Autobiographies a Memoir or Autobiography Can Take Essay
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A memoir or autobiography can take on a myriad of different literary forms; for both Gertrude Stein and Ernest Hemingway self-reflection is best achieved through the eyes of other people. The impact of Hemingway's A Moveable Feast and Stein's The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas is remarkable: the creation of autobiographical material that is neither narcissistic nor self-centered. The authors achieve their literary feats in part by writing in a straightforward style of prose that characterizes the remainder of their respective canon of work. What impressionistic elements do add nuance and flourish to Hemingway and Stein's memoirs never becomes purple prose. Moreover, both A Moveable Feast and The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas are constructionist, or constructivist, texts in that the authors assemble a "self" for the reader. The "self" is not monolithic, but rather, pluralistic and multi-faceted. In spite of their rather basic use of prose elements, both Hemingway and Stein manage to create a complex character that the reader can relate to on multiple levels. Sex, creativity, psychology, and social identity are all themes in common to the Stein and Hemingway autobiographies. Both authors are American expatriates living in Paris and they in fact know one another, and refer to each other, in their memoirs. Of course, their different genders, backgrounds, experiences, and worldviews make A Moveable Feast and The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas divergent, offering singular perspectives and insights.
Hemingway and Stein both construct and portray the self through the eyes of others. For Hemingway, the construction of the self is achieved by his writing in first person as himself. Hemingway weaves together a series of what are otherwise stand-alone anecdotes; in fact, A Moveable Feast was posthumously put together by Hemingway's fourth wife Mary. The fact that A Moveable Feast was
posthumously assembled fits the overall theme, tone, and style of Hemingway's autobiographical work. After all, A Moveable Feast is about the construction of the self through the stories and/or perceptions of other people. Hemingway's fourth and last wife is part of Hemingway's personal narrative and she, too, contributes in a meaningful way to the construction of Hemingway's identity as he would like the world to see him.
Hemingway comes across at times as a bitter and sad man, whether or not he wanted the world to see him in that way. He gripes about the bad weather in Paris, the smells, and the drunks that roam the streets. From the first chapter, Hemingway's heavy outlook on life permeates the pages of the memoir. He writes, "All of the sadness of the city came suddenly with the first cold rains of winter, and there were no more tops to the high white houses as you walked but only the wet blackness of the street," (Chapter 1). Given that the author ended his life by his own hand, the heavy, intense, brooding character that Hemingway conveys is probably what the author intended. Hemingway continues to draw the reader into his bleak worldview, by criticizing his friends and fellow artists and writers. He seems to be tongue-in-cheek at times, making snide remarks about others as a sign of affection. About Gertrude Stein, Hemingway states, "In the three or four years that we were good friends I cannot remember Gertrude Stein ever speaking well of any writer who had not written favorably about her work," (from "Une Generation Perdue").
It is fruitful to compare Hemingway's portrayal of Gertrude Stein with Stein's own autobiographical material -- as well as her perceptions of Hemingway. Hemingway understandably acknowledges his simultaneous fascination with and fear of homosexuality. In "Miss Stein Instructs," Hemingway writes, "Miss Stein thought that I was too uneducated…
Sources Used in Documents:
Hemingway, Ernest. A Moveable Feast. Scribners.
Stein, Gertrude. The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas. Harcourt, Brace, 1933.
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