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Hemingway's Code Hero

Updated on May 27, 2011

Examples of Hemingway's Code Hero

Ernest Hemingway had distinct criteria for what he considered to be heroic behavior. These set of traits included grace under pressure, self control, self containment, courage, and personal honor.

Irving Howe (an American literary and social critic) said of this type of hero that he is someone “who is wounded but bears his wounds in silence, who is defeated but finds a remnant of dignity in an honest confrontation of defeat.” Two men from Hemingway’s short stories that exemplify these characteristics are Krebs from “Soldier’s Home” and the Major from “In Another Country”. Through these men we are able to get a clearer picture about what Hemingway considered heroism.

One of the most important aspects of the character of Harold Krebs is that he viewed himself as having behaved appropriately during the war, “He had been a good soldier. That made a difference” . The importance Krebs puts on this achievement shows that he is an honorable man. Another heroic quality that he possesses is that he is very self-contained. He had no wish to drone on about his experience during the war and feels ashamed when he tells lies about his experiences just so someone will listen to him. He also shows a certain disregard for women that Hemingway often assigns to his more heroic characters. This distaste comes in part from the fact that American women would expect him to do a great deal of talking. He was more comfortable with women who did not speak his language because, “there was not all this talking. You couldn’t talk much and you didn’t need to talk” . He also acts correctly by doing what he feels must be done, even against his own inclination. Such a situation is described in in the story, “He did not want to come home. Still, he had come” . He also has enough self control to reign himself in and give his mother what she needs- so though he no longer puts faith in prayer he still kneels with his mother. The story ends with Harold listing all the things that he must now do in order to fulfill his obligations to society. He will do these things without complaint because he accepts them as his duty or his orders. He is, after all, a good soldier and that counts for something.

The Major from “In Another Country” is also a classic Hemingway hero. This story is full of soldiers who were wounded in battle. The virtues of duty and bravery are heavily stressed throughout the story. None of the characters believe that the machines will improve their condition, but they do their duty and allow themselves to be tested. The Major calls the machines idiotic and claims that it is all nonsense, but despite this belief he accepts the treatments. The Major “does not believe in bravery” yet was courageous enough to rise through the ranks and become a Major. He is wounded, but deals with any pain he may feel in silence. His wounds are not only physical but emotional as well; the loss of his love affects him more deeply than the wound to his hand. He looses control once during the story and we learn about his ordeal- and it is telling that he breaks down over love rather than physical pain or fear. He fell victim to a woman and she ruined him, loving her makes him, “utterly unable to resign himself” to life without her. Despite this lapse in control and the breaking of the silence that is so large a part of Hemingway’s code, the Major is able to persevere. Though he cries he, “holds his head up looking at nothing, carrying himself straight and soldierly” . He accepts this defeat but salvages his dignity, first by calmly apologizing for his outburst, and later by stoically continuing to endure his time in the hospital. He takes time to come to terms with the hand fate has dealt him and does so alone and without any fanfare. He doesn’t return to the hospital for three days, but when he does he shows none of the emotions that he betrayed on the day his wife died.

Something that both these characters have in common is that they learn an aspect of the code during their story. Krebs learns to carry the order and regulations of his military career into his home life. The Major learns that women are an interference and that a man mustn’t marry lest he lose his masculinity. A man exists in his purest most simplistic form when he is alone. He also realizes that, “He should not place himself in a position to lose. He should find things that he cannot lose” and that verbalizing his sentiments only increased his pain.


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    • Angie Jardine profile image

      Angie Jardine 6 years ago from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ...

      Extremely good hub, Ragoness! Very lucid and well written. Welcome to Hubpages ... you've joined a great community.