Treating Ernest Hemingway
In the year 2014 Bill Gates and Microsoft had their greatest breakthrough by creating the software that would allow time-traveling. Everyone wanted to get their hands on it! Some wanted to shoot ahead in time and find out who won the World Series or a horserace or find out what stocks to buy so they could get rich. Others wanted to travel back in time for a variety of reasons. While testing the product out, Gates himself traveled back in time so he could interview Michelangelo. He thought the interview went well; however, the next day the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel suddenly was barren and the Pope threw a fit. It was only a matter of days before Gates apologized and sent the Pope a big sack of money and promised not to do anything so rash again. It was the quickest the government ever acted. Gates gave up the software to the government and promised not to create anything like it again. We all had seen how devastating the effects could be when you tampered with the past as it could have powerful effects upon the present.
As part of the deal they made with Bill Gates, the government promised not to use it as part of their spy or war efforts. Everyone realized that this was more dangerous than any bomb. However, at the same time people saw that it had some very positive potential if the risks were carefully managed. Therefore, the government set up a very rigid licensing process and I became one of the first to get my LCTT certificate. Licensed Clinical Time Travelers were not allowed to go out time traveling into the past and provide therapy in to anyone they selected---a panel of prestigious historians and clinicians and politicians made the selection. At first everyone wanted to immediately go out and provide therapy for Adolph Hitler and Stalin and others like that. But then they decided that they had better go easy at first. I mean, the disappearance of a fabulous art work by Michelangelo is only the tip of the potential iceberg of disasters that could befall us if we started tinkering with Hitler’s mind. Just think…if we made him just a little bit more adjusted so that he stayed out of the way of his generals, the bugger might just have won the war!
So the decision was to start working around the edges. That is when Ernest Hemingway was selected to be one of our first time-traveler projects. After all, he was already a pretty decent fellow to begin with so we figured our risks were minimal. Also, our goal was not to change him completely, just to smooth out the edges somewhat so that the macho emphasis would be toned down. In that way the millions of future readers and the movies based on his books might have less of a negative influence and…maybe…just maybe…we might slow down the war and violence glorification that has endlessly plagued society.
My client was only 19 years old when I went back in time to provide services to him. He had just returned to the hospital after first being effectively treated for his leg and foot injuries suffered at the Italian front. Now he was returning because of jaundice. During the first stay at the hospital he fell deeply in love with the nurse who had cared for him. On his return she had made it very clear that he was too young for her and that she didn’t want to continue the relationship. He was very depressed and that is how I happened to become his therapist.
For those of you who are familiar with Hemingway, you will recognize that the above events did occur in his life---however, he never received any psychotherapy. I couldn’t help but wonder what his life would have been like if he had received effective help based on today’s level of knowledge about human behavior and that is why I so readily took on the job. In retrospect, I obviously was being naïve. If he had been treated back in those days by Freud he might very well have gotten worse, rather than better. That is not meant as a negative reflection upon Freud but rather a negative reflection upon the state of our knowledge over 80 years ago.
If I am going to be his therapist, you first need to know a little about my approach. I utilize an eclectic approach---that means I utilize the best available theories and psychotherapeutic techniques rather than rely upon just one form of therapy. For years now I have taught my students and employed the basic techniques of Carl Rogers---empathy, unconditional positive regard, and genuineness. He employed a very humanistic approach that was client-centered and “it is difficult to find a therapist whose work has not been shaped by it. Every modern psychotherapy training program expects its students to master the skills of active listening, and these skills are based largely on the ‘accurate empathy’ that Rogers and his students believed to be critical to psychotherapeutic success. Most therapists use Rogers’ ideas about empathy, congruence, and positive regard---in essence, ideas about the fundamental importance of the therapeutic relationship---as a foundation for whatever additional therapeutic ideas and techniques they may use” (Moursund & Erskine, pp. 6-7). Rogers believed, as I do, that if you approach a client in this manner that they “will naturally and instinctively begin to grow and heal” (Moursund & Erskine, p. 4). So that is the basic approach I will be employing with Ernest Hemingway to help him develop a therapeutic relationship with me that will help him through his depression that has, at least on the surface, been caused by his being rejected by the lovely nurse that he fell in love with.
But I don’t stop there; I add a variety of other concepts because I have an eclectic approach. “Many therapists have adopted eclectic styles…held together by a consistent theoretical base; this is the integrative approach. Relationship-focused integrative psychotherapy assumes a fundamental interrelatedness among all aspects of human functioning: cognition, affect, behavior, and physiology. It is based on a conviction that, just as relationship shapes the development of all of these aspects, so relationship is the basic therapeutic mechanism by which they can be changed and healed” (Moursund & Erskine, p. 15). Since it is a failed relationship that seems to be the triggering effect with Hemingway, I will be working a lot of the time helping him better understand the importance of relationships as this appears to be a problem area for him.
“Considering the pervasiveness of relationships in human experience, one may well wonder whether developing relationships with others may be, in fact, the fundamental task of each individual. Perhaps relationship is not just a psychological need but a biological one as well, as Mitchell (1993) asserts: ‘Attachment is not…derived from more basic biological needs; attachment is itself a basic biological need, wired into the species as fundamentally as is nest-building behavior in a bird’ (p. 22)…For far too long, psychotherapists have underemphasized or even ignored relationship as a fundamental aspect of human nature. Psychotherapy has been all too often a celebration of the I, an oxymoronic search for individual health and growth” (Moursund & Erskine, p. 12).
