Masculinity in Ernest Hemingway’s The Garden of Eden (Chapter Four).

Chapter Four

        Masculinity Traits in The Garden of Eden


The Garden of Edenwas criticized for the unusual gender role system it tackles; it portrays a completely different set of norms and attitudes concerning the gender role in its characters, David and Catherine Bourne. The story begins with the romantic scenes between the couples where all that they do is to eat, to love and to sleep. Further, the story takes other dimensions where Catherine witnesses a shift a her gender role starting a series of changes; taking off the female appearance little by little till she starts changing internally; she demands the right to take the man role in the relation where she calls herself Peter. Yet, the story deviates again in a triple relationship when the couple meets Marita. Marita becomes Catherine’s lover first, then the refuge of David whom he consider as his rescuer from Catherine’s insanity. By the end, David gains the love of Marita and Catherine goes away.

The novel represents a historical documentation to the 20th century American society. Hemingway is affected by the trauma of war and he mirrors the fact of the American citizens by the beginning of the century. Masculinity and sexuality were the core of the socio-cultural changes and the subject of literary investigation. In this chapter, the researcher is to depict the main masculinity traits that highlighted the shift of gender roles and the ways in which these traits were attributed to the characters in Hemingway’s style.

Avoidance of Femininity

One of the masculinity traits attributed to the 20th century Western Masculine ideology is the avoidance of femininity, which is used as a scale in the Gender Role Strain Paradigm Theory (Levant et al, 2016). This scale is measured by three items: firstly, men should watch football games instead of soap operas; secondly, a man should prefer watching action movies to reading romantic novels; thirdly, boys should prefer to play with trucks rather than dolls (Levant et al, 2016). The novel may not uphold those items clearly, so the study is to replace those items by some approximate characteristics like softness and smoothness. Tracing the attitudes of the characters throughout the story is to determine the presence of such feminine qualities which if it is positive, then the novel achieves one of seven steps toward the 20th century American masculinity.

As discussed earlier in the previous chapter, Catherine Bourne tries to reverse her gender identity as a way to become the dominant part in the relation. Hemingway introduced her as one of the destructive types:

I’m the destructive type,” she said. “And I’m going to destroy you. They’ll put a plaque up on the wall of the building outside the room. I’m going to wake up in the night and do ‘something to you that you’ve never even heard of or imagined. (The Garden of Eden, p.5)

Catherine becomes dangerous, and threads David in a way to make him worried. As a female character, she is supposed to be kind and lovely; however, she is passive and dark. Levant & Richmond (2007) mark that the masculine man should avoid all sort of acts that could be constructed as feminine. Accordingly, Catherine is being a man and behaves like a masculine one.

David has been portrayed at the beginning also as the independent writer who enjoys life and fishes by his own. The scene when he fishes near to the café imitates his independency. The waiter approaches and asks to help David, but the latter refuses:

He’s got my arm tired,” the young man said. “Do you want me to  take him?” the waiter asked hopefully. “My God no.” (The Garden of Eden, p.9)

Next, changing her haircut, Catherine reflects the transformation physically in a way  to be like a boy, as David, the thing that she likes especially when people have thought brother and sister of them (Mintler, 2008). The next scene illustrates how Catherine desires the change:

Her hair was cropped as short as a boy’s ”You see,” she said. ”That’s the surprise. I’m a girl. But now I’m a boy too and I can do anything and anything and anything.” “Sit here by me,” he said. ”What do you want, brother.” “Oh thank you,” she said. “I’ll take what you’re having. You see why it’s .dangerous, don’t you?” (The Garden of Eden, p.14-15)

She considers her act of transforming into a boy as an act of freedom. She gets impressed and thanks David for calling her ‘brother’. The idea of being a man is getting an obsession later. However, these changes are not accepted socially:

No decent girls had ever had their hair cut short like that in this part of the country and even in Paris it was rare and strange and could be beautiful or could be very bad. (The Garden of Eden, p.16)

Hemingway portrays the acts of Catherine as unusual, which denotes that those definitions are new and differ from the ones of the Victorian era. This remarks the beginning of new era. Catherine makes a distance between her and the female gender next by referring to her breasts as ‘dowry’:

