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Hemingway and Race

Ernest Hemingway had a complicated relationship with race in both his personal and writing life. In his writings, Hemingway appeared both racist and antisemitic – though he did make Getrude Stein who was Jewish his son’s godmother . But in his personal life, especially later in life, he apologized for his previous racist works and was friendly with people of other races and ethnicities well before it was considered commonplace.

Hemingway’s first book, The Sun Also Rises, published in 1926, contains several notable instances of antisemitism. The first example can be found on the first page of the book when the main character, Jake Barnes – who is an allegory for Hemingway in the book – talks directly to the reader about his “friend,” Robert Cohn. He discusses  why Cohn is less of a man than him in part due to his Jewishness. Later in the book, Jake Barnes uses the slur “kike” in a conversation regarding Robert Cohn. This is a slur to describe Jewish people . This shows that, at least early in his career, Hemingway held antisemitic thoughts and felt comfortable to include them in his writing. Furthermore, the character of Robert Cohn was based on Hemingway’s friend, Harold Loeb, who described his depiction in The Sun Also Rises as “The book hit like an uppercut”.





In Hemingway’s third book To Have and Have Not published in 1937 Hemingway wrote insensitively about Asian people and Black people. Hemingway started this book by having the main character, Harry Morgan, use the slur “Chinaman” to refer to all the Asian people in Havana. This showed Hemingway’s repeated anti-asian tropes towards Asian people because he used a slur to describe them. Later in the book, Morgan comes into hard times and resorts to smuggling for a Chinese gang. Hemingway then wrote a scene where Morgan brutally murders Mr. Sing, who is the leader of the gang, by choking him to death despite Mr. Sing's intention on keeping his deal with Morgan. Furthermore, Morgan appears to have no remorse and views Mr. Sing’s life as practically worthless (Chap 4). Finally Hemingway used the slur “Chink” to refer to the Chinese people that Morgan is smuggling into the United States. In addition to Hemingway’s racism towards Asian people in To Have and Have Not, Hemingway repeatedly used the n-word when describing a supporting character in the first act of the book. In total, Hemingway used the word eighty five times, and a majority of them are used to describe a deckhand Morgan hired to help run his boat. In addition to using the n-word in To Have and Have Not, Hemingway also used the word in several letters that he wrote to real people. As can be seen in Hemingway’s earlier works, he used several slurs to describe a multitude of people while also depicting them as being less than white men. 

Later in his life, Hemingway renounced some of his previous statements regarding black people as upon traveling to Africa near the end of his life, he felt that the men he hunted with deserved his full respect. He is quoted as saying “Twenty years ago I had called them boys too and neither they nor I had any thought that I had no right to. Now no one would have minded if I had used the word. But the way things were now you did not do it. Everyone had his duties and everyone had a name”. Though this does not excuse his previous writings, it does show that Hemingway’s ideas about race evolved as he got older; as he apologized for his previous statements about the black men he hunted with while in Africa and emphasized his new found respect towards them. As can be seen, Hemingway had a tumultuous time in regards to race because he emphasized racist tropes and language in at least two of his books. 

Ernst Hemingway (right) and Harold Loeb next to Hemingway on their trip to Spain that inspired The Sun Also Rises

Also pictured Lady Dung Twysden next to Hemingway with the hat, Hadley (Hemingway's wife and, Pat Guthrie (right)

Image of Hemingway on his second trip to Africa 

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