Martha and Ernest, Town & Country
Notes from this story:
“The fronds of a royal palm” refers to the foliage of the palm tree
Sodium pentothal: Historically, it was used to induce medical comas, but it has been superseded with new drugs that have longer effects. Today, it is nicknamed the “truth serum” and it is used more frequently as a general anesthetic. Also known as sodium thiopental. Was also used as the first of three drugs in lethal injection, until the EU banned its export to the US. It’s been used in India as a truth serum, most notably with serial child killers Moninder Singh Pandher and his servant Surender Koli. Along with these examples, it’s also used as euthanasia and by psychiatrists to try and help treat phobias.
Electric shock: this is a procedure done under general anesthesia. It involves using small electric currents in the brain to trigger a brief seizure that is supposed to rewire parts of the brain. Used in modern time to cure severe depression, psychosis, mania, dementia, catatonia, and other medical issues where other treatments/medications are failing. It does have several risks including memory loss, confusion, physical pain, and heart problems. Hemingway is no stranger to electric shock treatment himself: he underwent thirty-six shock treatments for depression near the end of his life. the day after the last he committed suicide, which has led many to believe that the Mayo Clinic doctors that prescribed it to him are to blame for his death. Readers interested in Hemingway and Mental Illness should see the student essay "The Complexity of Hemingway’s Suicide" included on this website.
The lenten winds are a recurring motif in this story, referring to seasonal winds in early spring (during the Lenten season), that can cause problems for sailors. Cubans have superstitions that these winds bring bad luck.
Hemingway and Cuba:
The Finca Vigia: Hemingway’s house in Cuba. He lived here from 1939 to 1959. He bought it with his third wife, Martha, in December 1940 after renting it because she no longer wanted to be based in the Hotel Ambos Mundos in Havana.
Why study Hemingway in connection with Cuba?
Hemingway’s characters tell us he was less Cuban than he was an American-in-Cuba. His participation in the struggles and identity of the Cuban people was that of every American tourist: he spent American money (both from his writing and investments in American companies) on Cuban tourism. The characters in “I Guess Everything Reminds You of Something” act similarly in that the father offers the son writing exercises based only on local haunts—the market, not to shop but to observe; the cockfight; the casino, to “shake a few rounds of poker dice.” These characters may live among Cubans, but their paradigm and their actions are wholly American.
Relationship with Sons:
Some might think that Hemingway had a stronger relationship with his son Jack “Bumby” Hemingway, who he had with his first wife, Hadley. From reading his memoir of his early life, A Moveable Feast, one would think that Hemingway was more fond of Hadley than Pauline, who was the other woman he had children with. Jack was said to be more like Hemingway than the others, and bonded quite well with his father.
His son Gregory Hemingway, later known as Gloria, estranged from his father beginning at the age of 19. Gregory experienced gender dysphoria and occasionally dressed as a woman in public. He considered sex reassignment therapy in the 70s, and finalized the surgery in the mid 90s. He struggled with alcoholism and mental health issues, which he attributed to his parents refusal to accept his gender identity (The Strange Saga of Gregory Hemingway).
He had tried to make a reconciliation with his father in 1954 to congratulate him on his Nobel Prize and then received $5,000, and thereafter they had intermittent contact. Gregory wrote an account on his father’s life and their strained relationship that displayed the personal life of Hemingway, as well as stating his father was “tormented beyond endurance”.
The short story “I Guess Everything Reminds You of Something” reflects this strained relationship. The father’s dedication to disciplining his son to succeed as a shooter, a student, and a writer is no secret; while he invests so much into the son’s youth, he’s unsympathetic to the difficulties of adolescence, and to perceived notions of the boy’s femininity. Like his character Wheeler, Hemingway attempted to push his sons in the right direction. However, his concerns were misguided without proper affection and support; he’s more like a schoolteacher than a father, which eventually leads the boy to plagiarize a short story to seem like a better writer than he is. As shown above, he engaged his sons with masculine activities like fishing and shooting, but rarely went deeper than surface level activities with them.