They’re just my dowry,” she said, ”The new is my surprise. Feel. No leave them. They’ll be there. Feel my cheeks and the back of my neck. it feels so wonderful and good and clean and new. Please love me David the way I am. Please understand and love me.” (The Garden of Eden, p.17)

Catherine does deny her anatomical organs (Mintler, 2008); they represent to her an obstacle which denies her the liberty; she would like to scream “I’m a boy!”. Asking David to accept her new identity as a boy, she seeks the freedom to the female to demolish to socially constructed identity on women (Zabala, 2007). Actually, she does it, telling David to consider her Peter and that he is to play the role of Catherine:

You’re Catherine.””No. I’m Peter. You’re my wonderful Catherine. You’re my beautiful lovely Catherine” (The Garden of Eden, p.17)

She takes the male role, and prepares David psychologically.The next conversation between the Bournes shows that Catherine is more likely thinking of the change in different ways again; she asks David:

Did you think I could ever be this dark?” “No, because you’re blond.” “I can because I’m lion color and they can go dark. But I want every part of me  dark and it’s getting that way and you’ll be darker than an Indian and that takes us further away from other people. You see why it’s important. (The Garden of Eden, p.30)

Again, being blond makes the feminine features of her visible what may she struggles with again. Yet, she still considers the change as important and marks it as her ultimate goal. Marita notices the change when they meet her and she tells her that she is more feminine than her, which means that Catherine has started losing her feminine side:

But I’m also more of a woman than you are Catherine.””I did try and I  broke myself in pieces in Madrid to be a girl and all it did was break me in pieces,” Catherine said. “Now all I am is through. You’re a girl and a boy both and you really are. You don’t have to change and it doesn’t kill you and I’m not. And now I’m nothing”. (The Garden of Eden, p.192)

Catherine femininity is lost. Her new identity is a male’s identity, and the way she expresses her sufferance and torture in order to play the girl’s role explains it. Her avoidance of femininity becomes inherent in her psychology; she thinks that she is far away of what defines the female.

Importance of Sex

According to Levant et al (2016), the importance of sex comes with three items: men should always like to have sex, a man should not turn down sex and man should always be ready for sex. Accordingly, The Garden of Eden tackles the theme of sexuality. The beginning of novel introduces Catherine and David as passing their honeymoon in Europe; they are enjoying their evening at the hotel, starving for food and sex:

They had made love when they were half awake with the light bright outside but the room stilI shadowed and then had lain together and been happy and tired and then made love again. (The Garden of Eden, p.4)

This is their pleasure. It makes them feel safe and loved, at least at the beginning of  the relation. However, when they wake up and go to the café, Catherine wonders if it is something normal to feel hungry after sex; which means that she has not been inexperienced with that feeling and that attitude. At the café, Catherine and David make the next conversation:

”What are you thinking?” the girl asked. “Nothing.”
”You have to think something.” “I was just feeling.”
“But I get so hungry,” she said.”Is it normal do you think? Do you always get so hungry when you make love?”
“When you love somebody.”
“Oh, you know too much about it,” she said. “No.”
“I don’t care. I love it and we don’t have to worry about any. thing do we?” .
“Nothing.” (The Garden of Eden, p.5)

David gives her a feedback that he does not care. However, Catherine changes her attitudes and shows her will to take the lead when she penetrates David after reversing the sexual role with him in bed later that evening:

He lay there and felt something and then her hand holding him and searching lower and he helped with his hand and then lay back in the darn and did not think at all and only felt the weight and the strangeness inside (The Garden of Eden, p.17)

David is interested in making love, which is what makes him feel hungry, and that emphasizes the urging of his desires for love. In one evening, he felt so hungry again for making love: “In the cafe he found the paper and ordered himself a fine a l’eau because he felt empty and hollow from making love” (The Garden of Eden, p.13). Once they sleep and eat, they start love again and again: “Now when they had made love they would eat and drink and make love again. It was a very simple world and he had never been truly happy in any other” (The Garden of Eden, p.14). He takes the masculinity measures that endorse the importance of sex; if he is to fill his hunger, he would be prepared to make sex.