One of the things I will try to help Ernest Hemingway appreciate is how thoughts, feelings, behavior, and bodily reactions are all tied together as he seems to be almost totally unaware of this. For example, the jaundice that he developed was caused by excessive drinking. Although he now is more aware of this, he still seems unwilling to see how the drinking is related to thoughts and feelings. This is a complex relationship that I hope to help him get clear. Before joining the Red Cross in America as an ambulance driver, he was a cub reporter for a newspaper and he apparently first published a literary effort at the age of 17 so it is clear that writing is an important part of his life and it will help him immensely in future writing efforts if he more fully appreciates the connection of these forces that drive him along the road of life. “So, do thoughts cause both feelings and behaviors? Do behaviors cause both feelings and thoughts? Do feelings cause both thoughts and behaviors? For a relationship-focused integrative psychotherapist, yes, yes, and yes; and no, no, and no. No simple, one-way, cause-and-effect relationships exist in human functioning; rather, all aspects interact, affecting and being affected by all the others. Our external behaviors do affect the way we think and feel; but how we think and feel affects how we behave and even how our bodies function. Changing how we think about something can certainly change how we feel about it and what we do about it; but it is equally true that a shift in our emotional response will lead to different cognitions and behaviors. And our physiology has a profound effect on our thoughts, our feelings, and our actions; and thoughts and feelings and actions in turn affect our physiology…one of the happy consequences of this interrelatedness of all human functioning is that changing one aspect of ourselves generally results in changes elsewhere…interrelatedness also means that dysfunction and pain in one aspect of human process are likely to spread and affect every other aspect” (Moursund & Erskine, pp. 10-11).
So if we get some modest movement with Hemingway in one area, we can assume that movement in another area is very likely. However, Ernest Hemingway has also been involved in a war and this tends to challenge one’s most basic beliefs and philosophy. Therefore, we are more than likely to get involved in various spiritual matters in our evolving relationship. He was raised by parents who were very religious; however, since leaving home he appears to have left this behind and moved on. Now may be the time for him to begin to rethink why he has done so and what spiritual beliefs he would benefit from in finding an effective way of relating in a very chaotic and demanding world.
So, as you can see, I have my job cut out for me. Lots of complications in this case and that is what makes it simultaneously challenging and interesting. The year we began our treatment was 1918. The place, Milan, Italy. However, since I am a time-traveler, I have available to me all the knowledge that a person who is a therapist has available in the 21st century. However, I also have one additional advantage in this particular case. Since Ernest Hemingway would become a world famous author and personality, since he wrote novels that were usually semi-autobiographical, I know how his life and his work evolved over the next 43 years before he commits suicide in 1961. That suicide was apparently triggered when treatment for mental instability affected his memory so that he was unable to write and he decided to kill himself with the shotgun he had so often used as a hunter. This advantage also puts a lot of pressure on me as it will be my hope to help him change but in ways that will still allow him to write great novels which earn him the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954---but will help him stay emotionally and physically healthy so that he does not commit suicide. This will be a very difficult balancing act for the both of us.
The events that he has just experienced, if unaltered by my therapy, will lead to the publication of his book A Farewell to Arms. The book is very autobiographical. It tells the story of a young American in the Italian ambulance service during World War I who gets wounded and sent to the hospital in Milan and who gets jaundice and falls in love with a nurse---all the same as in his real life. The differences between fiction and fact are very significant. In the book the love affair with the nurse blossoms and she becomes pregnant. He goes back to the front and is almost executed by his own side and then realizes that he was not ready to make that level of sacrifice and deserts, finds his true love, escapes to Italy with his woman by rowing across a lake to the Swiss side and freedom, stays there with her until their child is ready to be born and then the child is born dead and his wife dies shortly thereafter from hemorrhaging. End of novel. In real life he served for only a short time in the ambulance corps, transferred to the meal service so that he could be closer to the action, was wounded, fell in love with his nurse---only to have her reject him, and then shortly thereafter left the Army. The whole time he served in real life was only a few months; whereas in the novel it was a much longer and more significant period of time. I hope in the therapy I can help him overcome his feelings of rejection so that when he writes the novel he no longer has the anger that causes him to have a simplistic and moralistic ending where he has to kill off the “bastard” child and the “unmarried” mother. We shall see how effective we can be in helping him become a more mature person and thus become a more mature writer.
In the novel he does recognize the stupidity of war. He has his characters say such things as: “Everybody hates this war. There is a class that controls a country that is stupid and does not realize anything and never can. That is why we have this war. Also they make money out of it” (p. 51). He also states that: “And the ones who would not make war? Can they stop it? They are not organized to stop things and when they get organized their leaders sell them out” (p. 71). So I hope that whatever therapy I provide does not alter his awareness that war is a stupid activity.
However, at the same time that he indicates an awareness of the stupidity of war, he tends to glamorize it and make it sound brave and attractive---especially to macho type men like he has become. He says things like: “Nothing ever happens to the brave. They die of course. But only once…The brave dies perhaps two thousands deaths if he’s intelligent. He simply doesn’t mention them” (pp. 139-140). The book is loaded with elitist, sexist, racist, and macho garbage that I hope I can help him get past in our therapy sessions so that he no longer feels the need to etch his characters with such sophomoric language.
Mind you, he is very aware of the power of language and he uses it very effectively. For example, he mentions in reference to war that: “I was always embarrassed by the words sacred, glorious, and sacrifice…I had seen nothing sacred, and the things that were glorious had no glory and the sacrifices were like the stockyards at Chicago if nothing was done with the meat except to bury it” (p. 184-5). So we want to build on his substantial talents while eliminating some of the egotistic tendencies that he reveals. Fortunately, we have some time to round off the rough edges as he doesn’t write this novel and get it published until 1929.
Perhaps I can suggest another ending for the novel. When he, Frederic Henry, finds out that his lovely nurse, Catherine Barkley, that he cares so much about (despite the fact that he knows almost nothing about her background and family), is pregnant, he leaves the Army and returns to the United States and they get married. Hmmmm….that would be the right thing to do and maybe, since he is a talented writer, he could write that so it is not as dull as it sounds when I write it. But, I must remember that Ernest is an action junkie and that is what makes his novels sell as well as they do---otherwise he would not have gone to Italy in the first place or gone to the front to be in the middle of the action. So, I can’t hope to overcome that trait in him---instead I have to think about some ways to channel it so that it doesn’t do either him or his novels any great harm.
This is not going to be an easy task. The love affair that humans have with war is a very tough nut to crack.
