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Hemingway’s Islands in the stream: Thomas Hudson’s moral growth Wegner, Diana


The major theme of Hemingway's last novel, Islands in the Stream, is the moral and spiritual development of the protagonist, Thomas Hudson. Gradually he moves away from his "carapace of work" and discipline, which shields him from any emotional involvement and the inevitable pain it contracts, towards an acceptance of a higher concept of duty than that which is concerned primarily with practical results. In this way he grows from a state of emotional alienation to a point at which he attains a genuine capacity to love his fellow men. This growth culminates with his encounter with death whereby he comes to an understanding of himself and of his purpose in life. I have traced his development by examining several themes and motifs which reflect his emotional state. The most important of these is the pervasive sea imagery which changes with Hudson's changing moral attitude. The basic sea-chase in the last section of the novel is really an allegory which represents, on a metaphorical level, Hudson's personal quest inward for self-knowledge. Hudson's relationship in various families, some natural and some surrogate, also reflects his growing capacity to love and to establish the necessary emotional found ation for a real family situation. He grows from an inability to under stand his natural sons to a capacity to love his spiritual brothers. Another motif of a "language of love" also develops in accordance with Hudson'8 growth. At the end of the novel, with Hudson's death, these themes and motifs coalesce with the culmination of Hudson's symbolic crucifixion and marriage-in-death. In my conclusion I am primarily interested in proving that Hudson final understanding of himself, and his struggle towards it, is as worthy as the absolute achievements of earlier Hemingway heroes. His growth is not obvious to many reviewers simply because his heroism is based upon a different concept than that of past Hemingway protagonists. Thomas Hudson is different in that his struggle with life resembles that of the average man, and like the average man he must learn to accept his flaws and weaknesses, and to accept "approximate" successes instead of absolute victories.

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