In another scene, David complains about his wife’s haircut, for being shorter and shorter, but she ends the talk by asking him to make love: “”Don’t worry about it being too classic,” she said.”My mouth balances it. Now can we make love?”” (The Garden of Eden, p.47). It seems here that making love is the concern of David; the moment he hears the magic word, he kneels for it:

Then he thought of them, not critically, not as any problem of love or fondness, nor of obligation nor of what had happened or would happen nor of any problem of conduct now or to come, but simply of how he missed them. He was lonely for them both, alone and together, and he wanted them both (The Garden of Eden, p.132)

He is in need to make love, even though he might deny it, but the way he misses them both says so. After they meet Marita, David makes love with her; Catherine is no more available to entertain him, she becomes furious and anxious:

When they were lying together Marita said, ”You don’t think about her when you make love to me?”
“No, stupid.”
”You don’t want me to do her things? Because I know them all and I can do them.”
“Stop talking and just feel. (The Garden of Eden, p.185)

Again, it is so important to him that he prefers to be silent when making love. His nature is passive and he focuses on the feeling of the love he has made; it is important that he enjoys this feeling. In the next passage, Hemingway portrays David as a person whom sex makes him feels relief:

He had many problems when he married but he had thought of none of them here nor of writing nor of anything but being with this girl whom he loved and was married to and he did not have the sudden deadly clarity that had always come after intercourse.(The Garden of Eden, p.13)

The act of sex helps him to be focused; he manages to forget the many problems he has. In order to reveal that particular side of David, Hemingway uses long sentence structures which are normally attributed to the passive character. This passage could be also interpreted as a part of David’s restrictive emotionality. Hence, David is a passive silent character.

Restrictive Emotionality

The third masculinity trait proposed by Levant (2016) is the restrictive emotionality which stands for three features: a man should never admit when others hurt his feelings, he should be detached in emotionally charged situations, and he should not be too quick to tell others that he cares about them. Therefore, the researcher is to illustrate the presence of the previously mentioned features in the novel.

David Bourne represents the passive character in the story, he is too careful not to express his emotions; he is limited in his expression of emotions. With regard to David, it could be argued that he is given this quality at least to have one masculine trait. He shows fewer emotions than Catherine. Generally, David’s feedbacks are short and direct that his character is kept a mystery. In a discussion he has with Catherine:

”What are you thinking?” the girl asked. “Nothing.”
”You have to think something.” “I was just feeling.”
“But I get so hungry,” she said. “Is it normal do you think? Do you always get so hungry when you make love?” “When you love somebody.”
“Oh, you know too much about it,” she said
“No.” (The Garden of Eden, p.5)

The way to which David responds to his wife expresses that he feels something, but he avoids further discussion by saying: ‘Nothing’; Catherine insists on him to tell her, but again he avoids to reveal his true feelings: ‘I was just feeling,’ again she asks about his feeling, and he replies simply: ‘Happy’. Catherine is the vocative one, she pushes David to reveal his emotions of rage. Yet, David keeps his anger secretly by the process of thinking; he rarely expresses his emotions of rage, instead, he responds and reacts normally. The next passage illustrates this way of keeping the expressed emotions:

We’d have good times the way we did this morning. Tell her David.” The hell with her, David thought. Fuck her.
“Don’t be silly,” he said. “Call Monsieur Aural please,” he told the boy who served. (The Garden of Eden, p.97)

Again, David thinks in rage, yet he behaves giving no sign of stress; the power to act in this manner is what characterizes a side of his masculinity; he can control himself and that is one feature of the restrictive emotionality he possesses; a man should be detached in emotionally charged situations.

Even in his writings, David avoids revealing his emotions and feelings. His father attitude toward him is harsh, it hurts David, yet he does not mention it in his fictional story: “Finally, he knew what his father had thought and knowing it, he did not put it in the story”. (The Garden of Eden, p.146-147). There is here a clear stand for the feelings in the attitudes of David. Hemingway reveals the patient side of David to the reader as a non tragic character:

He was not a tragic character, having his father and being a writer barred  him from that, and as he finished the whiskey and Perrier he felt even less of one. He had never known a morning when he had not waked happily until the enormity of the day had touched him and he had accepted this day now as he had accepted all the others for himself. He had lost the capacity of personal suffering, or be thought he had, and only could be hurt truly by what happened to others (The Garden of Eden,p.148)

In the novel, David has one of the cold qualities, most likely he is harassed emotionally. He feels no more his sufferance. Nevertheless, he feels others’. He cares and thinks of them in a way to fill his emotional gap of unrevealed feelings.

