Absent Fathers, Homosexual Sons, and Melancholic Repression in Three of Hemingway's Short Stories

By Domotor, Teodora | Intertexts, Spring-Fall 2013 | Go to article overview

Absent Fathers, Homosexual Sons, and Melancholic Repression in Three of Hemingway's Short Stories


Domotor, Teodora, Intertexts


This article seeks to explore the impact of fatherlessness on gender development through the analysis of Ernest Hemingway's early short stories. Existing psychological research pertaining to the role of the father highlights an apparent link between his absence and the child's sexual, emotional, cognitive, and social functioning. With the help of external assistance such as peer support, a small percentage of children are able to show resilience against the stereotypical effects of fatherlessness (Masten, Best, and Garmezy 425-44). Internal (subjective) coping mechanisms against the loss or lack of the father also play a significant role in this process. I shall identify such strategies in three of Hemingway's prominent short stories ('The End of Something', 'The Three-Day Blow', and 'Cross-Country Snow'). These tales are specifically engineered towards the representation of how the trauma of fatherlessness correlates to the engendering of silencing, repression, and abjection. Such independently developed defence methods are key elements in the author's portrayal of homosexual men who experience paternal absence in their childhood and adolescence. (1)

Hemingway creates images of a young male's world with a gap at its centre. The incomplete father relationship, the physical and/or emotional absence of the father produces a residual "father hunger" in the subject. James L. Schaller describes the emotional signs of such deficiency as the experience of being confused about one's identity, lacking confidence in one's femininity or masculinity, being rarely satisfied with what one has, becoming insecure or angry easily, acting differently (childlike or grandiose) in the father's presence, having an urge to please others (especially father-type people), running to things or people to nurse oneself in a compulsive way, being afraid to get too close to someone, possessing fear of being abandoned, living in diffused fearfulness, and feeling like an orphan sometimes (16). In Hemingway's text, yearning for the father also manifests itself in the subject's unconscious longing for affirmation. The central protagonist, Nick Adams, displays specific features in his desire-induced behavior: he vehemently conceals his weaknesses; he is on a constant, restless quest to prove his human worth; and he seeks out the company of other men to parade his own manliness.

Dennis Balcom argues that sons from father-absent homes are heavily influenced by their loss. Fatherlessness damages their self-esteem and impairs their ability to build lasting heterosexual relationships. They experience intimacy issues, anxiety about the birth of their first child, and a desire to flee (Balcom 283-96). Michael E. Lamb further elaborates on the effects of paternal nonresidence (in emotional terms as well) and he maintains that father-absence is harmful not because a sex role model is absent, but because crucial paternal roles are inadequately filled (for example, by a dominant mother). The impact of the fathers multiple roles (economic, social, emotional) is more important from the point of view of child development than the father's presence as a male sex role model (M. E. Lamb 7). Kurt Freund and Ray Blanchard disagree with this view and claim that paternal absence advances men's desire to be close to other men. These males rely on being appreciated and loved by other men in order to be able to conquer their sense of inferiority and worthlessness. Accordingly, there is a correlation between poor father-son relationships and the son's chances of becoming homosexual (Freund and Blanchard 8). Nonetheless, Jacques Balthazart emphasizes gender-nonconformism in childhood as the best predictor of adult homosexuality. He claims that it is indeed the rejection of normativities (such as a boy's involvement in less typical boys' activities) that eventually creates a distance between a heterosexual father and his pre-gay son (Balthazart 15).

In Our Time (1925) stages the gradual revelation of the son's sexuality in three phases. …

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