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Michael McNamara: Into Something Rich and Strange
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The Homosexual ‘Initiation’ – A Realization of Sexuality

The idea of following the secret path to manhood from boyhood – the initiation into adulthood – was important to Hemingway in creating his masculine mentor ideal. This initiation is usually not something done, but instead it is a change inside one’s self. In the story of the two young men in Death in the Afternoon, Hemingway presents us with an initiation to homosexuality between two opposite poles - the experienced homosexual seducer and his inexperienced homosexual companion. The seducer has knowledge while his companion is ignorant. This is an extremely unfair polarity since, as Sedgewick writes, especially in the realm of sexually, "ignorance is not...a singly Manicaean aboriginal maw of darkness from which the heroics of human cognition can occasionally wrestle, insights, freedoms...there exists instead a plethora of ignorances (Tendencies, 25)." In the Parisian hotel situation, the poor man’s inexperience is a one of these ignorances. However, just because one has not had a homosexual experience does not make them ignorant of their own latent homosexuality. Although the poor man was violently reluctant, threatening to commit suicide before engaging in homosexual sex, after the wealthy man seemingly rapes him, the poor man accepts his sexuality and the two of them become a couple.
spacer.gif (67 bytes)The polarity of the beginning implies that the poor man was heterosexual until he was seduced by the wealthy man. This implication, along with the sexual violence, creates an unbalanced and inaccurate example of the so-called initiation into homosexuality. It seems that, at least originally, this was not Hemingway’s intention. The three-page tale that appeared in Death in the Afternoon was actually from another original story. Comely and Scholes write that, in the original version of the tale, called "There’s One in Every Town," the female narrator tells a similar story to a writer; this version, however, is a full eight pages in which the female narrator talks at length about how, "young men come to her cafe before they have determined their own sexual orientation and then, again after they have come out, when it is still exciting for them (128)." "There’s One in Every Town" shows there is more to the story that ended up as a part of Death in the Afternoon. Hemingway was aware that the homosexual initiation was far more than just physical, and in his short story, "A Simple Inquiry," shows another initiation that is less polarized and more realistic.
In this story, a major calls his young orderly, Pinin, into his quarters. For no apparent reason, he asks Pinin if he has ever been in love with a girl. When Pinin replies that he has sexually been with a girl, the major reminds him that this is not what he has asked. Pinin claims to be in love with a girl and is forced to add that he never writes her after the major tells him that he has read all of his letters. After making sure that the adjutant outside cannot hear them, the major asks him if he is sure he is "not corrupt." After Pinin says that he does not understand what the major means, the major accuses him of being superior. The major then asks Pinin if he is sure about what he really wants and desires. To these propositions, Pinin looks at the floor. The major then believes that Pinin is probably not a homosexual like himself and dismisses him, warning him not to be superior, promising him he won’t touch him if he does not want it and advising him to stay as his orderly since it is safer. However, Pinin is "flushed and walks differently than he had moved when he brought in the wood for the fire (329)," and after he leaves, the major wonders if Pinin lied to him.
spacer.gif (67 bytes)"A Simple Inquiry" shows a less binarized and violent situation than the initiation in Death in the Afternoon. The major and Pinin are somewhere between the two poles created by the characters in the Parisian hotel. Where the wealthy man forced himself sexually on his companion by exerting force over him physically, financially, and emotionally, the major, who is in a position of enormous power over his orderly, does not threateningly wield this power; instead of taking sex from Pinin, he merely tries to surmise the young man’s feelings about love. Hemingway shows that there is more to homosexuality that just sexual acts. The major cares about Pinin, worrying for his safety in the war that someone else might attempt to take advantage of him. The major is also not as open with or comfortable in his homosexuality as was the wealthy man; he is careful to make sure that no one can hear his conversation and still believes, at least in part, that his homosexuality is a corrupting force. He is more experienced than Pinin; however, his experience is limited by his own fear of his secret sexuality. On the other hand, Pinin, unlike the poor man, is not completely oblivious to what is happening and is clearly affected by the conversation. He cannot look at the major as he questions him, and afterwards, he is changed, bothered by these questions. This is not just because his commanding officer put him in an awkward position. Comely and Scholes point out that "[i]t is this new walk, which the major hears from the other room, that triggers his final musing about whether the orderly lied him" (131). While inexperienced, Pinin is not entirely ignorant. He is aware of what the major is thinking because he has thought about such things. The major’s questions and propositions have forced Pinin to examine himself in a new way. This is the true initiation into homosexuality. Although the reader does not know if Pinin chooses to stay with the major or to reveal his sexuality to him, once this initiation takes place and more ignorance is lost, we know that Pinin will, at least internally, change and deal with these feelings.
A sexual initiation that mentions homosexuality also takes place in "The Light of the World"; although some critics, seeing the narrator as Nick Adams and therefore Hemingway himself, have difficulty reading it as a story regarding sexual orientation (Comley & Scholes, 142), the story definitely mentions the issue enough to give the ideas some definite merit. At the story’s beginning, two teen-age boys, the narrator and his friend Tom, enter a bar and are promptly scorned by the bartender for being "punks" – a common Hemingway slang word referring to male homosexuals. They leave the bar and meet a group of loggers, their cook who is brutally teased because he is homosexual, and two obese prostitutes. As the motley crew converses, the narrator gains the attention of both Alice the whore and the gay cook whom he does not tease. As he becomes increasingly enamored with Alice, Tom says "Let’s go." As they leave, the cook asks where they are going. Tom responds "The other way from you" (391). Comely and Scholes write, "this narrator seems to poised between two kinds of sexuality— those of the gay cook and the huge hooker... — but his friend takes him away...We don’t know whether these boys are actual or possible punks; all we know is that they are situated in a world in which they have only three choices: the cook, the hooker, and one another" (143). In the end, the sexual orientation of Tom and the narrator is not as important as what happens to them within the story. For the first time, the choice is upon them. They have had their own initiation that removes them from a type of ignorance when they are forced to make decisions about their sexuality.
spacer.gif (67 bytes)In "A Simple Inquiry" and "The Light of the World," the initiation forces people to play the sexuality hands they have been dealt. The major attempts to act upon his homosexuality but finds Pinin unreceptive. Pinin does not respond to the major because he is not ready. The narrator accepts the homosexuality of the cook and the obesity of the hooker but does not act upon either one of these impulses because of the intervention of Tom who believes that his friend is not ready. Whether they were gay or not does not change the fact that choices about sex exist for everyone. The initiation into this world of choice is one of the biggest changes. It is one of the first examinations of sexuality and gender that a young man must face. To become sexually active– that is, to be physically initiated into the sexual world– was (and still is) one of the modern societal steps to becoming a man, but for Hemingway, the real initiation to manhood was the choice – the initiation into the sexual world that begins inside one’s self. "A Simple Inquiry" and the inclusion of homosexuality in "The Light of the World" show that Hemingway aware of the parallels between this initiation for all people whether they be homo- or hetero- sexual.

