The "Code Hero" and the "Hemingway Hero" in Ernest Hemingway’s works

An evaluation and response to Philip Young

Term Paper, 2020

8 Pages, Grade: 2,0


Table of Contents

1. Introduction to the thesis

2. The “Code Hero” and the “Hemingway Hero” according to Young

3. Evidence from “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” showing limitations to Young’s argument

4. Review of the other scholars who disagree with Young

5. Conclusion

6. Works Cited

1. Introduction to the thesis

Hemingway’s novels and short stories have always been a topic of discussion among scholars for the last century. Widely discussed are the prevalent themes in his works such as sexuality, masculinity and femininity and other gender related topics. While he is praised by some of them, others view his works more critically. One of the most well-known and considered as the first serious Hemingway scholar is Philip Young. Charles Stetler and Gerald Locklin even claim in their paper “De-coding the Hero in Hemingway’s Fiction” that “Young’s views still probably reach the public more often than a first reading of […] [Hemingway’s] works” (Locklin, Stetler 2). Young’s most influential approach towards Hemingway’s works is the classification of the male characters into two different categories, the “Code Heroes” and the “Hemingway Heroes”. While Young’s theory is mostly well-recognized, subject of this paper shall be to prove with the help of Hemingway’s short story “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” that it is not always possible to apply it to all of Hemingway’s works. Furthermore, it shall be proven that “one cannot force a pattern on Hemingway […] who aspired to be a great writer” (Locklin, Stetler 8) since [probing] only one vein of his work [can be considered] to miss […] his extreme variety” (Locklin, Stetler 8).

2. The “Code Hero” and the “Hemingway Hero” according to Young

As mentioned beforehand, Young approaches Hemingway’s male protagonists by classifying them into two different categories. The first one being the “Hemingway Hero” who is described to be someone who “will die a thousand times before his death, and although he would learn to live with some of his troubles, and how to overcome others, he would never completely recover from his wounds” (Young 9). Therefore “something was needed to bind these wounds” (Young 9) and that is exactly where the role of the “Code Hero” comes into play. He represents a code according to which, if the “Hemingway Hero” was able to apply it, would be able to live properly in the world filled with disorder, violence and misery (Young 10).The “Code Hero” can be seen as a role model for the “Hemingway Hero” by embodying principles including honour, courage and endurance which make him in a life full of struggles, as some might say, a proper man (Young 10). By showing those principles he can clearly be distinguished from the people only following random impulses (Locklin, Stetler 4). To put it into Hemingway’s famous phrase: he shows “grace under pressure” (Young 10) while being confronted with big challenges and fighting alone (Zheng 1). The term “grace under pressure” can be seen as a short definition of the “code” (Zheng 2). The “code” represents an ideal set of beliefs and attitudes enabling the hero to act and move forward when facing struggles (Zheng 2). Additionally, the hero can accept pain and loss when it cannot be avoided, and he embodies a super masculine moral code (Zheng 3). He has a clear orientation and knows what he needs to do to overcome the hardships in life and he owns proper social skills (Zheng 3).

3. Evidence from “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” showing limitations to Young’s argument

To understand the limitations to Young’s argument it is necessary to firstly describe the two waiters and the old man from the short story and to put them into relation to the two hero types by going through their dialogues chronologically.

