Revisiting Hemingway’s ‘Tough Guy’: Complexity Beyond Hollywood’s Stereotypes

  When mentioning Hemingway, readers will think of his title of “tough guy writer”. But today, the “tough guy” in the Internet context is somewhat different from the “tough guy” in Hemingway’s works. This is largely due to the “tough guy” characters in Hollywood. The “tough guys” we are used to talking about today either have abilities far beyond ordinary people, or have various adventures brought about by the protagonist’s halo. In short, the reason why they can be tough and persistent always relies on many privileges (think of Iron Man’s net worth of over 100 million).
  In Hemingway, the image of “tough guy” is much more complex and profound, and compared with the invincible “masculine power”, the “tough guy” in his works is naturally tragic, sometimes even close to The opposite of the Hollywood “tough guy.” They do not have extraordinary strength, and their luck may be worse than ordinary people. For example, in Hemingway’s early work “The Sun Also Rises”, the protagonist Barnes was seriously injured in World War I, resulting in sexual dysfunction. Metaphorically speaking, he is a “castrated” person, least capable of “masculine power.” But Hemingway wanted to write “elegance under pressure” from such a incomplete situation.
  ”The Sun Also Rises” also describes the bullfighter Romero. He is young, brave and has superb bullfighting skills. At first glance, it’s easy to think of Romero as a quintessential “tough guy.” He never admits defeat. Cohen knocks him down time and time out of jealousy, but he still refuses to admit defeat and stands up to fight back again and again, which finally breaks Cohen’s psychological defense. He also has superb professional skills and fearless courage. Despite his injuries, he completed a thrilling bullfight with extremely high professional skills. These are all “tough guy” styles. The beautiful heroine Brett in the book was attracted by the youthful vitality of the matador, but after living with him, she soon realized that he “cannot live with anyone” and she was unwilling to marry him because That meant asking her to change her appearance and behavior to become “more like a woman. Then I would really look like a monster.” When readers read this, it is easy to think of the “seven-eighths” of the iceberg below the sea level that Hemingway never wrote about. The aggressive side of Romero’s “tough guy” character means tough demands on others.
  For Barnes, Romero is a kind of “tough guy typical” pressure. Barnes and Brett once fell in love, but due to their own sexual dysfunction, they could not be together, which was a heartache of his. But he also has to help Brett and Romero connect, which is such a huge pain. Romero symbolizes intact sexual energy, which is part of the “tough guy archetype.” The inability to become such a “typical” “tough guy” is the source of all of Barnes’ tragedy. Behind the “typical” “tough guy” is the pain of many “unable” people. This is also one of the key points in today’s gender theory reflection on social gender roles: a standard “masculinity” often becomes pressure.
  Some of Hemingway’s other short stories also show the “vulnerability” side of the “tough guy”. The short story collection “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” also has a story about bullfighting called “Capital of the World”. The story takes place in a hotel in Madrid, Spain. The protagonist Paco is a strong and energetic young man in the tavern. This hotel has hosted many bullfighters. Paco’s ideal in life is to become an outstanding bullfighter, for which he has secretly learned many bullfighting skills. The plot of this story is very simple, and most of it consists of daily and sterile chit-chat between bullfighters. The climax of the story is at the end: Enrique, another boy who washes dishes in the tavern, thinks that Paco’s bullfighting skills are not practical. “Everyone thinks bullfighting is fun. But you will be scared when the time comes.” Paco was not convinced. So they started a bullfight in the hotel using table legs with knives tied to them to simulate bull horns. In the end, Paco accidentally missed and was stabbed in the vital part with a knife, and died.
  This is a very darkly humorous short story. Almost in a few lines, the young, energetic Paco is suddenly reduced to a corpse bereft of illusions. This story starkly demonstrates the destructive side of the “tough guy” spirit. Courage is not inherently righteous, and unthinking courage can lead to destruction. The “tough guy” spirit is just like the motto in the story, “Everyone thinks it’s fun” and “But you will also be scared when the time comes.” Matador Romero has had countless successful experiences. He is a successful “tough guy”, but behind this glorious image of a typical “tough guy”, there may be many Barnes suffering and many Pacos dying. , all because of the excessive expansion of this “tough guy” spirit and people’s excessive boasting of it.
  Another classic impression of a “tough guy” is that he is taciturn. They always seem to have everything in mind and are calm and restrained. This is certainly very charming, but the other side of “calmness” may also be a lack of emotional expression. In several of Hemingway’s novels about the relationship between father and son, there are very honest descriptions of this helpless side of the “tough guy”. Representatives here are “Two Generations of Father and Son” and “I Guess, Whatever Reminds You of Something.”
  ”Two Generations of Fathers and Sons” uses the voice of a middle-aged father to connect the past and the present. He recalls his father who taught him hunting and fishing, as well as the feelings of his first love in his youth. One detail in the story is: his father asked him to wear his old vest, but as a young man he couldn’t stand the smell of the old vest and secretly threw it away. His father beat him for it. He held the shotgun and thought “I can kill him.” His father taught him many things, except sex and love. However, when his son asked him about his youth, he also quietly concealed those stories about love and first love. Between the two generations of father and son, many things have become cyclical, and emotional communication is still difficult. In “I Guess Whatever Reminds You of Something”, the father has been training his son to shoot, and the son is doing well, but he is not happy. He only wants to write and become a good writer. At the end of the story, the father discovered that the short story that made his son famous came from plagiarism. For a moment, he suddenly felt that “his son was never a good boy” and began to question his past education. “It turns out that being good at shooting has no meaning.” If I want to give some explanation, I would say that this is because all their previous education was only around excellence. The father has his father’s thoughts, and the son has his son’s thoughts. But there is no exchange of their emotional side in the whole story, and “thick barriers” appear. This is the saddest point.
  ”The Old Man and the Sea” is Hemingway’s most classic novel. From the perspective of “tough guy” image creation, this novel is also a masterpiece of returning to nature. Because he is honest enough, he can use the briefest strokes to present the complexity of the “tough guy” spirit. The old man Santiago had a glorious time in his prime. At that time, he was called “Champion” Santiago because of his outstanding strength. He used to catch big fish every day. But Hemingway placed the story in his twilight years, when he had not caught a fish for eighty-four days in a row, and his physical strength and energy were not as good as before. The boy who used to go to sea with him every day also went to sea with others because his parents thought he was “bad luck”. His physical strength is weakening and he is alone. It can be said that this is the time when he is least like a “tough guy”. And this is Hemingway’s understanding of “tough guy spirit”: only at such times can people’s spiritual power be most concentratedly reflected. “People can be destroyed, but they cannot be knocked down.” What is destroyed is the “body” that is ultimately limited, and what cannot be “knocked down” is the “spirit.”
  Hemingway placed the story in a person’s twilight years, when he was unable to become a “tough guy model”. It is precisely because of this that his portrayal of the old man is so profound and honest. This is the key to the immortality of this novel. For the abstract “tough guy spirit”, the most sincere expression is the inability to achieve it. Only by acknowledging his “fragility” can the image of “tough guy” become a monument in real life.

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