A Moveable Feast

A Moveable Feast Chapter 2 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
When Hadley and Hemingway return to Paris it is “clear and cold and lovely.” Cafés are open with heated terraces, the streets are beautiful, and the fire in Hemingway’s apartment makes it “a warm and pleasant place to work.” Due to the cold and his work, Hemingway is always hungry, and he buys mandarins and roasted chestnuts as snacks. When he struggles to finish a story, he drinks kirsch (fruity brandy). When he is having trouble beginning a new story, he throws a mandarin peel into the fire, or stands looking out at the Parisian skyline and reassures himself that he has always managed to overcome blocks before, and that all he needs to do is “write one true sentence.” He argues that as long as he writes one true sentence, it is easy to keep going. He decides to write one story about everything he knows, and he finds that this is a good form of discipline.
The image of writing presented in this passage is not one of tortured imagination and sudden flashes of inspiration, but rather small habits, calm reassurance, and “discipline.” It is clear that Hemingway is still fairly early in his career as a writer and is still learning to establish the right routines. However, he does not seem intimidated by the task of writing; instead, he approaches it in a calm, self-assured manner. His goal to write “one true sentence” suggests a preference for truth over aesthetic value, which is particularly significant in light of the fact that the book is a memoir and therefore “true.”
Themes
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Even when Hemingway is not writing, whatever story he is working on stays at the back of his mind as he goes about the rest of his life. He hopes to listen, learn, and notice everything about the world around him. Hemingway goes to the Musée du Luxembourg every day to look at the Impressionist paintings by Cézanne, Manet, and Monet. He feels that Cézanne’s paintings are teaching him about writing, but that he is “not articulate enough” to put this lesson into words. After the museum, Hemingway goes to see Gertrude Stein at 27 rue de Fleurus. Stein and the “friend” she lives with (Alice B. Toklas) are “very cordial and friendly,” and their apartment, which is full of paintings, resembles a museum. Stein and Toklas give their guests food, tea, and fruit liqueurs, “which warmed you and loosened your tongue.”
Art is deeply infused into every aspect of Hemingway’s life in Paris. The boundary between visual art and literature dissolves in the same way as the boundary between art and everyday life; every moment of Hemingway’s existence becomes part of his work as a writer, even when he is not actually engaged in the act of writing. Furthermore, this scene draws attention to the parallel between consuming food and drink and consuming art. To a large extent, Stein’s prowess as a host makes her the architect of the “moveable feast” of the book’s title.
Themes
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Hemingway notes that Stein looks like an Italian peasant woman and that she has “lovely, thick, alive immigrant hair.” He adds that she talks a lot, particularly about “people and places.” Her partner Alice Toklas is small and dark with hair “cut like Joan of Arc.” Toklas tells Hemingway that she talks to “the wives,” and Hadley and Hemingway feel that the wives are only “tolerated.” However, they nonetheless enjoy their visits at 27 rue de Fleurus. At one point, Stein and Toklas come to visit the Hemingways at their apartment, and Stein critiques Hemingway’s story “Up in Michigan.” She argues that the story is like a picture that the painter isn’t able to hang and which nobody will buy. Hemingway protests, but eventually just replies “I see,” as he avoids arguing with his elders. He adds that Stein is very intelligent and that she has been encouraging him to give up journalism.
Stein plays both a traditional and unconventional role in Hemingway’s life. On the one hand, she serves as Hemingway’s mentor, providing both hospitality and wise advice about Hemingway’s career. Her relationship with Toklas also appears to be more like a straight marriage than a lesbian relationship, with an exaggerated sense of traditional gender roles of “husband” and “wife.” However, this is undermined by the fact that Stein is a woman, which subverts the expected dynamics of both husband/wife and mentor/mentee (particularly in the early 20th century).
Themes
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Stein also teaches the Hemingways about buying art. She advises them to avoid spending money on clothes in order to be able to afford art, to which Hemingway replies that, no matter how many clothes he doesn’t buy, he still won’t be able to afford Picassos. Stein responds that he should be buying the work of people his own age, “of your own military service group.” She warns that Hemingway should be careful that Hadley doesn’t spend too much money on clothes, as women’s clothes are more expensive; Hemingway notices Hadley eyeing Stein’s own “strange” outfit. On another occasion, Hemingway meets Stein for a walk in the Luxembourg gardens, noting that he can’t remember whether this was before after she’d bought a dog. Stein often shows Hemingway the manuscript pages that she writes and Toklas types up. Writing makes Stein happy, but Hemingway later learns that this happiness depends on achieving publication and “recognition” for her work.
Stein’s comment about Hemingway’s “military service group” highlights the way in which the war has shaped society and lingers in people’s minds. Even though the people Stein is referring to are other artists, she still conceptualizes them as a military group because almost every man Hemingway’s age served in the war, and because the war has had such an enormous impact on society. Hemingway’s comment about Stein’s desire for recognition raises the question of how he himself feels about success and acclaim. Stein is of an older, more established generation, and she has proven herself to be successful. To what extent is Hemingway hoping to follow or surpass her level of fame?
Themes
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When Hemingway first meets Stein, she had published only “three stories that were intelligible to anyone.” However, she has won many people over with her personality, and critics take an interest in her as a person as much as they do as a writer. At the same time, she has also made important innovations in language, particularly through her use of rhythm and repetition. At this point, however, she craves critical recognition, particularly for the “unbelievably long” The Making of Americans. Hemingway believes that the book starts out “magnificently,” but that it goes on too long and that Stein should have cut it. He mentions that Ford Madox Ford was essentially “forced” to publish it in The Transatlantic Review and that Hemingway himself read the proofs of the manuscript.
Hemingway and Stein’s close friendship and intellectual relationship is not entirely harmonious. Hemingway is harshly critical of Stein’s contributions to literature, and he also suggests that Stein’s success is as much due to her personality and connections as it is to her skill as a writer. Although Hemingway refrains from vocalizing these criticisms to Stein herself, in accordance with his vow not to argue with his elders, this does not preclude him from confessing them in his notebooks and publishing them decades later.
Themes
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Stein then moves on to teaching Hemingway about sex. Hemingway admits Stein thinks he is “a square about sex” and that this is partially because he has “certain prejudices against homosexuality.” Hemingway believes that it is necessary to be ready to kill in order to protect oneself from homosexual advances, but Stein is dismissive of this, claiming that Hemingway is only thinking of “perverts” and “sick people.” They discuss particular gay people they know, though they do not name them. Stein emphasizes that Hemingway doesn’t really know anything about homosexuality and adds that even while gay men are forced to live in shame because of the way they have sex, the opposite is true for lesbians, who can live very happy lives together. Hemingway replies only with “I see,” and—though he assures Stein that he understands what she’s been trying to tell him—he is grateful when the conversation is over and he is able to go home. He believes that Stein thinks he needs to be “cured” of “being young and loving my wife.” At home, he tells Hadley about the conversation.
This passage illuminates the way in which Hemingway is somewhat at odds with the milieu in which he lives. Stein is from an older generation, yet has a more open-minded and progressive view of sexuality. Hemingway, meanwhile, is more conservative and evidently fearful of male homosexuality in particular, believing it is something that he needs to defend himself from. Moreover, Hemingway has a more traditional relationship with Hadley than Stein seems to believe is warranted. Hemingway’s comment that Stein wants to “cure” him of loving his wife is a playful inversion of the idea that homosexuality is an illness that needs to be cured.
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