Up in Michigan by Ernest Hemingway
In Up in Michigan by Ernest Hemingway we have the theme of independence, connection, innocence, gender roles, experience, obsession, disillusion and awareness. Taken from his The Complete Short Stories collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and after reading the story the reader realises that Hemingway, through his use of the setting of the story, may be exploring the theme of independence and gender roles and the possible incompatibility that may exist between the two main characters in the story, Jim Gilmore and Liz Coates. Jim is a blacksmith in Horton’s Bay who likes to spend a lot of his time outdoors hunting. He also likes to drink with his friends preferring their company over female companionship. There is also a sense that Jim lives his life as he sees fit without any restrictions, doing as he would like to do. If anything he is his own boss, independent of others with a responsibility only to himself. Liz on the other hand lives a totally different type of life as a waitress in the kitchen of Smith’s restaurant. Unlike Jim, who throughout the story does as he pleases or as mentioned is independent of others, Liz on the other hand remains fixed or stuck in Smith’s and is answerable to Mr and Mrs Smith. By highlighting to the reader the differences in Jim and Liz’s responsibilities and lifestyles Hemingway may be suggesting or highlighting to the reader that in life both men and women live very different types of lives with it being a case that men rather than women too have the capacity to be independent of others or self-reliant. It is also interesting that the roles that Hemingway ascribes to both characters, in today’s terms would be viewed upon as stereotypical gender roles. The man living his life outdoors and hunting and being self-reliant while the woman remains rooted to the kitchen, in essence as a potential homemaker or subservient to the man.
Hemingway’s physical description of both Jim and Liz may also be important. He describes Jim as being short and dark. It is possible that by doing so Hemingway is suggesting that Jim lacks the ability to grow (either emotionally or mentally) and how he appears in the story is how he will continue to remain. By also describing him as dark, Hemingway in many ways is foreshadowing what occurs at the end of the story when as many critics would suggest, Jim forces himself on Liz. It is also interesting that though Liz is considered to be the ‘neatest girl’ that Mrs Smith has ever seen and that she always wore a ‘clean gingham apron’ it is noticeable that both these descriptions of Liz relate more to her abilities as a waitress than to any abilities she may have as an independent woman. Also Mrs Smith describes Liz’s hair as being ‘always neat.’ Again this may be important as Mrs Smith appears to be placing an emphasis on Liz’s physical appearance or how attractive she may be. Which again may play on the role of gender with an importance being placed on how attractive a woman may be rather than an emphasis being placed on her abilities. Though it is worth noting that throughout the story Liz is attracted to Jim partially because of how he looks.
It may also be a case that Hemingway is exploring the theme of infatuation or obsession. Throughout the story Liz appears to continually think about Jim even going as far on some occasions as to watch him as he would walk along the road in Horton’s Bay. There is no doubting that Liz considers Jim to be psychically attractive however it may be a case that Liz’s obsession or infatuation with Jim is driven by her innocence and possible lack of experience when it comes to any type of engagement with men. Something that is noticeable when Jim grabs Liz while she is sitting in the kitchen pretending to read a book. Hemingway telling the reader that Liz ‘was terribly frightened, no one had ever touched her.’ This line apart from highlighting Liz’s innocence when it comes to any physical engagement with a man may also be important for another reason. At the time the story was written it would have been considered inappropriate for a woman to have had a lot of experience when it came to a physical relationship with a man with it being assumed that any physical engagement between a man and a woman should be instigated by the man. Which again may play on what many would today consider to be stereotypical gender roles. The female being submissive to the more dominant male.
The end of the story is also interesting as Hemingway appears to be exploring the theme of awareness and disillusion. Through the language that Hemingway uses at the end of the story the reader (if they had not already been aware) realises that Jim is not what Liz expected him to be. By using the words – cold, hurt, uncomfortable and miserable Hemingway manages to highlight to the reader how disillusioned Liz is after Jim has had sex with her. Just how disillusioned Liz actually is, is noticeable by the fact that after Jim has fallen asleep she begins to cry. Despite the narrator telling the reader ‘she was frightened but she wanted it’ it may be a case that Liz also wanted the connection that comes between two people when they are intimate rather than just having sex. While Jim on the other hand appears to have been driven by his need or desire to have sex with a woman without any meaningful connection. It is also interesting that Liz before she returns to her lodgings kisses Jim on the cheek and places her coat over his body. Though some critics may suggest that by doing so Liz will continue to pursue a relationship with Jim despite her being disillusioned with him and what has happened, it is more likely that she is showing her ability to be affectionate or caring unlike Jim and her own ability to connect with another person. By also ending the story with the line ‘a cold mist was coming up through the woods from the bay’ Hemingway may again be highlighting at least symbolically just how disillusioned Liz may be. Just as a mist makes thing difficult to see, likewise Liz may no longer view Jim in the same light. Also by describing the mist as cold Hemingway may be suggesting again symbolically, just how acutely aware Liz is that Jim is not what she thought.