In his fiction, David feels the sufferance of the elephant he writes about; he cares  about it because he believes that he was the reason behind its capture. Again, David thinks but never tells: “”He doesn’t know or care really.” I care, David thought.” (The Garden of Eden, p. 181).

David seems to maintain the third feature that a man should not be too quick to tell others that he cares about them. He responds to his father’s comments, but he does secretly. However, David releases his thoughts, but he does it unconsciously. Catherine proposes to take nap with both Marita and David, and David responds in a sheer soft way without him knowing:

“But I’ve spoiled it now and I wish is we could all just make siesta together. “Not siesta,” David heard himself say. (The Garden of Eden, p.149)

What David says capture his own attention for a while, for he is not used to express his emotions. Accordingly, we understand, as readers, that David’s emotions are separated from him and that he is not habituated to express his feelings or rejections in this way. These feelings are the same as the early 20th century modernism era, where the American citizen was looking for his identity by questioning the self.

The end of the first chapter in the novel summarizes David’s personality; it is left at the end to conclude something about the character. It announces the beginning of the end, where David witnesses Catherine shifting her gender role with him, so he says goodbye and farewell to the old persona:

He held her close and hard and inside himself he said goodbye and then goodbye and goodbye.”Let’s lie very still and quiet and hold each other and not think at all, “he said and his heart said goodbye Catherine goodbye my lovely girl goodbye and good luck and goodbye (The Garden of Eden, p.18)

David hardly holds his wife inside him; he is trying to keep whatever remains of her, or more probably, taking her lovely femininity which may signify his passivity as a character in the novel. Moreover, he says ‘goodbye’; this signifies his kept emotions that he does not want her to hear the words, but rather to feel them. She is turning into a man and David is spending his last moments with his beloved ex-Catherine. Even when David feels disturbed, he avoids the confrontation:

“I’d like to go in and dean up if I may;” he said.
“Don’t be so bloody false polite,” Catherine said. (The Garden of Eden, p.156)

Thus, David is emotionally restricted which it characterizes the masculine persona of the 20th century American masculinity.

Negativity towards Sexual Minorities

Negativity toward sexual minorities is proved when man believes that homosexuals should never marry; all homosexual bars should be closed down and homosexuals should never kiss in public (Levant et al, 2016).Marita and Catherine are the homosexual elements in the novel. It all starts when Catherine and David meet Marita in the café where they used to  sit and to enjoy the breeze of the morning. After Catherine’s gender role shift, she starts looking for a partner where she could release her ‘Peter’. Marita accepts Catherine’s idea and makes love with her, but David rejects it. Novelli (2013) suggests that Catherine’s character has two dimensions, a female dimension when she is the lovely sexy girl and a reversal gender role when she transforms into ‘Peter’.

It first starts when Catherine tells David about the kiss she has had with Marita on the way back home, she likes it and feels happy with it. David’s reaction to Catherine’s statement has not been verbal; he has said nothing: “He did not say anything.” (The Garden of Eden, p.114)

His act of silence expresses his refusal and his anger toward it, but his nature as emotionally restrictive limits his expression. David, probably in a try not to see what is going to happen further, decides to leave to Paris: “”I’m going up to Paris,” David said.”You can reach me through the bank. “” (The Garden of Eden, p.114)

Catherine refuses his departure and she begs him to stay and to stand by her side for what she had become:

“l can’t help you.”
“You can. You can’t go away. I couldn’t stand it if you went away. I don’t want to be with her. It’s only something that I have to do. Can’t you understand? Please understand. You always understand.”
“Not this part.”
“Please try. You always understood before. You know you did. Everything Didn’t you?”
”Yes. Before.”
“It started with us and there’ll only be us when I get this finished. I’m not in love with anyone else.”
“Don’t do it.”
“I have to. Ever since 1 went to school all I ever had was chances to do it and people wanting to do it with me. And I never would and never did.  But now I have to.”
He said  nothing. “Please know how it is.”
He did not say anything. (The Garden of Eden, p.114)

