In the popular imagination, the most common Ernest Hemingway-Jack London associations are grounded in broad congruities of image and style: Both were hard-living men of action who transmuted their adventurous exploits into robust and concise literary works that embodied their own gritty ruggedness. Such parallels are topical but offer a fair starting point for the more in-depth and nuanced critical assessments in this special issue of Studies in American Naturalism that explores the diverse interconnections between these two major American writers. Their differences are also intriguing: Hemingway was a mid-westerner and soundly middle class; London was a westerner and precariously working class; London’s politics were overt and socialistic; Hemingway’s were muted and protean. Hemingway was a touchstone modernist; London was an exemplary literary naturalist; Hemingway was stirred by Europe, Africa, and Cuba; London was inspired by the Far North, Asia, and the Pacific islands. London was a sailor; Hemingway was a power-boater; London drank whiskey (etc.); Hemingway drank martinis (etc.). The essays in this issue navigate the writers’ many variances, while also addressing their shared concerns and subjects—travel, the sea, primitivism, nonhuman animals, the natural world, race, and boxing.
As Michael J. Martin notes in his essay here, scholars have long known that as an adolescent Hemingway read London, who had a palpable effect on the younger author’s early writing. Part of Hemingway’s genius, of course, was his adeptness at absorbing and transcending a slew of literary influences. London was clearly one of those influences, but he didn’t have the immediate sort of “A-Team” impact of Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein, or F. Scott Fitzgerald—or even that of a T. S. Eliot or a James Joyce. Crucially, though, London provided young Ernest with a near-contemporary prototype of the American writer-adventurer. Connoisseurs of sport, London and Hemingway held life-long interests in boxing, which, along with race, is the focus of Martin’s “In the Same Corner of the Prize Ring: Jack London, Ernest Hemingway and Boxing.” Perceptively, his essay takes an [End Page 1] insightful cue from Joyce Carol Oates, who asserts that in writing about boxing, one inevitably writes about oneself, and, by extension, about what it means to be human. Covering key texts such as “The Killers,” “Fifty Grand,” The Sun Also Rises along with London’s prizefighting journalism, “The Mexican,” and The Abysmal Brute, Martin identifies the common theme shared by both authors in their boxing writings as a “respect for the prowess of the fighter and condemnation for that society or individual who would taint the essence of masculinity with corruption.” The essay delves into issues of racial identity and racism through a detailed discussion of the authors’ mutual interest in Jack Johnson, the first African-American Heavyweight World Champion. Martin maintains that London’s ideas on race were contradictory and fluid, but more progressive than often realized. Similarly, he claims that Hemingway racial views were shaped by his era’s racial norms, but that at times he also advanced beyond such views.
Race is also a key consideration of Gina Rossetti’s essay “Native Encounters: Examining Primitivism in Hemingway and London’s Short Fiction,” where she argues that London and Hemingway often use primitivism to comment critically on the consequences of racism and imperialism. She maintains that “by invoking primitivism, Hemingway and London reveal that the sacrifice of the Native American characters becomes the vehicle by which white authority advances itself.” Rossetti examines the interplay of such oppression with primitivistic tropes in major Hemingway stories, including “Indian Camp” and “Big Two-Hearted River,” and she also offers discerning commentary on “The Doctor and the Doctor’s Wife” and “Ten Indians.” In her discussions of London, she considers primitivism in relation the intercultural clashes between Native American and Euro-Americans in “The Law of Life,” “Nam-Bok, the Unveracious,” and “Keesh, the Son of Keesh.” Rossetti shows how the emphasis both authors place on primitivism in relation to the interactions of the colonizer and colonized can result in negative appraisals of white privilege.
Kevin Maier addresses cross-cultural experiences of a different sort in his “Old Worlds...