The Sea Change by Ernest Hemingway
In The Sea Change by Ernest Hemingway we have the theme of pride, acceptance, forgiveness, independence, sexuality and conflict. Taken from his The Complete Short Stories collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator though for the main the story is a conversational piece. One of the most striking things about the story is that Hemingway appears to be exploring a subject that would have been taboo at the time the story was written, bisexuality. It becomes clear to the reader that the man is aware that his girlfriend has cheated on him but what surprises him more is the fact that she has had a relationship with another woman. Which in many ways makes it even more difficult for the man to accept. If anything Hemingway could be suggesting that the man’s ego has been deflated by his girlfriend cheating on him with another woman. It is possible that his pride cannot accept her infidelities with another woman. It is also possible that the man simply can’t comprehend why his girlfriend would be interested in having a relationship with another woman. Which in turn would suggest that the man has difficulty accepting an individual’s sexuality when it does not mirror his own.
It is also interesting that the man’s girlfriend is committed to both the man and her girlfriend. Assuring the man that she will return after meeting her girlfriend. Again at the time the story was writing this would have been ground-breaking. Introducing a bisexual character who is committed to two partners. If anything the man’s girlfriend, unlike the man himself, is confident of who she is and accepts her sexuality. For her it is not an issue and rather than seeing it as an obstacle as the man does she manages to live her life as she sees fit. She is independent of the man in many ways which causes conflict between the man and his girlfriend. He is unable to control her. She is her own woman. She knows what she wants and is non-conforming to societal ideals or norms (at the time).
The man’s consideration that his girlfriend’s actions are no more than ‘vice’ is also interesting as it suggests he is nowhere near being able to accept his girlfriend’s actions. He looks upon them in a negative, if not seedy light. Associating his girlfriend’s desires as being no more than a form of prostitution. This may be important as it not only highlights the difference in opinion between the man and his girlfriend but it also suggests that the man is stuck in his views. Hemingway possibly mirroring the man’s views on his girlfriend’s activities to those views held by society (again at the time the story was written). At no stage in the story does the man or his girlfriend reach common ground despite him suggesting that he will be there for her when she comes back. There is a sense that he does not understand his girlfriend’s sexuality and rather than completely isolating her he tells her that he will be there for her. Why the man decides not to completely isolate his girlfriend is probably based on his own insecurities and fears of being alone rather than on his acceptance of her sexuality.
It may also be important that the man tells James that he is a ‘different man’ as for the first time in the story the man appears to accept his girlfriend’s actions despite those same actions going against his core. However change is difficult for the man and if anything his belief system has been shaken. Which is probably the point that Hemingway is trying to make. The man again through his own insecurities or inability to handle the situation of his girlfriend’s bisexuality realises that should he wish to stay with her (and he appears to want to). He has to accept her for who she is. Even if that acceptance leads to an unwelcome change within the man. There is also a sense that the man has swallowed his pride. He is no longer as objectionable to his girlfriend’s actions. It is also possible that the man has forgiven his girlfriend for her infidelities or at least her perceived infidelities. Though he still remains unhappy about her actions.
The final line in the story is also interesting because it adds a sense of normality to the story. James is unaware of the conflict that exists within the man over his girlfriend’s sexuality. He is also unaware of their conversation and the difficulties that the man is encountering while trying to accept his girlfriend’s sexuality. If anything James is carrying on as normal, as would be expected. Which may be the point that Hemingway is trying to make. By including a relatively harmless or ‘normal’ conversational line at the end of the story. Hemingway may be suggesting that the man’s girlfriend’s actions should also be considered normal. That no individual should be discriminated against or criticized because of their sexuality. Regardless of society’s views on an individual’s sexuality the reality is that each individual is the same and should be accepted for who they are.