Analysis of Ernest Hemingway’s Up in Michigan

Ernest Hemingway’s Up in Michigan, published in 1923 in his first collection, Three Stories and Ten Poems, and more widely distributed in his 1938 collection The Fifth Column and the First Forty-Nine Stories, is one of his most famous stories for two simple reasons—because it was one of his stories that survived the “lost manuscript” tragedy of Hemingway’s early career and because of its graphic rape scene. There are certainly other reasons to read the story, but these two offer readers, students, and scholars insight into the young Hemingway’s attitudes toward sex and the publishing industry as well as a look at the style that Hemingway was developing early in his career. “Up in Michigan” tells the story of Liz Coates, a young woman who works as a domestic for the Smith family, and her tragic infatuation with Jim Gilmore, a local blacksmith. The story is brief and written in the typical Hemingway style—with the short, choppy sentences and repetition that would mark his career. The story introduces Liz and Jim, then gives a litany of reasons that Liz finds Jim attractive: “She liked it about his mustache. She liked it about how white his teeth were when he smiled. She liked it very much that he didn’t look like a blacksmith. . . . Liking that made her feel funny” (59). The plot focuses on a hunting trip that the men in the community make, including Jim Gilmore, and how Liz feels when he returns. The story ends with the two taking a walk to the dock after dark, where Jim, after having a few drinks, initiates a rough sexual interlude with Liz, eventually raping (in modern terms, “date rape”) her and passing out on top of her once the act is completed. The story ends with Liz’s covering the sleeping Jim with her coat and leaving him to pass the night.

Look Magazine, Photographer ( NARA record: 1106476 ) – US National Archives and Records Administration

By contemporary standards, the story’s sexual content would be considered somewhat mild, but in Hemingway’s time, readers and publishers alike would find the content objectionable. Hemingway, obviously in tune with the story’s frank sexuality, joked about the title’s sexual wordplay, and Hemingway’s friend Bill Smith suggested that “Hemingway’s next story should be called ‘Even Further Up in Michigan’ ” (Mellow 111). Gertrude Stein, the matriarch of the modernist expatriates in Paris, called the story “good” but “ ‘inaccrochable,’ meaning its sexual explicitness would make it impossible to publish” (152). Hemingway’s own account of Stein’s commentary on his story is included in his memoir A Moveable Feast:

Miss Stein sat on the bed that was on the fl oor and asked to see the stories I had written and she said she liked them except one called “Up in Michigan.”

“It’s good, she said. “That’s not the question at all. But it is inaccrochable. That means it is like a picture that a painter paints and then he cannot hang it when he has a show and nobody will buy it because they cannot hang it either.”

“But what if it is not dirty but it is only that you are trying to use words that people would actually use? That are the only words that can make the story come true and that you must use them? You have to use them.”

“But you don’t get the point at all,” she said. “You mustn’t write anything that is inaccrochable. There is no point in it. It’s wrong and it’s silly.” (Feast 15)

What Stein found objectionable in the story was the description of the seduction and rape scene at the end of the story. Stein warned him that popular magazines back in the States, magazines like Atlantic Monthly and the Saturday Evening Post, to whom the young writer should be submitting his work, would not publish stories that were “inaccrochable.” In fact, when Boni and Liveright published Hemingway’s first major collection of stories, IN OUR TIME, this story was left out because Horace Liveright found it objectionable.

For decades, scholars and collectors have wondered about the fate of the lost Hemingway manuscripts and what those early attempts at fiction writing may have been like. In fall 1922, Hemingway was assigned to cover a peace conference at Lausanne, Switzerland. Hemingway encouraged his first wife, Hadley, to join him there. Attempting to surprise her husband, Hadley packed the typescripts for the stories he had been working on, thinking he might want to work on them during the Christmas season. Unfortunately, Hadley lost the valise containing the manuscripts on the journey from Paris to Lausanne. According to Hemingway, the lost valise included all his work up until that date, excepting the stories “My Old Man” (at the time submitted to Cosmopolitan) and “Up in Michigan” (in a separate desk drawer) and including the draft of a first novel. Naturally, Hemingway was dismayed at the loss of these manuscripts, but he was able to rewrite some of them and eventually his career as a writer took off.

But until those lost stories turn up (if ever), Hemingway scholars and readers in general must rely on “Up in Michigan” and other early stories to get a sense of Hemingway’s early style. Some may agree with Gertrude Stein’s assessment that his attempt to be controversial was “silly” and that the story’s explicitness is a result of Hemingway’s immaturity. Either way, it is interesting to consider the young American writer living in Paris and looking back to his own youthful experiences in the States to create his own kind of fiction, making readers want all the more to stumble across those lost manuscripts, which would paint an even clearer portrait of the artist as a young man.

Benson, Jackson J., ed. New Critical Approaches to the Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1991.
Bloom, Harold, ed. Ernest Hemingway: Modern Critical Views. New York: Chelsea House, 1985.
Hemingway, Ernest. “Up in Michigan.” In The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway: The Finca Vig a Edition. New York: Scribner, 1987.
Mellow, James R. Hemingway: A Life without Consequences. 3rd ed. Reading, Mass.: Addison/Wesley, 1995.
Oliver, Charles M. Ernest Hemingway A to Z: The Essential Reference to the Life and Work. New York: Facts On File, 1999.
Tyler, Lisa. Student Companion to Ernest Hemingway. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2001.
Wagner-Martin, Linda, ed. Ernest Hemingway: Six Decades of Criticism. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1988.

Categories: Literature, Short Story

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