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Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/1807/29748

Title: The Ethics of Simplicity: Modernist Minimalism in Hemingway and Cather
Authors: Hollenberg, Alexander Jay
Advisor: Cuddy-Keane, Melba
Department: English
Keywords: American Literature
Narrative Theory
Ernest Hemingway
Willa Cather
Issue Date: 30-Aug-2011
Abstract: This study investigates how minimalist narrative techniques in American modernist literature oblige us, as readers and critics, to be self-reflexive about the ethical basis of interpretation. Through a concentrated narratological analysis of Hemingway’s and Cather’s fiction, I identify three major elements of what I term the “simple text”—thinness, smoothness, and spaciousness—and I show how each category engages a hermeneutic ethics. By gesturing towards accessibility and straightforward comprehension while also producing moments of indeterminacy that subtly resist the reader’s inferences, the simple text challenges the reader to conceive interpretation both as a positive exercise of individuation and imagination and, simultaneously, as a potentially unethical mode of critical violation and imposition. My introduction contemplates the ethical foundations of Hemingway’s and Cather’s famous aesthetics of omission to argue that such simplicity conveys a complex theory of reader engagement. Chapter One defines “thinness” by examining “thin characters” in A Farewell to Arms and My Ántonia—characters whose simplicity makes them paradoxically unreadable in a way that foregrounds the nature of our accountability towards others. The second chapter, focusing on In Our Time and Death Comes for the Archbishop, defines “smoothness” as a simple paratactic patterning that challenges our critical desire to generalize meanings from particular experiences. While the smooth surface invites our interpretive touch, its structural integrity resists marking and inscription. The final chapter details the element of “spaciousness,” showing how open and simple settings in The Old Man and the Sea and The Professor’s House inspire, in the protagonists, moments of self-conscious interpretation of the nonhuman other and solicit a practice of accountable freedom. I argue that the foregrounding of such spaces proffers a subtle yet pointed critique of American individualism, but this critique is learned only through our encounter with the text’s interpretive limits. The study concludes by suggesting how these strategies both respond to and participate in specific criticisms of American democracy that circulated during the modernist period.
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/1807/29748
Appears in Collections:Doctoral

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