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NOTES WISE-GUY NARRATOR AND TRICKSTER OUT-TRICKED IN HEMINGWAY'S "FIFTY GRAND" Robert P. Weeks University of Michigan Although "Fifty Grand" is generally considered one of Hemingway 's finest short stories, the relatively small amount of critical and scholarly attention it has received sets it apart from other Hemingway stories of the first rank. Stories like "The Short, Happy Life of Francis Macomber," "The Snows of Kilimanjaro," "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place," and "The Killers" have been studied with remarkable thoroughness.1 In contrast, not only has there been less published criticism of "Fifty Grand," but much of it focuses on extrinsic matters. The problem that most effectively sidetracks scholarly attention from the story itself is the long-standing effort to link the boxing match in the story to a specific championship fight. The efforts to solve that problem make it clear that the story was probably based not on one fight but at least two.2 But this finding throws little or no light on the story itself or the process by which Hemingway wrote it. In contrast, two aspects of "Fifty Grand" that contribute substantially to the story's effectiveness as a work of narrative art have been virtually ignored: its innovative use of point of view and its rich comedy. Perhaps they have been for the most part ignored because no one has shown the remarkably interesting process through which "Fifty Grand" evolved. When this process is examined, one gets a revealing look at Hemingway's growing skill, particularly in his handling of narrative point of view and the motif of the trickster out-tricked. And, most important, "Fifty Grand" is revealed, as a consequence, to be far more than a grim account of the sordid world of professional boxing. It stands, instead, as a minor comic masterpiece. When Hemingway was sixteen years old, he wrote what is in effect the first version of "Fifty Grand." It is a humorous story of a fixed prize fight entitled "A Matter of Colour."3 From his high school years until his early twenties, Hemingway thought of himself as primarily a humorist. Much of what he wrote during this period has a comic intent : fiction, journalism, and occasional writing. His column in the school newspaper, for example, was an undisguised imitation of the humorist he most admired, Ring Lardner. "A Matter of Colour" resembles Lardner's work in several ways: it focuses,p,n the seamy side 84Notes of professional sport, uses a vernacular narrator, relies on dialog, and exploits the stupidity of athletes for comic effect.4 "A Matter of Colour" appeared in the April, 1916, issue of the Oak Park (Illinois) High School literary magazine, Tabula.5 Its first-person narrator is not the protagonist but a "character" in the story. It is not without significance that "A Matter of Colour" and "Fifty Grand" are the only two pieces of fiction by Hemingway narrated in this way, a fact that has hitherto escaped notice. The link between the two is strengthened in two additonal ways: the narrators in the two stories are nearly identical; each is a prize fighter's handler with the outlook and speech of a tough, seasoned professional, a wise guy; the central episode in each story involves a trickster being amusingly out-tricked. The narrator of "A Matter of Colour," Bob Armstrong, a handler, tells of a scheme to fix a fight. The boxer he handles, Danny, is not in shape to win because of an injury incurred in training, yet he has bet heavily on himself. To make his money safe, Danny and the handler devise a ridiculous but seemingly foolproof way of fixing the fight. The ring in which the fight will take place is on a stage at the back of which is a curtain just behind the ropes. They place a Swede with a baseball bat behind the curtain and instruct him to watch through a peephole until Danny's black opponent is against the ropes, then to swing on the black man's head with the bat from behind the curtain. When the fight begins, Danny rushes his opponent to the ropes at the rear of the ring...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2158-5806
Print ISSN
0091-8083
Pages
pp. 83-91
Launched on MUSE
2014-10-01
Open Access
No
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