David shows a direct rejection for Catherine’s homosexual desires to Marita. He makes it clear that he is leaving for this reason. She tries to stop him in a way she reminds him of his participation in her queer act when they switched their sexual norms in bed. However, David remains silent, again, expressing his rejection. He is angry, for Catherine and Marita had sex together. When Catherine talks to him about Marita, he expresses his hatred:

“I talked a lot,” Catherine said. “I always talk too much. She’s awfully nice, David, if you knew her. She was very good to me.”
“The hell with her.” (The Garden of Eden, p.119)

Marita harms David’s feeling, for she helps Catherine to change. He calls her later using a nickname that expresses the way he feels:””And then only to the person who does it and a bloody bore to everyone else,” David said. “Do you agree, Heiress?”” (The Garden of Eden, p.120)

The ‘word heiress’ refers to the person who receives an amount of money or something valuable from a dead person. David refers to the new Catherine as a dead person, and to Marita as having pleasure with a corpus. He is transmitting a hidden message that concerns the lesbian relation they are involved with. A lesbian relation that David refers to directly as perversion: ”Do you agree, Heiress? About perversion?” (The Garden of Eden, p.120)

Marita replies that every first experience is special, and that it is good to do. She likes it. In a conversation with David, Catherine defends Marita’s relation with her; she argues that Marita did not committee any wrong, and that it is Peter whom Marita sleeps with. Yet, David rejects the idea and does not care since the relation is queer and unusual.

Earlier in the novel, by the end of the seventh chapter, Catherine asks David to kiss her. Since Catherine considers herself Peter, David considers the act of kissing her as a gay act. If a boy kisses a boy, it will sound strange and inappropriate:

“Can I kiss you and try?”
“Not if you’re a boy and I’m a boy.”
His chest felt as though there were an iron bar inside it from one side to the other. (The Garden of Eden, p.67)

David’s stand is obvious that he is against the queer relations of lesbians and gays. All in all, David represents the masculine trait of being negative toward one of the sexual minorities.

Dominance, Toughness and Self-Reliance through Mechanical Skills

 The three characteristics of dominance, toughness and self-reliance are involved in shaping the masculine identity of man (Levant et al, 2016). Masculinity requires many features that a man should have like leadership, being the boss, fitness, being tight, shrewdness and being skillful. David Bourne, the passive character in the novel, is not usually involved withrough physical activities. However, he is interested in taking care of himself through other skills as a writer: “”The book’s made some money already,” he told her” (The Garden of Eden, p. 25)

David’s work is then published, so he receives some money from it. This money represents David’s effort and role as the house ‘breadwinner’ which makes him the man of the house. Kimmel & Aronson (2004) argue about the role of man of the 20th century, stating  that: “Men are socialized to be the primary breadwinners, though this no longer holds for the generation approaching retirement age in the early twenty-first century”(p. 11). Accordingly, David feels responsible of Catherine. Thus, when she tries to take this role from him, he refuses this:

We’ll do everything you want. If you’d been a European with a lawyer my money would have been yours anyway. It is yours.”
“The hell with it.” (The Garden of Eden, p.27)

On the other hand, Catherine seems more self-confident than David, for she belongs to a rich family. She offers him help and money in many occasions:

“Do you have plenty of money?” “I’m quite all right on money.”
     “Really, David? Weren’t the stories worth a lot? It’s bothered me terribly arid I know my  responsibility. I’ll find out and do exactly what I should. (The Garden of Eden, p.226)

However, David portrays himself as a hunter in the wildness hunting elephants with his father. His manly needs and repressed desires for strength are portrayed in his journeys in Africa: “David had killed two spur fowl with his slingshot out of a small flock that had walked across the trail just before the sunset” (The Garden of Eden, p.172)

