Sunday, March 7, 2010

What if Tom Jenks, editor of Garden of Eden had sat in on our class today? An Imaginary Letter....

Dear Professor Moddelmog,

As I understand it, this text was meant to center around these unspoken but binding forces: power, sexuality, gender. Catherine provides the vehicle through which a counter-discourse to patriarchal convention can be introduced. And I must say I was struck by her character: clearly she was meant to be the focus here, and I made great cuts to make that apparent to the reader. My revisions have brought her and everything she embodies to the forefront of the text. Never before has a Hemingway woman fought so fiercely against all the binary expectations of society: Catherine refuses to be singularly, visibly, white; heterosexual; a woman and all that entails (fragile, predictable, safe). She is more than all of these things: she is fluid between rigid social categories. My favorite day dream has become one in which I picture her, lying dark on the beach, drawing a fine line in the sand with her big toe (which surely is elegant but unpolished) and watching as a wave washes away this symbolic confinement. Because, Catherine is that wave: a force that is at once powerful and destructive as well as inventive and beautiful.

Catherine defies typical gender roles, sexual roles, and power roles. In my journey through the manuscript I was sure this defiance was the message I was meant to unlock for the reader. Unlock it I did, by cutting away unnecessary and unfinished sub-plots and distractions. I arrived at this decision, confident, because as I was reading I felt as though Hemingway was guiding me by way of a motif surrounding the tension between what is public and what is private.

Catherine, who I knew to be the focus, struggles with this tension throughout the text. David, whom I identify with Hemingway because he is a writer, oppresses her as she fights to decompartmentalize their lives by reconciling the private lives she’s created for them with the public life that David leads as a public figure. I believe that I am meant to do Catherine’s work and provide the public with a book that reveals the private life and thoughts of Hemingway.

Early on, this dialogue between David and Catherine struck me,

“I have these flashes of intuition,” he said. “I’m the inventive type.”

“I’m the destructive type,” she said. “And I’m going to destroy you. They’ll put a plaque up on the wall of the building outside the room.” (5)

David, the first speaker, represents the conventions of patriarchal society, and Catherine, its demise (read: boy’s hair cut, sodomy, gender-reversal). I felt this book is to be the plaque on the wall. It declares that the conventions of both society and the expectations for Hemingway’s work have in fact, if only temporarily, been destroyed. Though I concede that it may be absurd to contend that Hemingway meant for this passage to be read as a sort of hint at the conceit (that The Garden of Eden is the destruction of his literary convention), which he would carry out for hundreds of pages more, I am positive that it was bound to speak to me in just the way it has: as a voice, from the grave, urging me to unlock the most dangerous aspects of this work and, as it were, nail the plaque to the wall. And the plaque might say: what is normative is merely a line drawn in the sand. Catherine’s actions in the novel show this, and now that I have revised it, The Garden of Eden shows that what was once considered “normal” for Hemingway can change as well: Social constructions can be dismantled, and the private can come into the public.

I hope that through this brief letter you’ve come to understand the text a little better, and appreciate my efforts a little more.

Sincerely Yours,
Tom Jenks


  1. Your argument is very sound! I like your stance that since Catherine is the major force in the novel (the crashing wave), that Tom Jenks edited the novel to focus on her that way. She completely deviates from the ideal picture (or mythical norm) of a white woman: "Never before has a Hemingway woman fought so fiercely against all the binary expectations of society: Catherine refuses to be singularly, visibly, white; heterosexual; a woman and all that entails (fragile, predictable, safe)." I particularly like this passage from your post because you do a great job of showing the "queerness" of Catherine and exhibiting why she is the focus of the novel. I think that your voice is also very commanding and well-constructed by stepping outside of yourself and into the role of Tom Jenks.


  2. I agree with Rachel. By taking a different vantage point, you make a great argument as to why the manuscript was edited into the version read. Catherine says she is the destructive type, but is she really that, or is she the creative type. Throughout the novel, she has created this all in her head as a way of exploring. I think that the point to be obtained is that Catherine defies people, and is called crazy for it. I love your usage of the book as a plaque to display Catherine. I would consider Catherine more of a creative genius than a destructive psycho. She also has charisma beyond compare, because she is able to get the other two to follow her plans. Only when the private becoming public do they protest, showing that, again, it is society that holds us into certain categories, and these categories can not be played with.


  3. Meg,

    That was an awesome letter!! As rachel previously stated, your argument was very sound as well as convincing. I do agree that Catherine was indeed a very strategic part of the plot, and by cutting the sub-plots out, we as readers were able to focus more on her and her uniqueness. Great Job again, and you really took on the role/ voice of Tom Jenks!