Of Men and Matadors - Masculine Failure

Beyond their initiation into adulthood, there are many other similarities between homosexual and heterosexual men in Hemingway’s texts. Even the offensive definition he gives for maric—ns shows this. The very fact that he gives it seems strange. Comely and Scholes point out:

In 1931 who else was counting the number of homosexual males in any sport of contest of life and death? Beyond that, his descriptions of the two bullfighters is especially interesting. One is miserly, graceful, and cowardly, and the other is spendthrift, clumsy, and brave. Both men are described in terms of the same three qualities— and each man is the opposite of the other on all three counts. (107)

The very fact that he mentions that any matadors are homosexuals and that then he gives them opposing characteristics shows that he knows that not only can anyone be a homosexual, but also that any homosexual have any characteristic. Like any men, there are no definite determiners to set them off from other people, and also like other men, they have to struggle with the torture of living in society.
In "A Pursuit Race," Hemingway shows a homosexual man who is, by all accounts, failing at his life. William Campbell, the advertising man for a burlesque show whose job is to stay ahead of the show for advance publicity, has slowed down too much; the show has caught up with him. When William Turner, his boss, visits him in his hotel room, he finds Campbell crumpled there, a drug addict living with his homosexual lover, his "wolf" who has met up with him again. Turner and Campbell have a conversation in which a very "hopped up" Campbell shows him the tracks on his arms and babbles about his life and his problems. Turner leaves Campbell and when he returns, he lets the man sleep. It is unclear what will happen, but it seems that Campbell may receive the help he needs because Tuner does seem to care about him. However, he has failed to make his own way independently in the world. He has failed to overcome temptations in order to make his wage responsibly. He has failed to be a man. This failure was not because he was a homosexual. He and his wolf had been together before, and he had still been able to do his job. However, the pressure had become too much, and he turned to drugs. Like Cohn and his Jewish identity, Campbell’s masculine failure was not because he was a homosexual; the pain of being a homosexual in a homophobic society had, however, been too much for him to handle. Like Hemingway’s own failure to overcome the torture of manhood, Campbell is not able to overcome the torture of his homosexuality.

In "Mother of a Queen," Hemingway presents another homosexual failure. Like one of the matadors from Death in the Afternoon, he is so cheap that he does not seem interested in paying twenty dollars to keep his mother’s bones buried. Told from the point-of-view of one of the members of the matador’s cuadrilla, the story’s basis is the narrator’s attempt to convince the matador to spend the money for his mother’s grave. The matador takes money from the cuadrilla’s cash box supposedly to take care of that business; however, he spends it on other things. Even though the matador has not paid him, the narrator stays involved in the matador’s personal business. When the final notice comes, telling them that the matador’s mother’s bones have been added to the public bone heap, the narrator is angered and becomes even more infuriated when the matador comes to him to get even more money out of the cash box to help a young punk from the matador’s home village. Thinking that this money should have been spent in his own mother’s memory, the narrator calls the matador a "motherless bitch" and finally leaves. Later, when the matador confronts the narrator about the rumors the narrator has been spreading about him, the narrator replies, "All I say is you never had a mother" – which is the strongest Spanish insult. The matador replies, "That’s true...My poor mother died when I was so young it seems as though I never had a mother. It’s very sad". The story ends with the narrator saying "There’s a queen for you. You can’t touch them. Nothing, nothing can touch them. They spend money on themselves or for vanity, but they never pay" (TSS, 419).
Although the story’s ending may seem like yet another insult to homosexual men by Hemingway, it is important to remember that the narrator in this tale, unlike the one in Death in the Afternoon, is not Hemingway but another character. Comely and Scholes write, "This ability to enter from his own views with mockery is one of Hemingway’s strong qualities as a writer, and one for which he is rarely given credit (129)." Like Campbell, the matador fails as a man because he does not take the responsibility that society says he should. In the matador’s case, the narrator is the voice of society; he is always reminding the matador of his responsibility and in the end, quite homophobic. For Hemingway, though, it is not Campbell or the matador’s homosexuality makes them failures, it is the ways they have chosen to live their lives
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