According to Howe’s definition of modernism, Jamaica Kincaid’s “Girl” is less “modernist” than Hemingway’s “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.” The reason for this is because Kincaid’s poem talks about inequality and imbalance in terms of gender, while Hemingway’s talks about self-defeating men who are in despair because they believe that life has no meaning. Howe’s definition of modernism exemplifies three topics which are despair, problematic and self-defeat which can prove that Hemingway’s story is more modernist than Kincaid’s poem.
The first reason on why Kincaid’s poem is less modernist is because when she attempts to show the mother from the poem instructing her daughter on how to live a fulfilling life, she does in fact offer sympathy when she talks about relationships to the “girl” by warning her that men and women can “bully” each other when they are together or married (1), but doesn’t show feeling of despair. The difference with “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,” Hemingway explains that life has no meaning and that men are nothing. The older waiter from Hemingway’s story makes this idea that life is nothing and men are apparently nothing when he says, “It was all a nothing and man was a nothing too” (5). According to Howe’s definition of modernism, people, mostly men tend to self-defeat themselves when they are in despair but can somehow find comfort in their wounds which can sometimes be problematic because “in a modernist style, of existence and inquiry becomes imperious: men learn to find comfort in their wounds” (6). Hemingway’s story shows another man who has tried to get off despair but has been unsuccessful. For example, he has money, he was once married, and has even failed to commit suicide in order to stop having the feeling of despair. The only way he copes with his despair is to sit in a clean, well-lighted place; and that is an ideal modernist because the old man finds ways to cope with his despair but can somehow be problematic.
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The second reason on why Kincaid’s “Girl” is less “modernist” than Hemingway’s “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” is because Kincaid’s poem deals with a female child who exploits the loss of her liberty. The objective of Kincaid’s poem is to point out discrimination displayed by the society and family members but doesn’t point out how the “girl” copes with that “problem”. Unlike Kincaid’s poem, Hemingway’s story points out how the old man’s despair can be problematic to him and to others. For example, the two waiters are constantly complaining on the old man’s everyday routine. The old man constantly goes to the café late at night while the waiters complain by saying “I wish he could go home. I never get to bed before three o’clock. What kind of hour is that to go to bed?” (3). According to Howe, being a modernist means that “a modernist culture is committed to the view that the human lot is inescapably problematic” (6), and that “The problematic is adhered to because it comes to be considered good, proper, and even beautiful that men should live in discomfort” (6). This relates to Hemingway’s story because both waiters are in discomfort because they are tired of seeing the old man being in distress and using the café as a “coping mechanism”.
The third reason on why Kincaid’s poem is less “modernist” than Hemingway’s story is because there is no sign of self-defeat from ‘Girl’. Although the poem lists down the concerns of the mother for her growing daughter, it does not list down how it can be self-defeating. The poem explains how girls have to grow up quickly and the way they need to live their life which is something that cannot be changed. According to the poem, it’s the way of living life. Kincaid points out examples such as, “how to behave in the presence of men who don’t know you very well, and this way they won’t recognize immediately the slut I have warned you against becoming; be sure to wash every day, even if it is with your own spit…” (1) The poem basically points out how to act like a woman but no sign or self-defeat. Unlike Kincaid’s poem, Hemingway points out ways of self-defeat from the older waiter and the old man who sits late at night at the café. For example, the older man constantly complains about how life is meaningless by stating that “I have never had confidence and I am not young… he knew it all was nada y pues nada y nada y pues nada” (5). The older waiter was constantly reminding himself that he was nothing and that life was nothing which is self-defeat because according to him, he is not confident therefore, complaining about life. Howe’s ideal of a modernist is that “The problematic is adhered to, not merely because we live in a time of uncertainty when traditional beliefs and absolute standards, having long disintegrated, give way to the makeshifts of relativism” (6). To clarify Howe’s word, people constantly believe in what they say to themselves. In Hemingway’s story, the older waiter had low standards and because of that, he had no confidence. The older waiter believed that life was meaningless because he constantly kept telling himself that, even though in reality, life isn’t meaningless and there is so much more to live for.
According to Howe’s definition of modernism, Jamaica Kincaid’s “Girl” is less “modernist” than Hemingway’s “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” because Kincaid’s poem talks about inequality and imbalance in terms of gender, but doesn’t really talk about how the “girl” copes with the way she lives life. While Hemingway’s story, he talks about self-defeating men who are in despair because they believe that life has no meaning which is easy to say that Hemingway’s story is more “modernist.” Howe’s definition of modernism exemplifies three things that proves that Hemingway is more “modernism”; they are despair, problematic, and self-defeating.