“The Oxford English Dictionary defines war as ‘hostile contention by means of armed forces, carried on between nations, states, or rulers, or between parties in the same nation or state.’ It defines peace as ‘freedom from, or cessation of, war or hostilities; that condition of a nation or community in which it is not at war with another.’ It says something about the way we perceive the world and its possibilities that we define peace as the absence of war rather than war as the absence of peace. Apparently we think of war and conflict as more normal, or perhaps more interesting, than peace. Similarly, we often view narrative forms of literature like fiction and drama in terms of the initiation, acting out and resolution of conflict. It appears that we are more interested in and at home with conflict, stress, and tension than with serenity, stability, and peace. The literature about conflict and war…as a subject has been written about far more often than peace. Peace appears to be a condition we take for granted or see, as dictionary definitions of the word suggest, as the absence of activity, as a negative state.
“Yet peace, like a good marriage, takes work. ‘The planet is now as difficult to maintain as an intimate relationship,’ says a character in Marc Kaminsky’s play In the Traffic of a Targeted City. In this view, peace is not static but active. The maintenance of peace requires positive effort. It is not achieved by neglect. It is a presence, not an absence. Perhaps if we changed our definitions of peace and war, conceptualizing and speaking about them differently, we might also begin to live those states of being differently.
“’Nothing we do has the quickness, the sureness, the deep intelligence living at peace would have,’ writes Denise Levertov in her poem, ‘Life at War.’ War is stupid, slow, ungraceful. Certainly it is a breakdown of community and communication. Can we go so far as to say it is a form of social insanity?” (Annas & Rosen, p. 928).
Ernest knows the above all too well it seems. He is clearly against war. In his novel he has the character modeled after himself almost executed by his own army gone a little crazy. But the way he tells it all still has a flavor of adventure, excitement, and his future exploits reveal that he really has not lost his love of war. (But more about that later.)
“What use to be called ‘shellshock’…has come to be known, since the Vietnam War, as ‘post traumatic stress disorder.’ Research into this condition has shown that post traumatic stress disorder is also exactly what victims of rape and child abuse suffer. Is family life for a child or an ordinary city street for a woman potentially a war zone?...this connection with child abuse and rape suggests that war is one end of a spectrum of institutionalized and sanctioned violence that has devastating consequences for human beings…Not only the history books but much American popular culture has presented war as a glorious adventure justified by love of God and country, as those of us brought up on John Wayne movies can attest….Reading about war can provoke an intense longing for peace. How can we think and live peace actively? How can we learn to see peace as a presence, not an absence?...Nonviolence is a complex state of being we have to work at day by day…and peace is something we have to make, the way we make bread or poetry or love” (Annas & Rosen, pp. 928-930).
I would like to tell Ernest that they made movies out of several of his stories. They were well made movies. Unfortunately, like his books, they glamorized war and violence and helped a generation get hooked and become action junkies like he was. But, that is a violation of the rules of therapy for those of us who practice time-travel. We can utilize our knowledge based on the future; however, we can’t inform the client about the future. One reason for this is that when we first did this, many of the clients went right out after the first therapy session and committed suicide then and there. But, the other reason it is unethical to tell a person their future is that time-travelers can change the future so we don’t really know how it will turn out. After all, that is my goal with Ernest.
I can tell him about Wilfred Owen (1893-1918) because he lived in Ernest’s time and died in the war. I can also quote his poetry to Ernest hoping that will help him grow up a little and become more comfortable with his feelings and thoughts than he currently is. I might quote to him from Dulce Et Decorum Est which is the line from the Roman poet Horace that Owen used as the title for a poem and which he labels as a lie. (It translates as “It is sweet and proper to die for one’s country.” I think Ernest understands that it is a lie---but how do I get him to move beyond the intellectual realization and change his behavior? That is always one of the hardest of tasks. You read Hemingway and you intellectually understand that war is ugly but you emotionally become even more attached to it than you were before reading his story. I don’t find that to be true with Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front which was also made into a movie. When you watch that one you come away changed in your attitude toward war---in fact the great actor Lew Ayres became a conscientious objector after starring in that film. That is part of my goal for Ernest, to make him more like Remarque and less into being cathected to violence.
I wonder if it would be a violation of the time-traveler code of ethics to play him a Bob Dylan tune like With God on Our Side? I don’t think that steps over the boundaries and music can effect both the intellect and the emotions. Ooops….I forgot, the tune specifically lists a number of wars since the First World War so I can’t use it---no specific references to the future are allowed as they become very confusing to the client. Shucks, it would have been a nice touch and Dylan helped a lot of us appreciate the distorted thinking that prevailed in those days. Maybe I can use the poetry of an American contemporary of Ernest’s? e.e.cummings (1894-1962), like Ernest, changed the way literature was structured. In his poem “next to of course god america i he says that: “they did not stop to think they died instead”---and that is just what I need to do with Ernest, get him to stop and think and then to feel and finally to behave differently.
Perhaps I could quote him some John Milton (1608-1674). Perhaps he is familiar with Milton? Then again, perhaps he is not? After all, Ernest elected to avoid college and was not a great student in high school. However, he was interested in language and may have read Milton. It is worth a shot. We could talk about his poem On the Late Massacre at Piemont which relates to how the Roman Catholic Duke of Savoy sent troops to massacre members of a Protestant religious community in northwestern Italy. That might open the door to discussing God’s role in his life and how religion and spirituality are often at odds with one another. It may be the key to opening him up since in his novels he sometimes has the lead character assume the Catholic religion even though Ernest was brought up a Protestant. I wonder what messages are hidden in that? Lots of interesting pieces to the Hemingway puzzle!
Since Siegfried Sassoon (1886-1967) was another contemporary who wrote of the First war, I might be able to use him as well. Especially because he wrote of a leg wound in his poem Does it Matter? and Ernest had a leg wound. The irony in that poem might just help break through to him.
“Does it matter?---losing your legs?...
For people will always be kind,
And you need not show that you mind
When the others come in after hunting
To gobble their muffins and eggs.”
