characters and personae all connect with their animal victims; Hemingway's blurring of the boundaries between hunter and hunted reflects a belief in the interconnectedness of humanity and the natural world.

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FOR SOME READERS, the Hemingway novels and stories dealing with hunting and killing suggest tough themes of mental and physical dominance, courage, skill, and survival. But the unemotional, uncaring, rugged-hunter persona, played out in characters such as Robert Wilson or Pop and frequently identified with Hemingway himself, often does not hold weight. Papa proves more complicated than he appears. In Hemingway's works, the acts of hunting and killing result in feelings of sympathy, guilt, and sorrow. As Charlene Murphy points out, "Hemingway's writing reveals a reverence for nature and a sensitivity that may seem to present a dichotomy when combined with the undeniable part of Hemingway that was the exuberant big-game hunter" (165). Taking my cue from Murphy and other recent critics, I read Green Hills of Africa, "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber" "An African Story," and True at First Light as compassionate treatments of nature (specifically, animals).

Throughout his life, Hemingway's attitudes toward hunting changed, particularly with regard to the killing of big-game animals solely for trophies--and these changing views played out in his writings. Of course, any true hunter respects his or her prey, and Hemingway, as Murphy asserts, proves no exception. Yet he tends to go a step further. Even his earliest big-game texts reveal guilt over killing and sadness over an animal's pain and suffering. His narrators, characters, and personae express feelings and emotions that may prove unexpected to those who subscribe to the "Hemingway code" Through vivid descriptions of the animal's pain, suffering, anger, sadness, and fear, Hemingway suggests a natural connection and sameness between human and animal.

In Green Hills of Africa (1935), the protagonist is a carefully constructed persona of Hemingway. In this nonfiction narrative, as well as in Death in the Afternoon and the posthumous True at First Light, we see a representation of the author justify the thrill of the hunt, the chase, and the kill. After his first trip to Africa in 1933-1934, Hemingway gave his audience what they might expect from a big-game hunter: fearlessness, hardness, skill, and domination. As Thomas Strychacz puts it, "his overbearingly charismatic personality begins to take center stage" (23). At the same time, guilt, sadness, and disgust with hunting and killing complicate Hemingway's persona in Green Hills of Africa.

The narrative shows Hemingway, P.O.M., Pop, M'Cola, and a host of African guides moving across the landscape in search of various big game animals. Tracking a wounded buffalo, Hemingway verbalizes some elements of the rugged-hunter role:

   I felt the elation, the best elation of all, of certain action to
   come, action in which you had something to do, in which you can
   kill and come out of it, doing something you are ignorant about
   and so not scared, no one to worry about and no responsibility
   except to perform something you feel sure you can perform.
   (GHOA 116)

As Hemingway performs for his wife, Pop, the guides, and his readers, he constructs an image of the hunter skillfully dominating the hunted.

In an exciting, adrenaline-charged moment, Hemingway talks tough. They spot a rhinoceros, and he informs everyone, "'I'll bust the son of a bitch'" (GHOA 76). …

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