Hemingway with his son Gregory.
Image credit: Robert Capa/International Center of Photography/Magnum Photos
From the left: Patrick, Jack (Bumby), Ernest, and Gregory. Image Credit: JFK Hemingway archive.
Post Mortem Publishing:
Many of Hemingway’s posthumously published works were done by his last wife, Mary Hemingway, and occasionally edited by his sons/grandchildren. One such example was A Moveable Feast, published in 1964 that was more of a memoir of his life. It detailed his first marriage and his associates with the Lost Generation in France. As a part of our study, we looked at The Finca Vigia edition of The Complete Works of Ernest Hemingway, published in 1987, which contains a Foreword penned by his sons Jack, Patrick, and Gregory. We concentrated specifically on the few stories that address Cuba.
Notes on the Hemingway sons' Forword to the Finca Vigia edition of Hemingway's short stories:
In this short introduction, Hemingway's sons reflect on what it was like spending time with their father at his home in Cuba. They reference two of Hemingway's four wives, Martha, with whom he first bought the Finca, and Mary, whom he later married and lived with there. The authors bring much color to our understanding of what the natural life of the place was like: "the whistling call of the bobwhites" (xi), the guinea fowl (that originally came from Africa, along with the Manigua thicket) and flamboyante trees; they also describe the humid heat of the chubascos, monsoon season, and the hurricane level gales. Their fondest memories are of pigeon shooting, attending jai alai matches, and sailing trips aboard their father's boat, The Pilar. Many of these references echo the short story "I Guess Everything Reminds You of Something," which is included in this edition and "Great News from the Mainland" also appears to refer to a biographical episode that occurred when the boys were visiting Hemingway in Cuba one summer. Although his sons note in this edition that Hemingway wrote less fiction during this time, (instead, writing many personal letters), the allure of this new edition is that it contains "the stories that were written or only came to light after he came to live at the Finca Vigia" (xiii).
Mary and Ernest, The Guardian
Guinea Fowl, so called because it originated in Africa. Source: Birds of Cuba.
Flamboyant tree in Veradero, Cuba. Sandra Rodriguez, Flikr.com
Hemingway, with Marlin catch, onboard his boat The Pilar. Image source: hearboatsing.com
Winslow Homer (1836-1910): an American painter who focused on marine, water imagery.
Homer, Winslow. The Gulf Stream. Metropolitan Museum of Art: New York City, 1899.
The boys' forward begins with two telling allusions. The first is a mention of the play "The Cherry Orchard," an allusion to the famous play by Russian playwright Anton Chekhov that was written in 1903. The plot of the play centers around a Russian landowner who sells her family’s estate and cherry orchard. Nobody wants to buy it, so she has to sell it to a former serf. The play ends with the sound of chainsaws cutting the orchard down. The Finca Vigía, Hemingway’s home in Cuba, was thankfully spared this end at his death in 1961. The Cuban government acquired it (though whether by force or received as a gift is contested) and turned it into a museum dedicated to Hemingway’s life. Is this a sly reference to the fact that the boys did not inherit their father's home? The second compares the Cuban landscape to that depicted by Winslow Homer, as in the image above, which is reminiscent of Hemingway's character in The Old Man and the Sea, who must defend his catch against a school of sharks.
Scene from "The Cherry Orchard." Moscow Theatre for the Arts, 1904.
Bonnaud, Guillaume. Jai Alai. Getty Images.
Professional Jai alai players: a sport involving a ball that is bounced off a walled space
For a vivid picture of what Cuba looked like during the time that Hemingway lived there, see the Netflix documentary Cuba Libre. It chronicles the disparity between the rich and the poor that led to Castro's revolution. (See our timeline for more info.)
Cuban president (and later military dictator) Fulgencio Batista and Meyer Lansky, a 20th-century mafia boss, were known to be political contemporaries in a certain way: the American mafia used money from its exploits to build hotels and casinos in Havana, which in turn funded Batista’s regime (Worrall). With this said, casinos were a massive haunt for American tourists. This shaped Cuba’s economy to center largely around casino tourism: in 1956, these casinos contributed $30 million to the economic sector (Farber).