Ernest has long been a great hunter and lover of the outdoors and that work by Sassoon might be one of the emotional breakthroughs I am going to need. I have to find a way to motivate Ernest. The depression is some motivation because he is an action junkie and depression isn’t his cup of tea. (That is probably one of the key reasons he ended his life by killing himself.) And the pain of the nurse rejecting him is to a degree motivation. And his experiences in the war---another potential motivator. But I’m afraid I am going to need a lot more than these to get through to him deeply enough so that he will change his behavior. “There are four common curative elements central to all forms of psychotherapy irrespective of the therapists’ theoretical orientation; modality of treatment, individual, group, family; or dosage, i.e., the frequency, duration, and number of sessions…The four factors are: (1) client resources; (2) therapeutic relationship; (3) intervention strategies and tactics; and, (4) faith, hope, and expectancy” (Sperry et al, p. 10. See footnote.). But no matter how good you are at developing these four factors, motivation---which is part of the client resource factor---is really what determines success. “Research suggests that a client’s motivation, or more specifically their stage of readiness for change, is a better predictor of treatment outcome than age, problem severity, socioeconomic status, self-esteem, or social support network” (Sperry et al, p. 23). Since I am going to utilize Ernest’s considerable strengths and build on them, I will also be looking not simply to reduce negative but to build positive behaviors. That will not be easy. “Traditional therapy strategies are much more effective at reducing negative behaviors than at increasing positive ones…Researchers believe that therapeutic durability can be improved by the identification and creation of positive experiences. Unfortunately, most therapy seems to be focused on the elimination of negative behaviors” (Sperry et al, p. 169). I hope not to fall into that negative orientation trap. This is especially important if the effects I make are to have a long term lasting effect. It is one thing for him to improve, another thing for the improvements to last. This is going to be a difficult task for me as I am not going to be able to hang around and treat him on a long term basis. This is going to have to be short term therapy due to the time traveler aspect of what I am doing. However, even if I were not time traveling, it would still have to be short term because Ernest is an action junkie and not about to sit still for long term therapy. Relapse, therefore, is going to have to be a concern for me. “Essentially clients relapse because they are supposed to. Seldom does behavior permanently change, so that former behaviors never occur. However, relapse has often been seen as synonymous with treatment failure, a return to a previous behavior after a period of gain or change, and it is often viewed as an end state. This all-or-nothing perception fails to take into account that relapse is a common component of effective change. Mistakes and lapses are human and common in the change process….When relapse is expected and planned for, the affective and cognitive reactions to slips become significantly less intense, and the treatment program can be quickly reinstated” (Sperry et al, p. 166). By anticipating the potential for relapse, I can build into the treatment mechanisms to help deal with it when it occurs or even to help prevent it or reduce its likelihood. As you can begin to see, LCTT work is complicated and many faceted and always seeking the best ways to increase client motivation.
Maybe a touch of Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956) might help increase the motivation? In his From a German War Primer I could lift the following lines:
“THOSE WHO TAKE THE MEAT FROM THE TABLE
Those for whom the contribution is destined
Those who eat their fill speak to the hungry
Of wonderful times to come.
Those who lead the country into the abyss
Call ruling too difficult
For ordinary men.
WHEN THE LEADERS SPEAK OF PEACE
The common folk know
That war is coming.
THOSE AT THE TOP SAY:
This way to glory.
Those down below say:
This way to the grave.
WHEN IT COMES TO MARCHING MANY DO NOT KNOW
That their enemy is marching at their head.
The voice which gives them their orders
Is their enemy’s voice and
The man who speaks of the enemy
Is the enemy himself.”
Brecht ends the poem by letting the generals know that they have one problem in using humans to fight their wars and that flaw in the soldier is that “he can think.”
That might open some of the doors and get Ernest thinking more. But….maybe not. Because Ernest is an elitist. He served as an officer. You can see it clearly in how he views life that he sees himself as superior, as well he was. He was smarter, stronger, and better than most of us. So, it will be that much harder for him to let go of the “I” and begin to relate with us more common folk and appreciate that it is about relationships not about the nurturing of his ego. I sure which I could let him look a little into the future and see that it is not this one loss of the nurse that he is going to have to deal with. He gets married four times before giving up on life. Maybe if you could see that he might give up some of the macho crap that undermines relationships. But, like I said, I can’t do that---but my knowing that he is heading down those roads increases my motivation to help him.
I might try to get him to think more like his contemporary Claude McKay (1890-1948) but his poem written in 1945 entitled Look Within deals with a later war so it violates time-traveler rules. But Claude has some important things to teach Ernest as reflected in the following lines from that poem:
“Lord, let me not be silent while we fight
In Europe Germans, Asia Japanese
For setting up a Fascist way of might
While fifteen million Negroes on their knees
Pray for salvation from the Fascist yoke
Of these United States. Remove the beam
(Nearly two thousand years since Jesus spoke)
From your own eyes before the mote you deem
It proper from your neighbor’s to extract!”
I wonder what Ernest’s reaction to McKay would be? Keeping in mind that Ernest was a racist and an anti-Semitic elitist, it would be very interesting to see his reaction. I will try to probe these areas in my effort to help Ernest because all that “ism” garbage is part of the other problems he is suffering through. They all are connected.
Much of the literature related to war is based on recollections from adults. What if I got him to think about the impact on children? Maybe that might help make a breakthrough on the motivation front. (Must learn to avoid the war metaphors.) We have thousands of children every year in America being killed and abused thanks in part to the ideas he pushes in his books. To prevent this violence we need to:
Those who read Hemingway and watch the movies made out of his stories are likely to think in just the opposite way than the above list---in short, his work undermines efforts to eliminate child abuse. I don’t think he ever understood this; otherwise I would accuse him of being a supporter of abuse. So, if I can help him see the consequences of his ideology in terms of children, maybe that will make him take some of that out of his stories.
To help get Ernest to that point I might use the work of Yevgeny Yevtushenko who wrote The Companion as an adult but he was only a child when the Germans invaded Russia and he is able to relate as the child he once was during that horrific conflict.
