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Friday, March 27, 2015

Why Hemingway Doesn't Appeal to Students Today

In my Lit Class at the private college it occurred to me that the Hemingway ideal is dead. It is not just that I have the class read the The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber and they don't get it but more than that they don't get the references or the world Hemingway painted. Now I wont say that he inhabited this world because Hemingway was consciously painting a world even then that was fantasy. It was a world of Big Game Hunters and the heroic ideal set in the Natural World.

But for students of 2015 this simply doesn't compute. The setting the mil yer the characters. They are not familiar with the Big White Hunter or Francis McComber a rich man who would hire a guide for a safari or his wife a socialite who has only contempt for McComber. More than all this they are not familiar with Africa as a wild place where men went to hunt animals as a badge of honor or at least a head mounted on a den wall.  Even when Hemingway was writing this he was writing a memory that most people in the thirties didn't possess as the way the world was.

Lets face it the whole Hemingway sell was one of looking back to a time or a world when men were men but for modern Americans then they could at least look back at he frontier that had been declared closed just thirty years before. But the fantasy like James Feinimore Cooper or Jack London painted a world of adventure that simply didn't exist for twentieth century Americans. But for twenty first century Americans that world doesn't even exist in Memory.

Consequently for the Dystopian set there is  no point of reference. Who the hell is this guy and why is he hunting a lion and why wouldn't you run from a lion? Hemingway was dated shortly after his death if not before. I don't think we can say he is dated now maybe simply not relevant even in the passing sense of being able to empathize or at least find the thread that allows the modern mind to participate in the fictional dream.

This would rankle Hemingway I am sure. He was the modernist smashing Victorian convention in his time. But sadly, not in ours.

Books by William Hazelgrove