During their contemporaneous literary careers, Faulkner was overshadowed by Hemingway. Hemingway was hugely popular both in America and abroad, while Faulkner's novels sold poorly and went quickly out of print. When Faulkner won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1950, it was due largely to his popularity in France, and American readers were puzzled by the Nobel committee's decision to award the prize to this unknown Mississippian. But in the decades following their deaths, Faulkner's reputation among critics and scholars has steadily risen while Hemingway's has suffered a relative decline. Faulkner's increasing acclaim is often credited to his searching analysis of race in America, and the received wisdom is that, while Faulkner's novels expose and critique white America's racism, Hemingway's novels work to keep in place a racist hierarchy. Marc Kevin Dudley's book challenges this received wisdom.
Dudley explicitly compares Hemingway to Faulkner and argues that Hemingway's works "share Faulkner's concern with race and take them well beyond the bounds of the South and extend them to the rest of the nation" (5). He asserts that Hemingway "exposes the color line and concepts of racial essentiality for what they are: products of racial mythmaking," and he notes that "in several of his American stories, Hemingway tells tales about the 'other' America, allowing our nation's marginal figures, its racial phantoms, to speak—even if indirectly—on the true state of things in America. There is always an almost hyper-cognizance of the color line as fallacy" (2). Full disclosure here: I was initially somewhat skeptical as I read Dudley's claims for Hemingway's racial sensitivity. After all, in Playing in the Dark, an examination of race in the works of white American writers, Toni Morrison singles out Hemingway for a scathing critique. [End Page 395] Nonetheless, I approached Dudley's argument with an open mind, willing and even hoping to be persuaded that Hemingway's texts, like Faulkner's, expose an American ideology intent on artificially constructing white supremacy by derogating people of color.
To that end, Hemingway, Race, and Art focuses not on Hemingway's novels but on several of his less well-known short works. Specifically, Dudley offers a close reading of ten stories and two posthumously published, fictionalized memoirs of Hemingway's last African safari. The book is organized into chapters that deal alternately with (what Dudley calls) "the Indian stories" (11), the boxing stories, "The Porter," and the African stories/memoirs. Dudley's analyses in these chapters contrast with what he offers in his introduction. The introduction makes grand claims for Hemingway as a critic of racist ideology, but Dudley's own textual analyses undercut these claims in subsequent chapters.
To be sure, Dudley shows Hemingway engaged with race, and he offers thoughtful, intelligent close readings of this racial engagement. As Dudley observes, however, Hemingway's typical "model" consistently follows the same pattern: before he "questions the accepted racial order," Hemingway always "engages spatial and linguistic separators [between white and black] . . . [and] emphasiz[es] racial difference, hyperbolizing a differential of which his [white] audience would have been aware" (30). Dudley strives mightily to show subversion in each case, but he admits that there is a problem: "Subversion [of the racist paradigm] is often subtle, undetectable at first glance," and "the divisional tactic accounts for 90 percent of Hemingway's narrative iceberg" (30).
"The Porter" is the story that most convincingly supports Dudley's claim that Hemingway's fictions show "national and cultural identities for what they are: constructs" (10). As the story begins, it foregrounds a racially divided model; that is, the narrative method works to erect racial dichotomy and white superiority. The porter is referred to both by the narrator, Jimmy, and by his father as "the nigger porter" and stereotyped as "Uncle George."1 He is servile, nearly invisible, and exploited to establish the father's white superiority. While the father can hold his liquor and "never shows anything," the black man confesses...