“her eyes brimming with tears of hopelessness…the Germans were dive-bombing the train. Katya was her name. She was nine…I’d have to take this thing under my wing;---girls were in some sense of the word human…The world was big and we were not big, and it was tough for us to walk…The child was feeble, I was certain of it…She’d tire in no time I was certain of it, but as things turned out it was me who tired. I growled I wasn’t going any further and sat down suddenly beside the fence. ‘What’s the matter with you?’ she said…You small boys, you’re always pretending to be brave…I scraped together strength and I held out for fear of what she’d say.”
Those lines might just do the trick? Yeah…they sum up Ernest nicely and since it is a child that we are talking about it might make him feel less under attack by my quoting those lines. Then his real feelings might just sneak up on him without warning. I think that is going to be the only way. A frontal attack (dang, there I go again with war language) won’t be likely to succeed as he is very well defended. I am going to have to sneak up on him, come at him from an angle he is not expecting. Ernest is going to make me earn my salary. Fortunately he is still young. Later in life it will be a lot harder. I am going to have to get him to let go of his attachments and get him to see how those attachments are related to “security, sensation, and/or power” (Mikulas, p. 103). At this point I don’t see the security attachment as having any significant influence. However, the sensation and power ones are very evident and relate to much of his current and future behavior. Since our culture has long encouraged men to behave consistent with such attachments, this is going to be a tough area to work on.
You see these themes in Ernest in many of his other stories. You see all the action-junkie, sensation seeking and power desiring behavior flood out onto the pages of his first major novel The Sun Also Rises. In this book the Hemingway type of character is Jacob “Jake” Barnes a newspaper man assigned to Paris after World War I is over. The love interest is Lady Brett Ashley who is very beautiful. Jake cannot fulfill her needs sexually due to a war wound he suffered. (One more “ism” Hemingway displays in his world view---ableism. It is also a rather sexist view of women that he provides us in his novels.)
This novel is loaded with anti-Semitism as the most negative character in the book is Robert Cohn and also has racist remarks as well. Although Hemingway may well defend himself against such labeling by saying that he is describing fictional characters and besides that is the way most people thought and talked in those days. My response would be, “Get serious!” If in our counseling he is naïve enough to deny any of his batch of “isms” I am not about to let him get away with it---I will employ some form of confrontation.
Here again we see that Jake met Brett when he was in the hospital recovering from his wounds. So, it is very clear that his rejection by the nurse in real life becomes a recurring theme and that he sucks on this rather sour lemon for many years to come if I don’t teach him how to make lemonade out of it now when he is only 19 years old.
Brett at the beginning of the novel is going through a divorce and getting ready to marry Mike Campbell, a nice guy she likes but doesn’t really love. She also goes off with Cohn and everyone in the novel is enchanted by her and falls for her.
Jake goes off fishing in Spain with his buddy Bill Gorton, a very successful American writer, and then all the group meets up in Pamplona for the bullfights and the festival of San Fermin. Jake, like the real life Hemingway, is a bullfight aficionado. He not only enjoys watching, he understands and loves the gory glory of the bullfight. Brett falls in love with a young handsome bullfighter and leaves with him when the festival is over. Jake goes to San Sebastian on the coast for a rest by himself. There he gets an urgent telegram from Brett in Madrid. He rushes to her as she has broken off from the bullfighter as she realizes that it would be best for his career. The novel ends with the two of them riding around Madrid in each others arms. But, a sophisticated reader understands that the two of them have only a tragic relationship that cannot be fulfilled. (Mind you, he could fulfill her needs if he were not a sexist ableist. It is Hemingway’s world view that is getting in the way of a great relationship, not his war wounds.) Brett says to Jake in her final lines of the book: “Oh, Jake, we could have had such a damned good time together.” The last line of the book is his response: “Yes. Isn’t it pretty to think so?” (Can’t help feeling he is yelling out through time to that nurse that jilted him when he was only 19 years old---he still is holding those memories twisted up inside of him. It is time to let go of them! Way past time!)
Much of the novel is about drinking and eating, and then eating and drinking. Then more drinking and eating. Then they eat some more and drink a lot more. The sensation attachment in his writing is very very strong. Also, the power bit is equally strong as revealed in the bullfight fixation. In the book he has Jake say: “Nobody ever lives their life all the way up except bull-fighters” (p. 10). At 19 I might be able to make some breakthroughs in these attachment areas, but later they will become so deeply ingrained I won’t stand a chance of changing Ernest.
Hemingway, through the voice of Jake, also belittles people who read books and then change their behavior. This is somewhat ironic given that his books tend to do that to people. Maybe he is subconsciously warning against reading his books and then becoming an action junkie? It is interesting how in his life he became a character from one of his books so that he doesn’t even take his own advice! But he is not against literature; he is against inaction of any sort. It is through what we DO, not what we write or say, that we are important and live a life worthy of the effort.
While eating lunch on one of their fishing trips, Jake says: “Wonder what day God created the chicken?” His friend Bill says: “Oh, how should we know? We should not question. Our stay on earth is not for long. Let us rejoice and believe and give thanks.” Although Hemingway has Bill deliver the lines, he is really speaking for Jake/Hemingway. Let’s not think too deeply about life. Let us live it! So, while I am trying to get him to think more, I am going to have to tap into his action orientation. Yes, action is fine, but let’s think about the consequences! It is OK to be an action oriented person, but not if the action negatively influences you---then you are an action junkie. And that is what I have to do. I have to get Ernest to accept himself as an action oriented person who needs to be in control of that influence.
Some action oriented people turn into wonderful firefighters or other types of individuals where the need for action is met through socially acceptable avenues. Others become crooks. Hemingway lived his life in action and recorded it in his books which is all very laudable. However, those books would have been far more profound and would not have had the negative effect they had on millions if he had developed more self-awareness. That is what my goal in therapy will be---increased self-awareness.
Background of Client
If I had all of this to do over again, I would have first gone back and met his parents. My purpose would not have been to provide therapy for them, although now that I think about it, that might not have been a bad idea. My purpose would have only been to find out more about them and how they related to Ernest during his formative years. However, I did already know a certain amount from the historical record and thought that would be sufficient. Like everyone in the 21st century, I was in a hurry to get things done and therefore, didn’t do them as thoroughly as I should have.
