AMF Question #13 ~ Dangerous Families

by Ernest Hemingway

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AMF Question #13 ~ Dangerous Families

Unread postby Liz » Sat Oct 25, 2008 1:22 pm

On the 1st page of the chapter entitled Ezra Pound and His Bel Esprit:

We never argued about these things because I kept my mouth shut about things I did not like. If a man liked his friends’ painting or writing, I thought it was probably like those people who like their families, and it was not polite to criticize them. Sometimes you can go quite a long time before you criticize families, your own or those by marriage, but it is easier with bad painters because they do not do terrible things and make intimate harm as families can do. With bad painters all you need to do is not look at them. But even when you have learned not to look at families nor listen to them and have learned not to answer letters, families have many ways of being dangerous. Ezra was kinder and more Christian about people than I was. His own writing, when he would hit it right, was so perfect, and he was so sincere in his mistakes and so enamored of his errors, and so kind to people that I always thought of him as a sort of saint. He was also irascible but so perhaps have been many saints.

What do you think Hemingway is really trying to say about families being “dangerous”?
You can't judge a book by its cover.

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Re: AMF Question #13 ~ Dangerous Families

Unread postby fansmom » Sat Oct 25, 2008 3:31 pm

You'd think I'd have learned not to post and run, and I only have about one minute, but here goes--

No one knows you like your family, so no one can hurt you as well as they can. And you in turn know them, so you can wound them in return.

Again, something an adulterous serial monogamist would know well. :freaked:

Gotta run--having dinner with my family. :lol:

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Re: AMF Question #13 ~ Dangerous Families

Unread postby Parlez » Sat Oct 25, 2008 4:41 pm

The thing that struck me about this passage is his inclusion of families by marriage. It made me wonder how much grief he was getting from Hadley's family...or how much grief she was getting from them about her life with Hemingway and how much her reaction to that/them affected their happiness...?

Anyway, it's true - families can be very toxic. That's why so many people leave home I suppose. But, like a bad meal that just won't be digested, a bad family is also a moveable feast. :mort1:

I was surprised to learn how sensitive he was about the issue of family in general. I thought he'd have a thicker skin, frankly, and be more immune to any outside judgements or criticisms. But I guess he was a softy at heart.

ps. I loved his comments about Ezra! :heart:
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Re: AMF Question #13 ~ Dangerous Families

Unread postby nebraska » Sat Oct 25, 2008 7:32 pm

One of my favorite lines is "Friends are the family you choose." Your actual family is another matter. You are born and you are stuck with them forever. Sometimes that isn't a bad thing. But as others have pointed out, family members know you well enough to know where you are vulnerable and sometimes they use that against you. I think sometimes also it feels like its ok to do things to family members you would never do to other people because you become so accustomed to them they are almost invisible as real people. And the long history cannot be escaped. Ever.

Inlaws may come and go but they are always there as "exes" -- and if you have children, the children are a link that is permanent. I am blessed with pretty great inlaws.........and I guess if somebody turned on me, I would find it easier to walk away than I would from a member of my own family.

I think what Hem said was mostly true. And I think he said what many of us might think or feel but wouldn't say outloud.

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Re: AMF Question #13 ~ Dangerous Families

Unread postby Buster » Sat Oct 25, 2008 8:05 pm

Hemingway had quite a few families, and each had intense issues to cope with. Depression, alcoholism, suicide, divorce - these are all potentially life-shattering events.The suicide of a person close to you rocks your very core.
Hemingway was surrounded by difficult and volatile characters, and he surely was shaped by his early experiences. People tend to repeat the behaviors their parents exhibit, and Hemingway was no exception.
Erratic behavior from a family member is very frightening, bringing on the "fight or flight" response.
Of course he felt families are dangerous, both in a "frightening because it is out of my control" way, and in a "it is risky to allow anyone to have too much control over me" way.

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Re: AMF Question #13 ~ Dangerous Families

Unread postby gemini » Sat Oct 25, 2008 8:16 pm

We never argued about these things because I kept my mouth shut about things I did not like. If a man liked his friends’ painting or writing, I thought it was probably like those people who like their families, and it was not polite to criticize them. Sometimes you can go quite a long time before you criticize families, your own or those by marriage, but it is easier with bad painters because they do not do terrible things and make intimate harm as families can do. With bad painters all you need to do is not look at them. But even when you have learned not to look at families nor listen to them and have learned not to answer letters, families have many ways of being dangerous. Ezra was kinder and more Christian about people than I was. His own writing, when he would hit it right, was so perfect, and he was so sincere in his mistakes and so enamored of his errors, and so kind to people that I always thought of him as a sort of saint. He was also irascible but so perhaps have been many saints.


Some of these statements are truly revealing about his life. I do imagine that being married 4 times means divorced 3 times with that many sets of outlaws. Most marriages don't end so well and even if they do the relatives might not think so and with his children he must have had relatives dealings. Since AMF was written in his later years, he was likely referring to more familes than just Hadleys.

Ezra seemed to me that he was somewhat rebellious so its amusing that Hemingway thought him a saint in dealing with people. Either that or the fact that Ezra was more tolerant of people, artists, and maybe even family was what Hemingway meant as what he kept his mouth shut about.
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Re: AMF Question #13 ~ Dangerous Families

Unread postby Liz » Sat Oct 25, 2008 10:22 pm

Gemini, I was surprised at what he said about Ezra, too, after reading the tidbit about him.

I agree with all of you in your comments about family. I think Hem had a respect for family; and that is why he was careful not to criticize. And maybe his had been criticized. That was back in the 20s with Ezra. But at the time he wrote AMF, and looking back, he had a lot more reasons, I’m sure, to say that families are dangerous for all the reasons that everyone has suggested.
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Re: AMF Question #13 ~ Dangerous Families

Unread postby Lady Jill » Sun Oct 26, 2008 10:49 pm

Many years ago while walking in a village in England I saw a wee sign in a window facing out towards the street: You can't pick your family, but thank God you can pick your friends". This quote is what came to mind in what Hem was saying here. Families dangerous ? You bet. Many feel they can say or do whatever they want, just because they are your family. It's in the news every day.

Lady Jill
" After we're gone, the only thing that matters is the love we left behind."


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