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Ernest Hemingway discusses the theme of hunger throughout A moveable feast by exploring and describing the different types of hunger that he felt. He aims to explore this theme in the passage where he strolls with Hadley, and they stop to eat at the restaurant Michaud’s. Through repetition and use of unconventional detail and word choice, Hemingway shows that he has more than one type of hunger, and needs to differentiate between them. Hemingway strives to tell that hunger is a feeling that is deep within someone, that changes depending on the situation and varies in intensity and meaning.
In order to stress the various types of hunger that he felt, Hemingway uses repetition. He uses this device often, as the word “hunger” appears frequently throughout the entire passage. Hemingway uses the word to stress the significance some the different meanings and leave the reader to use syntax to figure it out the correct meaning. He used the phrase, “I knew I was hungry in a simple way” to let the reader know that he was hungry only because he had not eaten (Hemingway 57). He was not hungry for life or for art; he just needed food to satisfy his craving. Hemingway describes the hunger as simple because its meaning is the denotative form of the word. The other types of hunger are sometimes difficult to decipher. When Hemingway questioned Hadley if he was truly hungry, Hadley responded, “There are so many sorts of hunger. In the spring there are more, But that’s gone now. Memory is hunger” (Hemingway 57). When Hemingway asked Hadley to describe and define his hunger, there is repetition of the word in unconventional settings. Hadley shared Hemingway’s view that there are different types of hunger and explains that springtime brings the kind that he feels as a writer. During the spring, nature begins to bloom and the weather begins to warm; this is prime material for Hemingway to write. He also repeated the word in other parts of the novel when he writes, “Hunger is healthy and the pictures do look better when you are hungry” (Hemingway 72). Many people would never imagine that hunger is healthy, yet Hemingway used this to play with the denotative form of the word. In this sentence, he uses an oxymoron of sorts to explore the contrast between literally being hunger and the writer’s hunger that he feels.
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Hemingway feels a form of hunger that he satisfies by going to Michaud’s. However, eating at the restaurant does not only fulfill the simple hunger, it also fulfills his hunger that is the result of needing to work and write. He describes Michaud’s as “an exciting and expensive restaurant” and notes that Michaud’s was the place where James Joyce frequently ate with his family (Hemingway 56). Hemingway idolized and looked up to Joyce; therefore, he was excited to satisfy both of his hungers. He could have chosen anywhere to eat and to have a “truly grand dinner”, yet Michaud’s was the first place that he suggested (Hemingway 56). He mostly described Michaud’s in terms of Joyce and Joyce’s family, instead of describing the décor, any other people he saw, or the food. This shows the importance to the restaurant to Hemingway. He took interest in what he observed Joyce doing, but not much else. In order to get a sense of the atmosphere of Michaud’s in this passage, the reader must understand his typical adjective-laced descriptions of Joyce’s family. After describing Michaud’s as exciting, he writes,
“It was where Joyce ate with his family then…peering at the menu through this thick glasses holding the menu up in one hand; Nora by him, a hearty but delicate eater; Georgio thin, foppish, sleek-headed from the back; Lucia with heavy curly hair, a girl not quite yet grown” (Hemingway 56).
Hemingway described the family’s features, yet he does not describe them as well-fed people. One might think that if Joyce has the means to eat regularly in expensive restaurants, his wife would not eat delicately and he won would not be thin. However, Hemingway chose these descriptions because eating does not equate to fulfilling every type of hunger. Hemingway also explores whether other people felt the same kind of hungers in other parts of the novel when he writes,
“I used to wonder if [Cézanne] were hungry too when he painted; but I thought possibly he had only forgotten to eat. It was one of those unsound but illuminating thoughts you have when you have been sleepless or hungry. Later I thought Cézanne was probably hungry in a different way” (Hemingway 69).
Hemingway can relate to Cézanne’s feeling because he has felt the same. Being hungry does not always mean that one has simply not eaten. He showed that Cézanne had a hunger to paint and to create; this is similar to Hemingway’s hunger.
Hunger is often unpleasant, yet Hemingway knew that it could yield effects that were pleasurable, such as the creation of new works. He uses the word “hunger” unconventionally and describes it as a discipline in order to become more creative. Because of this, he thought that being hungry was something to be proud of when he asks Hadley, “Are you hungry again?” and she replies arrogantly, “Of course Tatie. Aren’t you?” (Hemingway 56). This arrogance restates their knowledge of the value of being hungry. In another part of the novel entitled Hunger Was Good Discipline, Hemingway was quite familiar with being hungry, and shared knowledge with the reader on how to handle himself or herself when hungry when he states, “It is necessary to handle yourself better when you have to cut down on food so you will not get too much hunger-thinking.” (Hemingway 75). Hemingway shows that hunger is to be used in a positive way, therefore, if someone becomes burdened by the hunger, they need to learn how to control it. Though Hemingway enjoyed this discipline, he was not able to share it with his friends because of the unpleasantness. When Sylvia Beach questioned whether Hemingway was eating enough, he says, “My stomach would turn over and I would say, ‘I’m going home for lunch now’” (Hemingway 70). Hemingway hides the fact that he is hungry from his friend because she is obviously worried. He knew that he and his circle of friends did not share the same views on hunger. Hemingway viewed hunger as a necessity and even though it was often unpleasant, he needed that discipline to live. However, Sylvia did not see hunger as a discipline; she was worried about Hemingway and encouraged him to eat. Society’s views did not discourage Hemingway’s thoughts of hunger as a discipline because he writes, “And as long as they do not understand it you are ahead of them. Oh sure, I thought, I’m so far ahead of them now that I can’t afford to eat regularly (Hemingway 75). The fact that he cannot afford to eat regularly is not only a monetary issue; it is an intellectual issue. Hemingway felt that being more knowledgeable and more experienced about his work gave him a hunger and an advantage that other writers in his time could not match. Using unconventional word choice and description of the word hunger and the meaning of being hungry, Hemingway shows that the unpleasantness of being hungry is favorable because it enables him to become a better writer.
Hemingway uses the discussion of hunger to display his ideas of how to fully appreciate art and his methods of focusing on writing. He breaks the popular convention that hunger can be satisfied by eating by explaining that it is often not food related, and that it does not always have to be fulfilled. Hemingway earns all types of his hunger by needed to eat and needing to work. He tries to satisfy his simple hunger, yet his complex hunger still cannot be satisfied. As the passage ends, Hemingway still does not know what the hunger brings, nor does he know how to satisfy it. The hunger of working and the hunger of living need to be present in artists. Without the hunger, there is no urge to satiate or feed the creative drive. Whether food or life experience feeds hunger, this is what is necessary to move forward and grow.
Hemingway, Ernest. A Moveable Feast. New York: Scribner, 2003.