Ernest was born July 21, 1899 in Oak Park, Illinois. His father was a medical doctor, Clarence Edmunds Hemingway and he was a fervent member of the First Congregational church. Ernest’s mother was Grace Hall Hemingway and she sang in the church choir. He was the 2nd of 6 children and weighed 9.5 pounds at birth.
His mother described him at age 3.5 as being able to dress himself, a member of a nature group his father had formed, able to count to 100, able to spell by ear very well, and that he liked to build cannons and forts with building blocks and collected cartoons of the Russo-Japanese war.
When I first read that I immediately said: “Aha!”
You see we have long understood that a person comes into this world called to accomplish certain things in this life. They choose their parents as ones that will be able to help them accomplish those goals (See Hillman and Weiss for details regarding this.)
His mother taught her children music and creativity and took them to art galleries and operas. His father taught them about out of doors and taught Ernest physical courage and endurance. The family maintained a summer house on a lake in Michigan. A nice balance in many ways; however, also clearly sexist. We see from early on how he began to differentiate the male and female roles along these biased culturally influenced lines.
His first job was as a reporter covering crime and violence. He got the job with the Kansas City Star thanks to his Uncle Tyler who was a close friend of the chief editorial writer for the paper. It was here that he learned to write very sparingly---but it was also here that he saw how his mentor carried on and drank excessively. Both traits he kept. The writing one helped him change the way novels would be written in the 20th century and helped establish his claim to greatness. He only stayed a reporter for six months before heading off to the war. He probably would have joined the army except that was against his father’s wishes and he had a bad eye which may have caused his rejection. However, the Red Cross accepted him despite the eye and urged him to get glasses---a suggestion he elected to ignore. He was just shy of his 19th birthday when he entered the war effort on the side of the Italians. It was only a matter of weeks before he was injured. They promoted him and gave him a medal. By December he had left the war and by January 1919 he was back in America staying with his parents in Oak Park. This is a suburb of Chicago which was mainly for the Protestant upper-middle class and Hemingway would later refer to is as a town of “wide lawns and narrow minds” as it was a very conservative town. But here he obtained the values that assured his success: strong religion, hard work, physical fitness, and self-determination---the same values that would over time turn against him and lead to his suicide.
When he returned from the war he collected $1,000 in insurance in compensation for his war related wounds. In 1919 this was a fairly large amount of money and it allowed him to take a year off. During this time he made phony talks about his war experiences at libraries and a rich woman heard one of them and asked him to help her son and this developed into important contacts that got him a job at the Toronto Star Weekly which led to his being their European correspondent. As you can see, Ernest got some very lucky breaks early on in his writing career.
“In 1922, Hemingway and his first wife (he married four times) moved to Paris in November only a couple of months after they had married. In Paris he came into his own and it is here that he taught Ezra Pound how to box, let Gertrude Stein mind the baby, and talked literary shop with expatriate writers F. Scott Fitzgerald and James Joyce. He was, said Joyce, ‘a big, powerful peasant, as strong as a buffalo…and ready to live the life he writes about.’ In fact, this public image of the ‘man’s man’---the war correspondent, the deep-sea fisherman, the hunter on safari---was one Hemingway carefully created for himself. Success came early…Hemingway’s heroes embody the writer’s own belief that although life may be followed by nada, or nothingness, strong individuals can embrace life and live it with dignity and honor. In 1961, plagued by poor health and mental illness---and perhaps by the difficulty of living up to his own image---Hemingway took his own life.
“According to novelist and critic Anthony Burgess, Hemingway changed the sound of English prose by struggling to write a ‘true simple declarative sentence.’ His spare, unadorned style ‘sounds easy now, chiefly because Hemingway has shown us how to do it, but it was not easy at a time when “literature” still meant fine writing in the Victorian sense…’ Hemingway was awarded the 1954 Nobel Prize in literature” (Kirszner & Mandell, pp. 260-1). Hemingway’s father, brother, and sister also died at their own hands. The latest suicide in the family is granddaughter, Margaux Hemingway, who died in 1996. She was a model and actress that lived a short and wild life before ending it. Her sister Mariel seems to have broken free of the Hemingway “curse” of suicide.
Hemingway wrote of suicide in A Clean Well-Lighted Place from Winner Take Nothing (1933). In it an old man of around 80 is drinking at a café. The waiters talk about him:
“Last week he tried to commit suicide,” one waiter said.
“He was in despair.”
“How do you know it was nothing?”
“He has plenty of money.”
The old man tried to kill himself because he realized life was nada and he had no reason to continue. Hemingway states in this story that: “It was all nothing and a man was nothing too…he knew it all was nada y pues nada y nada y pues nada. (Nothing and then nothing and nothing and then nothing.) Our nada who art in nada, nada be thy name thy kingdom nada thy will be nada in nada as it is in nada. Give us this nada our daily nada and nada us our nada as we nada our nadas and nada us not into nada but deliver us from nada; pues nada. Hail nothing full of nothing, nothing is with thee.” In A Farewell to Arms there is an elderly Count in his 90s and Hemingway portrays him very differently. He had money and was enjoying life still and playing a great game of billiards. So, this is at the heart of how Hemingway sees life---nothingness unless you have something to do and the money to do it? Hmmm….I will have to keep that in mind while I am treating him. It is a dangerous and bleak view of life. This is what concerned our panel and made us select Hemingway as one of the first we would go back in time and try to help.
“Ernest Hemingway is one of the two or three most widely read American authors around the world. Like many of his generation, he witnessed the butchery of World War I (1914-1918), when seven million died on the battlefields and in the trenches…(his experiences)…left him radically disillusioned with the windbag oratory of politicians. It left him and many of his generation distrustful of language, disgusted with big words. His short stories and novels…often focus on shell-shocked survivors searching for a definition of manhood without ‘all that talking.’
