A common feature of most of Ernest Hemingway’s books is his use of a hero character. More specifically, there is usually two types of hero: a code hero and a Hemingway hero. The latter is usually a young character who has plenty to learn about life and its trials, whereas the former is usually older and has a greater level of life experience and frequently acts in a mentoring-style role to the younger Hemingway hero (Tyler 29). These dual types of heroes are presented throughout his body of works and in particular, the character Nick Adams who featured in a number of ‘episodes’ written by Hemingway as he addressed Adams’ coming of age. In A Way You’ll Never Be, Adams is recovering from a head injury and portrays the Hemingway hero whereas his superior officer, Major Paravicini, is the code hero who worries about Adams’ recovery. However, in Fathers and Sons, Hemingway presents Adams as being the code hero to his son’s Hemingway hero: in doing this, Hemingway is demonstrating his understanding of how one character can progress from one type of hero to the other. Hemingway addresses the idea of heroes again in A Day’s Wait where he inverts the two roles to play on the idea of who is heroic and how. The types of Hemingway heroes can be seen throughout literature.
In A Day’s Wait, Hemingway presents a father and a son: the latter is unwell and running a temperature, the boy overhears the doctor telling his father that it is 102 degrees. The usually calm, collected and experienced code hero is the older figure who, traditionally, should be the father here. However, the boy is strangely calm in spite of his fear that the doctor has given him a bad prognosis and it this calm and stoic approach to this fear which gives the boy an air of being older and wiser, particularly when he asks his father: “About how long will it be before I die?” (“A Day’s Wait” 30). However, the boy’s misunderstanding and immediate fear demonstrates that despite his panic and concern, the father is still very much the code hero in this story as he proves to be older and wiser than his son. This idea of inverting the father and son roles causes the reader to question whether the characters are fulfilling their expected roles as Hemingway hero and code hero. The author Nick Hornby often does this too and never more so than in his book, About a Boy. The story revolves around a young boy who ‘adopts’ a father figure in the form of Will Freeman – a man who has inherited wealth and so doesn’t work, is single and refers to himself as an ‘island.’ At the start of the book, both boy and man are arguably representative of the Hemingway hero as neither is particularly wise in all areas of life but by the end, they have each adopted more suitable roles – the boy loosens up and is more child-like whereas the man is more open to adult relationships and responsibilities.
In the next two stories, Hemingway presents the central character of Nick Adams. In the earlier story, A Way You’ll Never Be, Adams is a young man who has endured a head injury whilst at war. Again, Hemingway plays with the core ideas of the code hero and the Hemingway hero by contrasting Adams alongside the older, more experienced Major Paravicini but in their context, both the men have experienced horrific events in the course of the war: Adams discusses other American soldiers who have “…never been wounded, never been blown up, never had their heads caved in, never been scared…” (“A Way You…” 57) and implies that he has experienced such things making it easy to infer that he is not as innocent and naïve as the average Hemingway hero. In Fathers and Sons, Hemingway presents Adams as being the older, wiser code hero alongside his son’s Hemingway hero. This idea of one character spanning a series of stories to demonstrate their coming of age is demonstrated through The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. In the latter, Huck is the slightly older boy who encourages Tom into trouble and is, therefore, the code hero, but in the former of the two books, Huck is contrasted alongside the slave, Jim who is older and wiser and so becomes the code hero whilst Huck is relegated to being the Hemingway hero. The effect of this is to see how Huck’s maturity develops.
A further example of a code hero is Jay Gatsby from The Great Gatsby as he is devoted to his one true love, Daisy. Gatsby has been to war and has seen some of the world and experienced some of what it has to offer – making him an experienced and wise man who is able to offer wisdom and guidance. The antithesis of this is Gatsby’s love, Daisy Buchanan as she fails to see Gatsby for the strong man that he is and the devotion which he offers her – she is selfish and thoughtless and doesn’t, therefore, fit in with the Hemingway idea of heroes. The central issue surrounding either type of hero in Hemingway’s writing is that neither are extraordinary individuals – neither ever exhibit amazing powers or even notable physical prowess, but rather Hemingway’s heroes are strong individuals with experience of the world who assist the less experienced in their efforts to succeed in life.
Fitzgerald, Francis Scott. The Great Gatsby. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998. Print.
Hemingway, Ernest. “A Day’s Wait.” Spectrum an Anthology of Short Stories. Eds. Gunasekhar, P. & Sasikumar, J. Kolkata: Orient Longman Private Ltd, 1977. 27-33. Print.
Hemingway, Ernest. “A Way You’ll Never Be.” Hemingway on War. Eds. Hemingway, E et al. New York: Scribner, 2003. 51-61. Print.
Hornby, Nick. About a Boy. New York: Penguin Books, 2000. Print.
Twain, Mark. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. London: Penguin Books, 1986. Print.
Twain, Mark. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. London: Penguin Books, 1986. Print.
Tyler, Lisa. Student companion to Ernest Hemingway. Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 2001. Print.