The dialogue sequence between the two waiters has often been claimed to be illogical, since it starts off with the older waiter telling the younger waiter that the old man had tried to commit suicide a week earlier (Bennett 70). This does not just seem like an abrupt start of a dialogue between the two of them. It is also confusing to the reader who reads the story for the first time which waiter tells the other one about the attempt, since after the quotation marks it just states “one waiter said” (Hemingway 288). Bennett claims that it is possible to determine that the older waiter must have known about the attempt to commit suicide as the whole short story is build up upon a constant polarity (Bennett 71). Despair, deep feelings, and a good insight into the human condition embodied by the older waiter oppose confidence, a lack of empathy and insight towards the human condition embodied by the younger waiter (Bennett 74). Taking this into consideration it becomes clear who knew about the older man’s suicide attempt. After telling the younger waiter about the suicide attempt, the younger waiter proceeds to ask why he wanted to kill himself, the older waiter then claims he must be in despair, what then follows is the younger waiter asking what he is in despair about, the older waiter then states it was nothing since the old man is rich (Hemingway 288). Both waiters use a short syntax in this first part of the dialogue. When trying to describe and characterize the younger waiter and first of all, only looking at this first part of the dialogue, it seems a little inappropriate of him to simply ask “Why?” after being told about the attempted suicide. Perhaps he might just be curious and therefore directly continue asking for what reason he wanted to kill himself. Nevertheless, a majority of people would agree after reading this part that it comes across very cold-hearted, he seems to lack empathy towards the old man, who must be quite unhappy and desperate if he does not see any other way out of how he is feeling than trying to commit suicide. After that the older man wants to order another drink, which leads the younger waiter into saying he already feels tired because he does not get into bed earlier than three o’clock and the older man should have just killed himself the week earlier (Hemingway 289). He even goes this far to say it aloud to the older man shortly afterwards when he brings him the Brandy he ordered (Hemingway 289), which again shows how much empathy he lacks. After the younger waiter returns to his colleague, he shows interest in continuing the conversation about why the older man tried to kill himself (Hemingway 289). This time the older waiter answers with “How should I know” (Hemingway 289), the younger waiter then goes on asking how he did it, the older waiter answers he tried to hang himself (Hemingway 289). In the following the younger asks who cut him down, the older waiter tells him his niece saved him before it was too late (Hemingway 289). Then the younger waiter asks for what reason he was cut down (Hemingway 289), which again emphasizes how cold-hearted he is and that he lacks empathy in opposition to the older waiter who understand the old man in his own ways. A person with decent behaviour, or to put it into the context of this paper: the so-called “Code Hero” would not act in this kind of manner towards any other human. He would show empathy and show his grace even while being under pressure wanting to go home to his wife. The younger waiter then expresses he wants the old man to leave so he can close the café on time and come home to his wife waiting for him (Hemingway 289). He emphasizes that he has a wife in contrast to the old man, which then leads the older waiter to remind him of that the old man probably had a wife once to (Hemingway 289). After that the younger waiter says he would not want to be as old as the old man, which shows that he is afraid of getting older (Hemingway 289). Maybe since he was reminded of that the older man probably had a wife to who just died. Shortly after that the younger waiter states he does not even want to look at the old man (Hemingway 289), which once more shows how disrespectful he treats others. Then the older man wants to order another drink, the younger waiter reacts even more annoyed, he goes up to him and approaches him in a “syntax stupid people employ when talking to drunken people or foreigners” (Hemingway 290). The younger waiter has had enough and insists on closing the café soon and therefore does not grant the older man one last drink for the night. The older waiter then asks him why he did not let him order another one, the younger waiter then says once more that he does want to go home and that one hour to him is more valuable than to the old man (Hemingway 290). In the following lines the older jokes around about if the younger waiter is not afraid to go home earlier (Hemingway 290). Maybe he wanted to loosen up the atmosphere, the younger waiter then feels insulted (Hemingway 290). The older waiter then responds by saying he was only trying to make a joke (Hemingway 290). “No […] I have confidence. I am all confidence” (Hemingway 290) is what the younger waiter states. By repeating twice how confident he is, it seems as if he might not be as confident about his future at least, he might be afraid of being alone just as much as the older waiter is and the old man too. Then the older waiter points out what the younger waiter has (Hemingway 290). After that the younger waiter then asks him what he lacks, and he says he lacks “everything but work”, he knows he neither owns confidence nor youth (Hemingway 290). He seems to be quite aware of the fact that he and the old man share more than he might wish for. He understands that the café represents a clean and pleasant place that a bar cannot provide for those who do not want to go home and feel lonely (Hemingway 290). After the conversation between the two waiters ends, the older waiter prays (Hemingway 291). And nearly every second word of the prayer is substituted by the Spanish word nada. Hemingway probably wanted the reader to fully understand how empty the older waiter feels inside when he does not even pray properly. Religion does not seem to fill the lack he feels. After his prayer he decides to go to a bar , orders a drink and decides to leave after a short amount of time because the bar cannot provide him with the atmosphere he would need to feel better just for one moment, just like he does when he is working and just like the old man feels when he is in the nice café. On his way home he trivialises his urge to go for a slight detour to the bar by telling himself the probably must have insomnia (Hemingway 291).

4. Review of the other scholars who disagree with Young

Bennett claims that the wide play of irony in the short story is often failed to be seen since most of the readers are too busy understanding the illogical dialogue between the two waiters and the older waiters nada prayer (Bennett 70). However, the irony Hemingway applies here is simply brilliantly done: The older waiter’s insomnia and need of light provided by the café they are working in, the old man’s lack of a wife in his life are soon enough to be his future, one day he might have lost his wife as well, who provides him with happiness, a form of male effectiveness and sexual satisfaction and he also might have just as much trouble sleeping as the older waiter (Bennett 79). He probably simply does not want to face harsh reality. He will only be happy if he has faith in the permanence of these cultural structures in his life (Bennett 75).


Excerpt out of 8 pages


The "Code Hero" and the "Hemingway Hero" in Ernest Hemingway’s works
An evaluation and response to Philip Young
Ruhr-University of Bochum  (Anglistik/Amerikanistik)
Academic Skills
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
Ernest Hemingway, Philip Young, Code Hero, Hemingway Hero
Quote paper
Fides Crosberger (Author), 2020, The "Code Hero" and the "Hemingway Hero" in Ernest Hemingway’s works, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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