"The Flag of Permanent Defeat": Failure, Dignity, and the Masculine Ideal in the Works of Ernest Hemingway
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Hemingway has often been considered an overly masculine writer; as a public figure who was known for participating in typically “manly” activities, many people think that his writing reflects this hyper-masculine image. Some have suggested that Hemingway believes in a “code” of manliness that all people must follow in order to be worthy of respect. However, rather than all of his characters embodying this idea with overly macho behaviors and beliefs, many of them have very clear battles with their own sense of gender. The idea of there being a “masculine ideal,” or a goal of masculinity that all people should work toward and achieve, therefore, is called into question through Hemingway’s portrayal of his characters. His illustration of them, in fact, suggests that any kind of masculine ideal in existence is utterly impossible to reach, and so anybody who attempts to achieve it will inevitably fail. In this paper, I look at three categories of characters in Hemingway’s fiction: the hunters, the wounded, and the transgender. Through analysis of these characters, I look at whether the masculine ideal is indeed impossible to reach, whether the characters who do not reach it can still be worthy of respect, and, if so, what they need to do, in spite of the masculine ideal being unachievable, in order to deserve that respect.