“For later readers, the Hemingway legend began to overshadow his work as a writer. The public remembered his life as an expatriate in France and Cuba---deep-sea fisherman, great white hunter, bullfight aficionado. However, far from being strutting macho males, the men in his fiction are often emotionally impaired characters who have lost their bearings in a cynical, violent modern world” (Guth and Rico, p. 205). My task is to help him find his way, to make him more androgynous, less needful of being the bully and brash action figure. This may sound difficult given the impact that the war has had on him. However, many fine men and women went through that war without letting it impact them negatively. And, keep in mind that he only caught the tail end of the war.
My father fought through the entire war from start to end. He had also fought two earlier wars for America. He came out of those experiences stronger in every way. He was a gentle but strong man, a leader of men, but humble. He had many of the characteristics that Hemingway needed to incorporate and so I have a clear role model in mind. Hey! That’s it! I’ll go back as my father. You see, what Bill Gates understood that allowed him to create the time traveler software is that you only need to send the energy back or forward in time. You don’t send the whole body. So that means you don’t go back in your own body. You leave that behind. Your energy flows into the future or past. It can hang around and observe what is going on without manifesting itself in a body. But in my case I need to manifest myself in a body in order to interact with Hemingway. Since my father fought in that war I could go back and enter his body. That would work well. At this point Hemingway is already distrustful of officers---it was being one that almost got his character in the novel shot! So my father was a tough “old” sergeant. I think he is more likely to listen to him than to a doctor or an officer. The bottom line for any therapy is relationship, so going back as my dad may be just the ticket.
I don’t want to tinker sloppily with Ernest’s views of the world. I still want him to go on to be a great writer, to support the Republican cause during the Spanish Civil War and go there as a war correspondent and use those experiences to write For Whom the Bell Tolls. I am glad that he went on those frequent hunting and fishing trips with his father in northern Michigan as he was growing up. The fact that he boxed and played football in high school doesn’t necessarily have to be negatives---for him they were neither negatives nor positives but mixed blessings. I want all those boyhood experiences of growing up to be seen afresh by the more mature youth at 19 who has just suffered from both the war and the jilting so that he can see them for what they truly are---a basic training camp for macho, sexist, elitist thinking. Yes, that may sound harsh, because they don’t have to be any of those things. But unless he sees their negative potentials, he becomes vulnerable to those potentials.
You can see some of that early training coming out of him in his writing about being in Africa on safari in the story The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber. In this story an experienced professional hunter, Robert Wilson (the Hemingway stand in) is taking a rich couple out to kill lions, buffalo, and other big dangerous game. Like in many of Hemingway’s stories the wife is a very flawed person---but always beautiful. The man does a very natural thing when the lion charges him. He runs like hell! No problem here, the white hunter kills the lion so he is safe. But Hemingway says this about the man, that he “had just shown himself, very publicly, to be a coward.” I think he just showed himself to be normal. But Hemingway is an elitist. It is not good enough to be normal. You must be able to control your flight/fight reaction and fight! Even if you die doing it! The wife is disgusted and that night she sneaks into the professional hunter’s tent and goes to bed with him---a way of insulting her husband---and a reflection of the Hemingway view of women. Wilson deliberately sleeps in a double bed just in case any of the wives want him to demonstrate what he can do in bed. At one point Wilson describes her as follows: “She’s damn cruel but they’re all cruel. They govern, of course, and to govern one has to be cruel sometimes. Still, I’ve seen enough of their damn terrorism.” What a bleak and sexist view of women. But it gets worse. He speaks of their marriage as follows: “All in all they were known as a comparatively happily married couple, one of those whose disruption is often rumored but never occurs…They had a sound basis of union. Margot was too beautiful for Macomber to divorce her and Macomber had too much money for Margot ever to leave him.”
However, Macomber surprises both Wilson and Margot his wife because he continues to hunt and overcomes his fear. For Wilson, this makes all the difference. Macomber was now a “real” man---what horseshit! But, that is what Hemingway thought and the type of virus he tried to spread around to other men through his lifestyle and writings. Boy this is going to be some job trying to break through this load of crap! Anyway, back to the story. It ends when his wife realizes that he has become such a strong man through his killing of animals that she won’t be able to control him any longer. So, what does she do? Get a divorce? No way! Remember that this is Hemingway’s view of women. He has the wife shoot and kill her husband. End of story.
Obviously that first jilting is still long in the loins for Hemingway. Women are dangerous. He has them get pregnant and then kills them. He has them be promiscuous like Brett who goes from one man to another. And now they are capable of killing you! Obviously he feels he is lucky that he was jilted---so why the four marriages? Does he have to keep getting married just to prove he is desirable? We hopefully will find out before this adventure with Hemingway is over.
At this point you may be starting to think that I am totally against any violence in any form. That would be incorrect. First of all, I’m a pragmatist. Sometimes violence is productive and necessary in order to stop someone who is creating even greater violence. In the movie Insomnia the police officer, while he is dying in the final scene, warns the other younger officer to watch out, don’t cut corners, don’t cross the line, don’t think that you can justify means by the end---and she listens. That is a good lesson we all need to learn. However, sometimes…rarely, but sometimes…you can’t really think of a non-violent alternative. The uprising in the Warsaw ghetto was not wrong---if anything, it came too late. It’s hard not to come to that conclusion after reading The Pianist. When you see a movie like Judgment at Nuremberg, or Sophie’s Choice, or Schindler’s List; part of you wants to go out and kill the nearest Nazi! When you read, Battle Royal, the powerful and almost obscene first chapter of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, you don’t want to read on so much as run out and start hitting racists over the head! If you are a decent human being, horrific evil tends to stir you into a desire for revenge and violence toward those who you see as evil. Evil needs to be resisted. I do mitigation work on capital crime cases. So I get to know people charged with murder very well. I can’t do my job unless I really get inside them and understand how they feel, how they think, why they behave the way they do. Some need to be executed. Others charged with the most horrific of crimes are innocent. So, you can’t go around being judge, jury, and executioner like Burke does in the novel Strega. Life is not that simplistic.
