Interpretations of Hemingway's fiction seem to fall into two distinct categories: those that attempt to apply Hemingway's statements about writing to his stories and those that find whatever it is the particular interpreter happens to be looking for. Kenneth G. Johnston's The Tip of the Iceberg contains both kinds. Johnston's twenty-one pieces (most of them previously published) vary between orthodoxy—such as his attempt (unconvincing) to demonstrate Hemingway's self-proclaimed debt to Cézanne—and wild improbability—such as his reading of "Hills Like White Elephants," in which, among other astonishing metamorphoses, the bead curtain fingered by the pregnant girl becomes "a rosary which she clutches to give her moral and religious strength in her moment of crisis." Such a reading as the latter can only be explained by what might be called the Rorschach effect of Hemingway's stories.
Kenneth S. Lynn's Hemingway also plays the Rorschach game but under the aegis of biography. There is some setting straight of the record and a revision of the Hemingway legend: Hemingway was not the first American wounded in the war, was not struck in the legs by machine gun bullets, did not carry a wounded soldier on his back to a dressing station, did not serve in the Arditi. Lynn's revision of the legend goes even deeper, into the muscle, one might say: behind the violence, the macho sexuality, the tough talk, was an uncertainty about, sexual identity, evidence of which Lynn finds scattered throughout Hemingway's career and reflected in his writing. The source of this newly unearthed "androgyny" is traced to Hemingway's early childhood and to the infant Ernest's being kept by his mother in girl clothes until long after most mothers of the time would have put their sons into "blouses and bloomers" (an assertion that prompts one to wonder how Lynn, or anyone, could know what most mothers in 1900 would have done). Moreover, Grace Hemingway further confused her son's sexuality by pairing him with his older sister, alternating their dress and hairstyle between boy and girl. As if that weren't confusing enough, she even took little Ernest into her bed for the night and let him "feed at will on her pillowy breasts." Later, when he was six and one-half years old, she had his hair cut and called him "a real little man." This erratic behavior on Grace Hemingway's part, treating her young son like a girl, then like a boy, created—in Lynn's view—anxiety and insecurity in the future author out of which, presumably, his fiction came: "In one haunting piece of fiction after another, the early Hemingway probed at the quick of his deepest anxieties, at the same time that he did not directly acknowledge them."
Critics have been aware for some time of a "wounding" in the background of what Philip Young called the "true hero" of Hemingway's fiction, a boy and man who much resembled Hemingway himself. Young's assumption was that the [End Page 240] wound was physical as well as psychological and was incurred by the Hemingway hero—as by his author—in Italy during World War One, a conclusion arrived at earlier by critics such as Edmund Wilson, Mark Schorer, and Malcolm Cowley, who thought the war wound's effect had been crucial in Hemingway's development as a writer. Lynn appears to dismiss the wound's effect entirely and blames the damage on what might be called the transsexual trauma of Hemingway's childhood. Perhaps.
For who can say with certainty what factors have shaped the mental and emotional state of any human being? The source of personality disorders, whether genetic, chemical, environmental, is still a matter of conjecture, even to those best qualified to have an opinion in such matters. Lynn is a historian with a rather simple theory of cause and effect: Hemingway's "peculiar childhood" made him the troubled...