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Masculinity in James Joyce and Ernest Hemingway’ Stories

James Joyce and Ernest Hemingway are two well known authors of the early twentieth century modernist short stories that offer various points of view including philosophical, sociological and linguistic approaches. Such literary works had a big impact on the perception of culture, and an alteration of the correlation between writing and the universe. The short stories provide clear definitions of inner conflicts and monologues of dejection that get the readers emotionally attached to the protagonists. This paper looks at the theme of masculinity as portrayed by both male and female characters in four stories by Joyce and Hemingway. The stories by Joyce are “The Sisters” and “Araby”, while those by Hemingway are “The Doctor and The Doctor’s Wife” and “Soldier’s Home”.

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The short stories by both Joyce and Hemingway focus on the inner development of characters, as opposed to their interactions. The authors achieve this by providing a comprehensive outline of the protagonist’s point of view. “The Sisters” by Joyce, for instance, uses descriptive allusions to reveal the protagonist’s state of mind by using the first person narrator to provide an emotive atmosphere for the reader. This helps to reveal the plot and seize the tension to the end of the story. The style used by Joyce and Hemingway leads to the creation of central human emotion that uses multiple lateral sentiments to support it. This is necessary in order to strengthen the plot and elaborate on the intended topic.

The story “The Doctor and The Doctor’s Wife” by Hemingway is about three Indians who were hired to saw some logs that fell off a ship and drifted to shore, on the assumption that the owners would not claim them. Even though it is true, the doctor takes offense when one of the Indians claims that the doctor was lucky to steal such good logs. The doctor angrily asks them to leave and goes on to lie to lie to his wife regarding the incident, claiming that the one of the Indians owes him some money for curing his wife of pneumonia.

In this story, Hemingway uses the male-male and male-female relationships to explore the theme of masculinity. Dick and the doctor portray this when the doctor refutes the statements made by Dick regarding the stolen logs. The markings on the wet logs show that they were stolen, though the doctor refuses to give in to Dick’s tormenting. The Indians seem to understand the reaction of the doctor regarding the sentiments made by one of them. It is for this reason that they opt to leave when the doctor asks them to, if they still think that the logs are stolen.

This understanding between the men is, however, not evident in the relationship between the doctor and his wife. The doctor is hesitant to answer her questions, and eventually lies to her to avoid the truth since he believes that she will not comprehend his reasoning. Nick’s father gets this opinion from the religious statements made by his wife when she asks him not to lose his temper. She further asks him to avoid being a typical male through his aggression and protectiveness.

The other conflict between the doctor and his wife revolves around her Christian science and the doctor’s profession. This is because the doctor’s wife does not believe in medicine. As a result, the doctor feels the urge to exercise his masculinity and decides to go hunting. The dominance of male-male interactions over male-female ones is also evident when Nick chooses to spend time with his father hunting, as opposed to heeding the call from his mother, to go to her.

This story reveals Hemingway’s style of writing, whereby most of his characters appear to be in a struggle against injustices in life. In the story “The Doctor and The Doctor’s Wife”, Hemingway relates to his life in a way, since his father was a doctor, and his mother was a stringent religious woman. Hemingway’s stories depict his skepticism towards the likelihood of getting meaning in life. The two stories by Hemingway elaborate the male characters’ struggle to show grace while under pressure. As a result, the male characters, like the doctor, appear as tough with determination, courage, skill and endurance. His emphasis on masculinity is also evident in his other story, “Soldier’s Home”, which he claims, is the best short story he ever wrote.

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The American soldier in “Soldier’s Home” struggles with the implications of the First World War, just like Hemingway did. Unlike his other stories, Hemingway chooses to name the protagonist Krebs, rather than Nick, which he uses for his other protagonists in other stories. The story revolves around the juxtaposition of two pictures, one showing Krebs and his fraternity brothers in uniform, and the other showing him and another corporal in the company of two German girls. In this story, Krebs appears to be an outsider to what was his life, due to the conflicting social norms that form the basis of his actions.

