Ernest Hemingway's Big Two-Hearted River and Sigmund Freud Essay

Ernest Hemingway's Big Two-Hearted River and Sigmund Freud Essay

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Ernest Hemingway's Big Two-Hearted River and Sigmund Freud

Ernest Hemingway’s “iceberg theory” suggests that the writer include in the text only a small portion of what he knows, leaving about ninety percent of the content a mystery that grows beneath the surface of the writing. This type of writing lends itself naturally to a version of dream-interpretation, as this story structure mirrors the structure of the mind—the restrained, composed tip of the unconscious and the vast body of subconscious that is censored by the ego. Psychoanalyzing Hemingway’s fiction is double-sided—we must first analyze the manifest and latent contents that he probably intended, i.e., “This fishing trip will be a metaphor for a sexual act,” and then we must consider the manifest and latent content that he probably did not intend, but that arose from his own subconscious in the transference of writing, i.e., perhaps within thirty pages of intentionally masturbatory imagery, Hemingway was actually expressing his sexual repression rather than glorifying his manhood, as many literary critics in the past have claimed. Whether or not the manifest content is intentional, however, Hemingway’s precise and abundant revisions serve as a very effective tool for presenting strings of images and actions that are concrete and straightforward but not always fully developed, comparable to the strings of images in a dream. Through a sort of dream-interpretation, we uncover a new reading of Hemingway’s “Big Two-Hearted River” and we discover the techniques of dream-work, such as condensation and omission, enacted in art.

From start to finish, “Big Two-Hearted River” proves to fall almost perfectly under Freud’s symbolism theories. In the first sentence a...

... middle of paper ...

... readers who will not interpret his work psychoanalytically, and who will possibly find a new variation on their selves through reading the oedipal complex presented in the latent content of “Big Two-Hearted River.” For those reading psychoanalytically, however, the piece is brimming with latent meaning. Whether Hemingway understood his transference, or not, cannot be determined, and shouldn’t be determined, but one cannot help but wonder whether he resisted the analyst who questioned a title as phallic as “Big Two-Hearted River.”


Freud, Sigmund. Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1966.

Freud, Sigmund. “On Universal Tendency to Debasement in Sphere of Love.” Therapy and Technique. Collier Books, 1970.

Hemingway, Ernest. “Big Two Hearted River.” In Our Time. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1970.

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