For Burke it is. The characters in this novel don’t spend a lot of time philosophizing. They are very tough, pragmatic, hardened criminals. Burke has committed a lot of crimes before becoming an unlicensed “detective”---and he is still willing to commit more crimes. Burke grew up in the system, learning about life in juvenile and then adult “correctional” facilities. He learned how to be violent in order to survive. The prison yard is sometimes a kill-or-be-killed environment. (The following quotes are from Strega.) “People who don’t have much get ugly about giving up the little they have left” (p. 4). Burke sees the world in harsh terms: “Prison’s just like the free world: bullshit, violence, and death---only in prison it’s on a tighter schedule” (p.19). The closest thing to a philosophy for Burke is: “Everyone has rules they live by. Mine were: I wasn’t going to die. I wasn’t going to go back to prison. And I wasn’t going to work a citizen’s job for a living. In that order” (p. 77).
When Burke takes on a case in New York City where a man is a sexual predator, he aggressively confronts the man. He warns him not to use his standard excuses: “’Mark, if you want to tell me you’re a sick man and that you can’t help yourself, I got no time to listen, okay?...Or maybe you want to tell me how the bitch asked for it---or how she really enjoyed the whole thing---is that it, Mark?...Because if that’s it, I’m going to blow your slimy face all over this car, you understand?’ The freak didn’t make a sound---I’d just used up his only two options and he couldn’t think of another” (p. 14). Burke, with the help of a friend, then breaks the man’s leg and arm so badly they will most likely never completely be the same again and warns him that if he continues this type of behavior, then more pain with follow. Most readers at that point are most likely saying: “Yeah, right on man!”
Burke has associates: the Mole---a Jewish junkyard owner, Max the Silent---an Asian warrior who never speaks, the Prof---an African American street hustler who runs around the streets on a skateboard pretending to be legless, and Michele---a prostitute, a woman in a man’s body trying to get enough money together to have a sex change operation. These are all very hard cases, hard as nails, and all very skilled when it comes to doing a crime, and all very loyal to one another, and all with hearts of gold who go soft when a little kid needs help! (Please note that the novelistVachss has Burke, the hard case career criminal, associating with all types---he is not sexist, he is not ableist, he is not racist, he is not anti-Semitic. In short, he is a lot more sophisticated than any of Hemingway’s characters! Yes, times have changed.)
Max’s woman is Immaculata, a Vietnamese who treats little sexually abused children. So, all these tough guys, who are willing to kill and maim, are just the tool Vachss uses to get the reader to pay attention to what he really is writing about. He wants you to begin to understand how there are dangerous pedophiles out there that we don’t know how to effectively treat. He wants you to know that children are being hurt real bad by these evil persons. He wants you to know that out there are some really good people like Immaculata who are effectively helping those kids and who need our support. By golly, Vachss sounds more like a social worker than a criminal!
Andrew Vachss has written a dozen novels over the past 20 years and almost all of them are centered on his Burke character. So who is Vachss? “I didn’t start out to be a novelist. Before I ever wrote a book, I was a federal investigator in sexually transmitted diseases, a field caseworker for the infamous New York City ‘Welfare’ Department, a community organizer…I ran an advocacy agency…then a reentry center for ex-cons, and finally a maximum-security prison for violent juveniles in Massachusetts. There the connection between child abuse and neglect and America’s worst social problems finally hit home. Hard” (p. v). He then became a lawyer and started writing the Burke stories. “I wanted to show people what Hell really looked like…” (p. vi).
He doesn’t write as well as Hemingway, and like Hemingway you can make a case for Vachss being an action junkie; however, his mission in using violence is to get your attention so that you see that kids need your help. I personally think that a book like Dibs In Search of Self does a much better job than any of Vachss’ books; however, I would concede that he is likely to get a very different audience than those who read professional case studies like Dibs. So what is the point I’m trying to make? I would rather recommend a Vachss novel to a student than a Hemingway novel! (Wow! I can hear the English professors howling and wanting my scalp right now!) Mind you, I would rather they read neither one---but, if I am trying to get them to pay attention to how children are being abused and need our help, then Vachss has a valuable purpose in his violence and Hemingway doesn’t. That’s why I’m trying to deal with Hemingway. Can I get him to use the violence more productively?
In Hemingway’s first book, In Our Time, (1925), we see all the themes that he will play with in his future novels. The war, the fishing, the bullfights. It is society that is dangerous, not the pure and wondrous out of doors---nature is where the “real” man recharges his batteries enabling him to reenter the good fight. Life is presented as a tough, demanding challenge. Ultimately you are being tested, are you courageous or not? But, in retrospect, one of the most interesting parts of the book is that in this one the nurse gives up on him. It follows his real life unlike the other stories where he puts in a nurse. That is one of the reasons I’m going back to see him before he writes all the books. I want him to get the story straight, to see all the nuances, to appreciate the negative as well as the positive messages within his body of work.
Footnote: I thought it might interest you to know a little more about these four factors.
Now…..time for the therapy to begin!
Annas, Pamela J. & Rosen, Robert C. Literature and Society. Prentice Hall: Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1990.
Axline, Virginia M. Dibs In Search of Self. Ballantine: N.Y., 1964.
Guth, Hans P. & Rico, Gabriele L. Discovering Literature. Prentice Hall: New Jersey, 2000.
Hillman, James. The Soul’s Code. Random House: N.Y., 1996.
Kirszner, Laurie G. & Mandell, Stephen R. Literature. Harcourt: N.Y., 2000.
Mikulas, William L. The Integrative Helper: Convergence of Eastern and Western Traditions. Brooks/Cole: Pacific Grove, CA, 2002.
Moursund, Janet P. & Erskine, Richard G. Integrative Psychotherapy: The Art and Science of Relationship. Brooks/Cole: Pacific Grove, CA, 2004.
Sperry, Len; Carlson, Jon & Kjos, Diane. Becoming an Effective Therapist. Allyn & Bacon: Boston, 2003.
Vachss, Andrew. Strega. Quality: N.Y. (1987).
Weiss, Brian. Messages from the Masters. Warner Books: N.Y., 2000.
Winton, Mark A. & Mara, Barbara A. Child Abuse & Neglect. Allyn & Bacon: Boston, 2001.
The number of websites related to Ernest Hemingway is huge. The listing below is but a very small sample. The last time I looked there were 236,000 sites!