Doomed Biologically: Sex and Entrapment in Ernest Hemingway's "Cross-Country Snow"

By Edenfield, Olivia Carr | The Hemingway Review, Fall 1999 | Go to article overview

Doomed Biologically: Sex and Entrapment in Ernest Hemingway's "Cross-Country Snow"


Edenfield, Olivia Carr, The Hemingway Review


RELUCTANCE TO TAKE on the responsibilities and restrictions of fatherhood resonates throughout Ernest Hemingway's "Cross-Country Snow" first published in Transatlantic Review in 1925. Still one of the "boys," as Nick and George are described in the story (SS 185), Nick is sad at having to give up the freedom of skiing with his longtime friend in Switzerland for a life back in California, where the mountains are "`too rocky. There's too much timber and they're too far away'" (187). Rather than blame Helen, however, as Hemingway is said to have blamed Hadley, Nick knows that his own desire has entrapped him.(1) As Frederic Henry later would say to Catherine Barkley in A Farewell to Arms about their expected child, "`You always feel trapped biologically'" (139). Nick's entrapment is a result of his desire, and criticism of this story has missed how, through an awareness of his sexual desire, Nick shows that he accepts responsibility for his actions. Ironically, the descriptions of skiing, usually linked by critics to Nick's love of freedom, simultaneously describe the act of making love, the experience that has brought his days of independence to an end. Though somewhat reluctant and a little bitter, Nick accepts the modifications of his life resulting from his desire just as he accepts the limitations that his knee imposes upon his skiing.

"Cross-Country Snow" opens with the action of a funicular car, which, as Barbara Sanders has pointed out, operates "under the tension of parallel opposites. the metaphor on which the story operates" (50). For Sanders, the funicular car suggests "a human philosophical experience of existing in a state between balanced tensions" (50) illustrated by Nick having to give up the freedom of Europe to return to America.(2) The first two paragraphs of the story are likewise paradoxical in nature, and just as the beginning image of the funicular car sets up the idea of tension, the details of these paragraphs suggest the equal pulls of freedom and restriction.

Though he is not yet ready to be a father, Nick shows that accepting responsibility for his actions will enable him to move forward. The opposition in the opening paragraph illustrates Nick's conflict. The stopping action of the car sets Nick into motion, buckling his boots, clamping them "into the toe irons," making himself ready to move (SS 183). Restriction makes his movement possible, and the paragraph, which begins with the stopping of a car, ends with Nick slipping "in a rush down the slope" (183). Just as the day spent skiing works as a short stop on the way forward, as Nick returns to the States with Helen and George returns to school, the car and Nick make a short stop before continuing down the mountainside.

The second paragraph of "Cross-Country Snow" describes Nick's beginning descent and is significant in setting up his sense of responsibility. Nick's skiing mirrors his sexual experience with Helen. Though his mind rides on a wave of sensation, he works to hold his pace, the language revealing Nick's struggle for control. At the same time, he experiences a rush of sensations, building until he lands in a heap, felled by a patch of soft snow. In his desire, like the "rush and the sudden swoop as he dropped down a steep undulation in the mountain side," Nick's mind is "plucked out," and he is left with "only the wonderful flying, dropping sensation in his body" (183). The descriptions that continue simultaneously describe skiing and the act of making love as both build towards a crashing end:

   He rose to a slight up-run and then the snow seemed to drop out from under
   him as he went down, down, faster and faster in a rush down the last, long
   steep slope. Crouching so he was almost sitting back on his skis, trying to
   keep the center of gravity low, the snow driving like a sandstorm, he knew
   the pace was too much. But he held it. He would not let go and spill. (183)

Full of energy, Nick moves instinctively, having given over his mind to emotion and desire. …

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