Ralph Morse, LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
"Great News from the Mainland" is a very short story (just two and a half pages) set in Cuba. In the story a Mr. Wheeler (living in Cuba) is getting an update on the state of his son's condition, who seems to be undergoing treatment for mental illness abroad. It may be based on Hemingway's son Patrick, who suffered a psychotic episode in Cuba after a car accident. See Ken Burns's interview with Patrick Hemingway in the PBS documentary for a portrait of how upset Hemingway was by his son's condition; it offers a counterpoint to the idea that Hemingway was a distant father, as Patrick remembers him as a diligent caretaker at this point in his life. Even though the news of his son's condition is coming "from the Mainland," the narrator makes many comments upon the natural setting, include strange weather.
Lenten winds blow storm surge over the Malecon in Havana. Image Credit: radiogritodebaire.com
Lent: a Christian religious period that occurs during the six weeks leading up to Easter. Many devotees fast for forty days to remember Jesus’ sacrifice, reflecting the forty days Jesus spent in the wilderness in Matthew 4. Roman Catholicism is Cuba’s primary religion, though syncretic Christian beliefs such as Santería, a blend of Catholicism and Yoruba, are also common on the island. In 1959, religious Cubans were barred from joining the Communist Party, which didn’t change until 1991; in 2015 the Cuban government officially made a statement about their allowance of religion on the island following a historic visit by Pope Francis. Still, it’s a complicated subject for most Cubans who remember the government’s fierce opposition to religion.
"I Guess Everything Reminds You of Something"is an under-appreciated short story about the tensions between fathers and sons. In this story, we see a writer father trying to mold his son in his own image. They go to shoot clay pigeons and to the cockfights and the father is trying to give his son advice about writing. The son has shown a story he has written to his dad, and the father is impressed and asks probing questions about his influences. There is tension between them roiling beneath the surface, in an example of Hemingway's characteristic Iceberg principle. At the end of the story, it is seven years later and we are informed that there has been trouble between them and that the boy is "sick," which may be a reference to either Patrick or Gregory's problems. The father discovers that the son plagiarized the story from a book that was in his room.
Bimini islands: They are rocky islands in the Bahamas that Cubans are sometimes rescued from when they are trying to get to Florida. They can be seen on the right hand side of the image between Freeport and Andros Island.
Dog Rocks Island: They are a group of uninhabited islands with rocky coral and no vegetation. Many Cubans get stranded here while trying to make it to Miami. This can also be seen in Hemingway’s novel To Have and Have Not when Harry Morgan brings contraband to Florida.
Least terns: the smallest tern bird in the Americas. They are also very close to extinction, so it is also rare to see one, but the biggest colony of these birds lives on islands near the Bahamas. They are also called Killem Peters.
Far Away and Long Ago: a book by William Henry Hudson about growing up in Argentina. The story is an autobiography and a coming of age memoir about naturalist William Henry Hudson’s adolescence, in which Hudson discovers his own fascination with nature.
Five-finger exercises: piano exercises for pianists to strengthen the speed of finger movements on the keys.
The ‘cockfight’ referenced here is a blood sport in which two roosters are pitted against each other and made to fight. It’s commonly practiced in Cuba—“The sort of place families would go on a Sunday afternoon” (Voisin). In Castro’s 1959 revolution, it was heavily regulated and certain aspects of the practice were banned outright, which implies that “I Guess Everything Reminds You of Something” is set before Castro’s takeover (Boylan).
artofmanliness on pinterest.com
Map of Bimini Islands. 2007
Satellite View of Dog Rocks. 11 May 2020.
Eckerson, Jonathan. Least Tern Identification : Breeding Adult. Rhode Island, 2 Aug. 2015.
Far Away and Long Ago Book Cover from Amazon.
Mann, Martan. Five Finger Exercises. 29 Jan. 2011.
Håkan Rönnblad. hakanronnblad.com.