Competition in Hemingway’s The Sun
Also Rises and Silko’s Ceremony
Ernest Hemingway and Leslie Marmon Silko would seem to have little in common. A major innovator of modern, literary aesthetics, “Papa” Hemingway is often held up as the exemplar of white male misogyny in high modernism. He is repeatedly regarded as epitomizing white patriarchal power and stoic control. In contrast, Silko’s investment in her traditionally matriarchal Laguna heritage and her depiction of strong female characters have led scholars to embrace her as a powerful voice for feminist goals and values. Nevertheless, reading Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises and Silko’s Ceremony “ head to head,” we discover intertextual points of contact that allow us to reconstruct these divergent voices as a kind of tandem that critiques and reimagines gender in competitive contexts.
While both novels explore cultural modes of competition such as bullfighting, hunting, and dance, they foreground the global collapse of cultures under the weight of military conflict. World wars psychologically and emotionally paralyze the male characters in these texts. As a fighter pilot in World War I, Hemingway’s Jake Barnes epitomizes military definitions of aggressive masculinity. Yet his performance as hypermasculine pilot, operating a phallic joystick between his legs, emasculates him, and his reference to other victimized pilots in the Italian hospital demonstrates the common nature of this “occupational hazard.” Jake elegiacally recalls his fellow patients and their plans to form a society (31). However, he follows Western conventions that require victims “to play it along and just not make trouble for people,” thereby purchasing social acceptance through silent, “manly” but also submissive, stoicism (31). While Jake’s narrative repeatedly breaks this code of silence, his inability to join his voice with those of others prevents him from combating the continued glorification of the fighter pilot. Postwar Jake, then, understands the duplicity that underlies the pilot’s image; however, his conflicted voice