- Hemingway’s Anatomical Metonymies
Long beyond dispute is the 1954 Nobel Prize citation of Ernest Hemingway’s “powerful and style-forming mastery of the art of modern narration.” Still, examination of Hemingway’s texts continues to yield rewards to the reader, adding to the unfinished catalogue of information about the mechanics of his writing and slowly bringing a more complete understanding of the intricacies of his supposedly simple style.
Before Roman Jakobson, 1 in the 1950s, raised the critical consciousness about literary “things,” critics recognized the value of non-metaphoric (that is, contiguous as opposed to similar) objects in realistic prose fiction. 2 On his own or by way of Ezra Pound, Hemingway knew about the objective correlative, T.S. Eliot’s 1920 articulation of the idea, 3 which was gaining credence at the time when Hemingway was working on The Sun Also Rises. 4
In this novel and elsewhere, Hemingway orchestrates a variety of stylistic instruments, including one bold variation of this principle by which—in order to present fully the pervasiveness of subsurface emotion—he metonymically associates objects in the story with parts and functions of the anatomy. Especially when his focal characters are experiencing moments of intense anguish or anxiety, Hemingway furnishes the narrative with contextual objects which evoke that anguish for the reader perceptive enough to make the link. In such instances, Hemingway interposes metonymies that suggest anatomical conditions which, in turn, are the focus or reminder of the narrators’ anxieties. These textual objects, which do not directly represent abstractions, are not symbols in the conventional sense. They might better be termed subjective analogues, working with the actual unmentioned body parts as two-part [End Page 159] correlatives to the narrators’ anxiety or pain. Since the narrator does not articulate the emotional association, the reader discovers it as his/her own, and the effect on the reader of this independent discovery is a feeling of heightened empathy with the narrator, as well as a jolt from hitting the submerged part of the iceberg.
The climactic chapters of The Sun Also Rises immerse the characters in the hedonistic abandon of the fiesta at Pamplona and sharpen Jake Barnes’s crisis by placing him inexorably between two central facts of his life: his love for Lady Brett Ashley and his inability to consummate this love because of his war wound. Most scholars now agree that the specific nature of Jake’s injury is not that he has been emasculated in the conventional sense of castration but that he has lost his penis, while retaining all other mechanisms for sexual stimulation and desire. External evidence certainly supports this. 5 I also believe that one scene within the text does so as well. Jake is in his Paris flat: “Undressing, I looked at myself in the mirror of the big armoire beside the bed. . . . Of all the ways to be wounded. I suppose it was funny” (p. 30). It seems likely that, because of the natural positioning of the genitalia, missing testicles might not be quickly discerned by a glance in the mirror, but the visual impact of testes sans penis would be immediately seen as funny although probably not humorous since Jake’s desire remains undiminished. In this same scene, after his thoughts have turned unavoidably to Brett, Jake sublimates the tension through tears: 6 “I was thinking about Brett and my mind stopped jumping around and started to go in sort of smooth waves. Then all of a sudden I started to cry. Then after a while it was better and . . . I went to sleep” (p. 31).
The first night after the fiesta has exploded in the town of Pamplona, the garlic-necklaced bacchanalians who have been dancing in a circle around Brett take her into a wine shop, seat her on a cask, and attempt to teach her to drink from leather wine-skins. Jake leaves to find the shop that sells wine-skins.
Inside it smelled of fresh tanned leather and hot tar. A man was stencilling completed wine-skins. They hung from the roof in bunches. He took one down, blew it up, screwed the nozzle tight, and then jumped on...