In the first picture, Hemingway depicts a conservative American schooling system that relies on the interaction between men as seen in the absence of girls. The fraternity brothers show a strong sense of bonding due to their collar of the same size and style. This youthful masculinity differs with the uniformed males in the second picture as seen in the statement, “Krebs went to the war from a Methodist college in Kansas” (Barnes 111). There are women in the second picture, though Hemingway opts to emphasize the sexuality of the men when he states that the two corporals “look too big for their uniforms” (111).

Compared to the first picture, Krebs and his companions appear to outgrow their uniforms and develop a new sense of masculinity that cannot be constrained in uniformity. Hemingway exaggerates the changes by emphasizing the traits of the soldiers. In addition to this, he pays little attention to the women, as seen in the statement “The German girls are not beautiful. The Rhine does not show in the photograph” (Barnes 11).

The short stories by Joyce also revolve around his life, with the first three stories of Dubliners, namely “The Sisters” “An Encounter” and “Araby”, focusing on his youth. Unlike the stories by Hemingway, Joyce prefers to leave his narrators nameless as they develop the conflict between “childishly cultivated personal values and rosy outlooks with more traditional values and the gross reality those narrators must confront”. In these stories, Joyce develops a masculine identity in the young men as their experiences crushes their innocence. This causes them to question their beliefs, values and drives.

In “The Sisters”, Joyce reveals the concept of masculinity in the narrator when the boy’s personal inclinations cash with the public opinions on several instances. The first encounter involves the relationship between the boy and his deceased father, which pushes him to seek companionship from an aged and discredited priest. A visitor notes “I wouldn’t like children of mine… to have too much to say to a man like that… it’s bad for children… let a young lad run about and play with young lads of his own age” (McConnell 10). This is because the visitor perceives the priest as either a homosexual or a pedophile, though he does not support his claims fully.

The story suggests that youth should not spend a lot of time being educated by old people on conservative teachings. Rather, they should interact with their peers in order to build on socialization, physical exertion and adventure. This brings to light opposition that fosters physical dexterity and social interactions against education, in a battle between one becoming an intelligent social outsider or a sturdy communal insider.

“Araby” also involves a boy questioning his own established masculinity that results from a turn in his fortune. The first person narrator is a sociable child who likes to be in the company of his peers, and also values time for him to read the books left behind by his former tenant. The books which include “The Abbot, by Walter Scott, The Devout Communicant and The Memoirs of Vidocq” cause the narrator to reveal his romantic notions of chivalry as he accepts the romance traditions that involve female idolization. The boy develops an attraction to Mangan‟s sister, whom he follows around as he romanticizes his encounters.

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The narrator reveals this in his expression, “her dress swung as she moved her body and the soft rope of her hair tossed from side to side” (Joyce 30). The girl also develops a desire in the boy, as his “body was like a harp and her words and gestures were like fingers running upon the wires.” The narrator forces himself to forgo sexualizing his love (McConnell 31), “like a monk struggling for dignity and self-control, he finds ritual solace in a litany of ejaculations repeated like a mantra evocative of his beloved” (McConnell 20).

These emotions later develop into anger when the narrator goes on a trip to the Bazaar of Araby to find that his temple is not as he had expected it to be. The flirting interlopers and the money changers cheapen and defile his temple. This causes his ideals to reduce and become trivial, ugly, and banal. In the end, the boy notes, “I saw myself as a creature driven and derided by vanity; and my eyes burned with anguish and anger” (Joyce 35). The narrator recognizes that the temple was a stupid notion for him and, therefore, reverses his other assumptions. His deifications of his lady disappear as he reconsiders his preconceived notions of love in his culture, effectively causing his conception of masculinity as defined by adherence to romantic notions and knighthood to die. This causes him to reconceive the society that he inhabits, now lacking in chivalry and courtly love.

While the work of Hemingway involves a distinctive atmosphere that combines anger and indifference, the short stories by Joyce are identified by the presence of a social problem that the protagonist has to overcome. The protagonists in all four stories are emotional as they encounter various unsatisfied desires in their lives, which help to bring out the theme of masculinity.

Works Cited

Barnes, Lois L. “The Helpless Hero of Ernest Hemingway.” Science & Society (1953): 17(1), 1-25. Print.

McConnell, Frank D. “Words and the Man: The Art of James Joyce.” The Wilson Quarterly (1982): 6(1), 176-187. Print.

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