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TAKING ON THE CHAMPION: ALICE AS LIAR IN "THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD" William J. Collins University of California, Davis In the preface to the first collected edition of his several books of short stories, Ernest Hemingway singled out seven of those stories for special mention as "the ones I liked the best."1 The last of those so named was "a story called The Light of the World which nobody else ever liked" (p. v). For almost four decades, Hemingway proved an accurate prophet; his critics either ignored "The Light of the World" or agreed with Earl Rovit, who dismissed it as "so over subtle as to be entirely lost on a reader."2 The only article to appear in scholarly journals prior to 1965 which purports to discuss it is actually an intentional parody of academic writing which takes a minor incident in the story as a starting point for its implausible thesis.3 In recent years, however, "The Light of the World" seems to have been rescued from its undeserved reputation as a minor work in the Hemingway canon. This long overdue focus has centered on three cardinal points: the significance of the title; the importance of Hemingway's statement that it is "a story about whores;"4 and the accuracy of the references to the two whores' proclaimed lover, Stanley (or Steve) Ketchel. Peter Thomas has satisfactorily explicated the overt religious symbolism , but the other problems have not been quite so carefully scrutinized .5 Previous commentators on the identity of Ketchel have uniformly noted that the external descriptions of Ketchel's life, career, and death are those of middleweight champion (1907-09, 1909-10) Stanley Ketchel, though all the patrons of the railway station, except for the homosexual cook, call him Steve. When the cook attempts to supply Stanley as the accurate first name, he is rebuffed by Peroxide without dissent from the others, a fact that has led James J. Martine to the conclusion (accurate, but for the wrong reason) that "both Peroxide and big Alice are lying."6 Matthew J. Bruccoli has extended and further complicated the issue, first by the discovery of an obscure Chicago lightweight whose name (or at least ring name) was Steve Ketchel, and by an undocumented assertion that Stanley Ketchel "seems to have preferred being addressed as Steve."7 Bruccoli's omission of a source for this seemingly minor point has confused Martine, who insists that "Mr. Bruccoli claims that Stanley and Steve Ketchel are the same man,"8 which he clearly does not. Undoubtedly the source for Bruccoli's statement is the one biography of the boxer, by ring expert Nat Fleischer, who as a young sports- 226Notes writer came to know the champion the last two years of Ketchel's life, during a series of fights on the east coast. Fleischer's first reference to his subject is: "One of the most human individuals to stalk through Fistiana was Stanley Ketchel, known to his friends as 'Steve.'"9 Throughout the biography, Fleischer refers to Ketchel as Steve when recounting personal reminiscences and conversations, as Stanley when describing the public man, in the ring and during the years before Fleischer met him. James F. Barbour, who has also researched Ketchel's background, has argued that "The Light of the World" "has been critically ignored because it requires of the reader a knowledge of boxing history in order to separate fact from falsehood in the argument [between Alice and Peroxide]."10 Both Barbour and Bruccoli have attempted to redress that lack, but in pointing out, from the knowledgeable boxing fan's perspective , the gross errors made by Peroxide, thus concluding, as Bruccoli does, that "the evidence of the story indicates that Alice is telling the truth about Stan Ketchel," they stop short of applying the same rules to Alice's rebuttal.11 The facts of Ketchel's life, as Hemingway knew them, strongly indicate that neither of the whores has ever slept with Ketchel. Paradoxically, this does not impeach Alice's "truth" in an ultimate sense, but it does reveal the interplay between Alice and Peroxide as considerably more subtle than has so far been discovered. The pattern of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2158-5806
Print ISSN
0091-8083
Pages
pp. 225-232
Launched on MUSE
2014-10-01
Open Access
No
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