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G L E N A. L O V E University of Oregon Hemingway’s IndianVirtues: An Ecological Reconsideration In his introduction to The Viking Portable Hemingway in 1944, Malcolm Cowley reminded his readers that Hemingway was often de­ scribed as a primitive. But, says Cowley, the term needs to be shifted from its artistic to its anthropological sense. Hemingway created, Cowley main­ tains, Indian-like heroes who survive in a world of hostile forces by acts of propitiation and ritual, and—in the face of the failure of these acts—by stolid acceptance of what must come. Memories of Indians whom Heming­ way had encountered during his boyhood summers up in Michigan are reworked, as Cowley claims, in The Torrents of Spring, in several of the Nick Adams stories, and in Robert Jordan’s behavior in For Whom the Bell Toils.1Responding in kind, Hemingway referred to himself, in a letter to Cowley occasioned by the 1949 reprinting of The Portable Hemingway, as an old Cheyenne. He wrote Charles Scribner that he had “a Cheyenne great-great grandmother,” and called attention in another letter to his father’s “Indian blood.” Elsewhere, Hemingway proudly described his third son, Gregory, with his cool athletic prowess, as “a real Indian boy (Northern Cheyenne),” or as a “Northern Cheyenne Indian angel.”2 In essays published in the mid-1960s, Wallace Stegner reasserted Cowley’s claim, concluding that Hemingway’swere “essentially Indian virtues.”3 Recognizing that Cowley and Stegner were referring to the primitivism of Hemingway’s fictional heroes, and that the distinction must be recog­ nized between Hemingway the man and his literary creations, it may never­ theless be maintained that the two are closely interconnected—Hemingway, for example, assuring Cowley and other recipients of his letters that he came by the Indianness of his fictional heroes honestly. More importantly, Hem­ ingway’s life and art share a paradoxical symbiosis with the natural world in which the author’s primitivism is rooted. In this respect, Hemingway’s Indian virtues deserve to be re-examined in a contemporary context for both their anthropological and their artistic significance. 202 Western American Literature I In its broadest terms, Hemingway’s primitivism maybe seen as a return to earth, Thoreau-like, to front the essential facts of life, and to reduce it to its most elemental terms. Hemingway’s primitivism found personal expres­ sion in his lifelong search for unspoiled natural settings and the elemental experiences which fed his appetite for conflict and violence: big-game hunting in Africa, bullfights and guerrilla warfare in Spain, World War I and II battle experiences, deep-sea fishing on the Gulf Stream, “high on the wild” in the mountains of Idaho, rejecting, as Richard Lehan notes, “all patterns of continuity—historical or literary—which took precedence over the self.”4 Hemingway put this rejection into a famous passage in Green Hills of Africa: A continent ages quickly once we come. The natives live in harmony with it. But the foreigner destroys, cuts down the trees, drains the water, so that the water supply is altered and in a short time the soil, once the sod is turned under, is cropped out and, next, it starts to blow away as it has blown away in every old country and as I had seen it start to blow away in Canada. The earth gets tired of being exploited. A country wears out quickly unless man puts back in it all his residue and that of all his beasts. When he quits using beasts and uses machines, the earth defeats him quickly. The machine can’t reproduce, nor does it fertilize the soil, and it eats what he cannot raise. A country was made to be as we found it. We are the intruders and after we are dead we may have ruined it but it will still be there and we don’t know what the next changes are. I suppose they all end up like Mongolia. . . . Our people went to America because that was the place to go then. It had been a good country and we had made a bloody mess of it and I would go, now, somewhere else as...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 201-213
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
Archive Status
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