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Hemingway, Race, and Art: Bloodlines and the Color Line by Marc Kevin Dudley (review)

From: The Hemingway Review
Volume 32, Number 1, Fall 2012
pp. 135-138 | 10.1353/hem.2012.0018

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Though Hemingway's work has been well-mined by scholars over the last fifty years, one relatively unexplored line of critical inquiry has to do with Hemingway and race. The topic has been discussed in the context of other analyses, but there has been a dearth of scholarship interrogating Hemingway's often complicated use of race, racial tropes, and his representation of both. However, this has begun to change. Marc Dudley's Hemingway, Race, and Art: Bloodlines and the Color Line contextualizes the author's work (and the author's place in modernist literature) with regard to the imaginary border, both fixed and fluid, that defines racial understanding.

Dudley sees Hemingway's modernity not in his oft-discussed style, but in the author's "early recognition of race's flexibility, its malleability, and ultimately its artificiality" (6). For Dudley, Hemingway's manipulation of the color line is where the author experiments with and transgresses established literary conventions and "makes it new." Beginning with the early stories of Michigan and concluding with the posthumously published Africa Book, Dudley shows Hemingway's attitude on race in regular flux as the author rewrites, reifies, and removes the color line in both his popular and less-examined work.

Hemingway, Race, and Art is divided into six chapters and roughly two parts. The first four chapters examine Hemingway's Nick Adams and his various interactions in and out of Michigan; the last two discuss Hemingway's rendering of his experiences in Africa. The fourth chapter is a bridge of sorts that takes up the little-examined fragment "The Porter." Dudley focuses on short fiction except for Green Hills of Africa and Under Kilimanjaro, semi-autobiographical accounts of Hemingway's 1933-34 and 1953-54 safaris, respectively. In each of the examples he selects, Dudley shows that Hemingway was not only interested in matters of racial representation throughout his career, but that a central component of the author's modernist aesthetic lies in his "recognition of race as the pervasive issue for a progressive nation defining itself in a burgeoning century" (5).

Dudley's analysis of the Indian stories ("Indian Camp," "The Doctor and the Doctor's Wife," Ten Indians," "Fathers and Sons," and "The Indians Went Away") never moves too far from the established critical readings, but he updates them in the context of Hemingway's deliberate manipulation of the color line. Dudley's most provocative contribution in this section is his analysis of Dick Boulton. While the title directs our gaze toward Dr. Adams and his wife, Dudley argues that this narrative is just as much about Dick, "transgression incarnate," as about the Adamses (38). Dick has long remained one of the more interesting characters of Hemingway's early fiction, and Dudley does an excellent job demonstrating how the character's mastery of language and body reverses racial expectations and sends Dr. Adams, the undermined symbol of white authority, scurrying back to his house. Critics have had a difficult time engaging Hemingway's Natives as something other than nostalgic placeholders; Dudley's readings give a fresh, updated take on these texts.

Chapter Three takes up what Dudley calls Hemingway's "black-and-white" stories: "The Light of the World" and "The Battler." "For Hemingway," Dudley writes, "the allusive boxing ring in each tale becomes an appropriate metaphor for the violent imagery both holding together and threatening to tear apart the present social order, an order predicated on understood rules of racial construction" (71). Dudley posits Jack Johnson's in-ring success as the interpretive key for understanding Hemingway's treatment of race in these two stories. Johnson's reign as boxing champion coincided with the rise of mass communication and barely contained racial tension; suddenly, racial unrest had a powerful symbol for both white and black audiences in Johnson's domination of the ring. Dudley shows that every time a new "white hope" such as Stanley Ketchel or Ad Francis hit the mat, the myth of white superiority fell with them. While these stories have been traditionally read through the lens of Nick Adams's introduction to life, Dudley proves that probing the construct of race relations—and breaking it down—was certainly a...

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