David shapes his heroic identity through his fictional character. He also names the main character in the story after his name to reinforce this portrait. The use of guns and the jungle life feeds his masculinity as an actual writer. In contrast, sometimes David’s attitudes portrays signs of weakness, usefulness and clueless. He is physically weak and not used to practice sport, and therefore he feels tired when he takes his bicycle in a tour:

He dressed, still wet from the sea and put his cap in his pocket, then climbed up to the road with his bicycle mounted, driving the machine up the short hill feeling the of training in his thighs as he pressed the balls of his, feet on pedals with the steady climbing thrust (The Garden of Eden, p.132)

He exploits the narrative he writes to compensate his lack of masculine mechanical skills. For instance, he can’t fix the brakes in the car, so he takes it to a garage in at the town center:

David had planned to send the two girls to swim and then to take the old Isotta down to Cannes to have the brakes fixed and the ignition overhauled (The Garden of Eden, p.135)

Though he imitates signs of an adventurer who lives in the wildness, he is too emotional when it comes to the elephant which his father intends to kill. David feels ashamed, for he considers the act of guiding his father to the elephant as a betrayal to the animal; this softness affects his masculine character:

The bull wasn’t doing anyone any harm and now we’ve tracked him to where he came see his dead friend and now we’re going to kill him. It’smy fault. I betrayed him. (The Garden of Eden, p.181)

In short, all the characters in the novel lack the appropriate values of dominance, toughness and self-reliance. David is weak psychologically and physically; he tries over to build a strong personality using his novel as a medium to, but he fails. On the other hand, Catherine’s stand as the supportive and the suspensor comes from her rich origin as well as her desire for the change.


Chapter Four aimed to reveal the 20th century masculine traits by analyzing the characteristics of the main characters in Hemingway’s The Garden of Eden. The analysis revealed that the characters portray four of the seven masculinity norms set by Levant et al, (2016), the restrictive emotionality, the negativity toward sexual minorities, the avoidance of femininity and the importance of sex. On the other hand, the novel does not involve the other three criteria of self-reliance through mechanical skills, dominance and toughness. Hemingway’s concerns were more involved in the sexual life of the characters rather than their domination upon one another.

General Conclusion

The American society witnessed a great shift in gender role definitions by the early twentieth century as a result of new modernism era. After a history full of political and social conflicts, the American citizen found himself lost and estranged in his society. Industrialization, urbanization and the new lifestyle forced him to reconsider his old believes upon his social life. Since manhood is the center of his life and progress, masculinity and sexuality were his main concerns. In order to investigate those new concepts, the American citizen took advantage of literature as a free enchained tool to share his concerns with society. Ernest Hemingway devoted his literature to explore manhood and sexuality across the life of his fictional characters.

The present study investigated Hemingway’s portrait of those notions through his posthumous novel, The Garden of Eden. As an American citizen and a former soldier affected by the trauma of modernism, Hemingway fictionalized the fragmented reality of the twentieth century by reversing gender roles, and he abandoned the old notions of manhood as a sign of its demolition. Considering the gender role shift in the American society, gender studies suit the analysis of manhood and sexuality’s definitions across the novel.

The Bournes in The Garden of Eden portray the sexual and the emotional side of the twentieth century American masculinity. The homosexual and the lesbian queer relations among the characters define the reality of the American citizen who was restricted emotionally, was negative toward sexual minorities, was reluctant to femininity and was interested in sex.

This study represented one first step toward further future researches. If masculinity was proved in the novel, one would investigate the presence of femininity traits as well, for their presence together is something more likely to be. In this case, the femininity is to be investigated on the male character, David, in the same way the analysis took place in this research work. If the masculine characteristics were attributed to a female character, the female characteristics as well would be probably present in the male character within the story. Finally, we hope that the present study revealeda number of significant facts on the gender role shift which occurred by the late of the nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth century in the US society.



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Amine Allane

Hiii I'm Amine Allane, born in El Meniaa-Algeria on April 91. I had my master degree in English language in 2017 from UKM-Ouargla in Anglo-Saxon Literature. An optimistic common person with a vital spirit ! I like discussing, sharing, criticizing and experiencing life ! Your are welcome for any further contact ! Politique47@gmail.com It's Never too late !

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