Date of Award

Fall 1993

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Sarah Way Sherman


This dissertation examines the iconography and psychology of prostitution as a motif in the fiction of Ernest Hemingway. After identifying the prostitutional dynamics that form a recurring pattern throughout Hemingway's work and personal life, the discussion focuses primarily on exploring the implications of those dynamics in Hemingway's three major novels: The Sun Also Rises (1926), A Farewell to Arms (1929), and For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940).

What this study contends is that the literal and figurative presence of prostitution as a theme in Hemingway's narratives operates on two basic levels. On one level, the prostitution elements represent the pathology of gender relationships in modern culture. By structuring the sexual encounters between male and female protagonists in terms of a prostitutional exchange, Hemingway portrays his characters as trapped in a cycle of masked pretense and emotional extortion antithetical to genuine, freely shared love and intimacy. On the other level, the prostitute imagery represents archetypal female sexual power and creative force, submerged but surviving in modern culture despite the oppression of male gender politics. In Hemingway's fictional worlds, however, this creative power is conceived as non-gendered psychic energy emanating from the unconscious.

These two conflicting dimensions of the prostitution motif become the driving force of the model of self that structures the consciousness of all Hemingway's major characters--male and female. It is a model based on the prostitute as an emotionally wounded victim who survives psychologically by maintaining a fragile sense of self through "dissociating" from the sexual acts performed during the prostitute/john exchange. To heal this psychic fragmentation and reclaim a more holistic sense of self, the "prostitute consciousness" must go on a transformative, regenerative psychic journey in order to break free of the inner paralysis of protective detachment inherent in the emotional strategy enforced by the oppressive prostitution contract. This process of renegotiating one's emotional survival mechanisms in order to redefine or recast the self--a process symbolized by the psychological dynamics of prostitution--constitutes the paradigmatic struggle for self-realization facing all characters in Hemingway's texts.