Editing Internet Texts/Women in Hemingway's fiction

Ernest Hemingway, 1923

An overview of the projectEdit

This project concerns Ernest Hemingway’s fiction and its purpose is to investigate the presentation of female characters in Hemingway’s works by analysing four of his heroines: Catherine Barkley, Maria, Lady Brett Ashley and Margaret Macomber. The choice of such a topic was dictated by the controversy concerning Hemingway’s portrayal of women. The characters who are analysed are the ones serving as representatives of the “saintly” or “deadly” women – allegedly the only two types of females portrayed by Hemingway. By presenting criticism relevant to the subject, such a categorisation is challenged. Instead, an alternative interpretation of the above mentioned characters, which does not rely on the author’s biography, but takes into consideration his style and the conditions in which the females are presented, is proposed. It is shown that these characters are very often misread and their complex features are overlooked.

The project is directed at students interested in literature who have some basic knowledge of Hemingway's fiction. At the end of each character's analysis, readers will be asked to answer a few questions in the form of a quiz so as to check their understanding of the novels being discussed.


Ernest Hemingway, one of the greatest American writers, is usually viewed as a great admirer of masculinity employing his courageous and honourable code hero as the protagonists of most of his works which contributed to the theme of masculinity being one of the central features of Hemingway’s scholarship. It is, however, the representation of women in his fiction which arouses much controversy and disagreement among critics since when it comes to his heroines, rather than being praised, Hemingway is frequently accused of his inability to create a fully-dimensional female character.

Such a portrayal is thought to result from his misogynistic views. Hemingway did not strive to conceal his hatred towards his mother who was very domineering and who led him to despise relationships in which a man was dominated by a woman. Since many of Hemingway’s works may be interpreted as autobiographical, his alleged antagonism towards women is believed to be reflected in his fiction as well. The fact that quite a few of the fictional women he portrays are based on his real-life partners seems to support the view.

Indeed, many critics believe that he presents women in an unfavourable way and argue that, as Edmund Wilson proposed, they can be classified either as “saintly” but overly submissive or “deadly” and destructive. They argue that as his heroines embody one of the two extremes, they are plain and unrealistic. In addition, Hemingway is thought to be a strong opponent of the emancipation of women due to the fact that only feminine women are depicted in a positive way. On the other hand, the ones who exhibit some masculine features and refuse to perform their traditional role are denigrated. This interpretation was for a long time prevalent and in many cases once a character was labelled as too unconvincing or too vicious, it was accepted without questioning. Not until the rise of feminist literary criticism, were the female characters analysed as thoroughly as the male ones. Critics started to argue for a more positive reading of Hemingway’s heroines and claimed that viewing them as one-dimensional is a result of a misinterpretation.

In order to have a better understanding of Hemingway’s fiction and the characters he creates, historical background to his fiction should be taken into consideration. Living in the time of the First and Second World War, cultural and political changes, especially the emancipation of women, has undeniably moulded his worldview and, consequently, his writing. What is more, Hemingway, born in 1899, was a member of the Lost Generation and throughout the 1920s he lived in Paris which means that his literary style, often described as simple but powerful, was influenced by fellow expatriates.

It is thus necessary to apply the knowledge about Hemingway’s style as well as the historical background in which he created and set his works and not rely too much on his biography while studying his characters so as not to misinterpret them. Indeed, although they may seem easy to label, on closer examination they emerge as much more complex and very often depicted in a sympathetic way. The purpose of this project is to demonstrate that a categorisation of Hemingway’s fictional women into either “saintly” or “deadly” is not justifiable. In order to support the view, analyses of four Hemingway’s heroines: Catherine Barkley from A Farewell to Arms, Maria from For Whom the Bell Tolls, Lady Brett Ashley from The Sun Also Rises and Margaret Macomber from “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber” are presented.

Aspects of Hemingway's writingEdit

Female characters in Hemingway's fictionEdit

The "saintly" womenEdit

The "deadly" womenEdit