Dick and Doc: A "Selden" Structuralists Analysis of the Construction of Maleness, Legality and Criminality in "The Doctor and the Doctor's Wife"

hyper-male                         <------------------->                 gender-conflicted male

"a big man"                     <----------------->                   "Nick's father" 

Dick Boulton                    <------------->                     The Doctor

"Dick"                             <--------------->                     "Doc"

"stolen" logs                    <------------------>                 "driftwood"

English/Ojibway                 <----------------->                 English

calm                                <----------------->                    anger

laughter                         <------------------->                 silence

"Oh, no, you  won't, Doc." <-------------->"If you call me Doc once again, I'll knock your eye teeth down your throat.


        Again, the most abstract terms in this binary association are at the top, and the specific plot details are stacked in the order in which they occurred in the text for convenient analysis of their "flow" and to help generate a paper's organization (sort of a proto-outline).    Also, some terms in this binary series also occur in others (The Doctor and anger), but they're paired differently in those other series.  This creates a kind of triple relationship (Dick, The Doctor's Wife and calm or "control of the Spirit") vs. (Doc, Nick's Father, and anger). 

        The triple convergence of the antagonistic privileged terms opposing the protagonistic privative terms helps to explain the peculiar tension Hemingway manages to create in Doc's character as he associates him "vertically" (Levi-Strauss) with three such strong binary associations, but that's getting ahead of the more basic analysis of "Dick" and "Doc."

        Dick's successful challenge to Doc involves using English to change the way the logs are seen, renaming the "driftwood" as "stolen."  He fights Doc by saying things Doc can't stop him from saying, and by defying Doc's threat to "knock [his] eye teeth down [his throat]" (symbolically to silence his way of seeing/saying the logs and Doc).  The "eye teeth" or canines are not hard to associate with maleness, and when Dick defies Doc's threat, it seems to affect Doc's confidence, perhaps his perceived maleness?  The defied threat changes Doc's posture and sends him "inside" to the female's position where his anger can be controlled by the female's open book.  Doc enacts a parody of impotent male will-to-violence when he cleans his shotgun on the bed, loading it and pumping the shells out of the chamber onto the bed, scattering his frustrated deadly seed.  He is trapped between two threats to his view of his identity: one hyper-male and the other hyper-female, and the scene of him sitting on the bed with the shotgun in his lap ("He was very fond of it.") seems intended to suggest his contemplation of murder (Boulton) or suicide.  (Note the wife's gasp when the screen door slams--what has she been hearing and how might she interpret a loud "bang!"?)  The Doctor's escape with Nick rescues the boy from an open book and from return to "your mother."  They escape into "there," a place of silent, balanced masculinity, a silence which closes the story. 

        What does this mean about the culture's construction of legality and criminality by means of privileged uses of language, and how does the existence of Ojibway as a competing language system impact that construction? 

        (Note: this might veer toward Deconstruction, along with Dick Boulton's status as a "half-breed" [neither "White" nor "Indian"], but don't go there yet!)  Native Americans' views of law, especially the laws of ownership, likely would be rooted in binary oppositions which differed from those operating in Anglo-English common law, but Dick Boulton doesn't appeal to values which oppose Ojibway terms to English terms, preferring to use English to subvert the Anglo-American authority which Doc presumed he owned.  How does the right to name connect to the gender-roles in the story?

        A paper derived from these Structuralist observations would explain the tale's structuring of maleness as an outgrowth of language and naming as a means to control reality.  It might appeal to the actual social structures in the region where Hemingway sets the tale (Michigan), and to the issues relevant to the era in which the story was written.  It also might lead to considerations of the naming practices of the "Ur-Namer" in the story, Hemingway, himself.  As always, evidence can come from historical or sociological studies, Hemingway's other fiction, and his biography.  No New Critical heresies or anathemata need daunt the Structuralist on her/his home turf.

        Also think about the way American 19th- and 20th-century associations of religion with the female social role expresses itself here in a cultural struggle between people of religion (e.g., Nick's mother) and materialists (e.g., Doc and perhaps Nick--he's the object of his parents' struggle).  Christian Science teaches that God, alone, heals, but Doc's profession explicitly opposes that with its own claim to exclusive healing powers.  He has not opened and read those medical journals, whereas his wife actively reads her religious texts, implying "the open book" and "the female position" are associated, though perhaps not a permanent state of if Doc were to open his book, something else he might have done in that room.  Instead he goes out and closes Nick's book, bringing the boy safely into association with the male position.

        Pursuit of the squirrels allows Doc and Nick to participate in a male ritual that dissipates the tale's pent-up energies and reasserts their maleness without violating any of the other privileged cultural codes ("control of the Spirit," the law).  That kind of paper would go in the direction of Women's Studies, gender relations, the politics of violence as a cultural construction, and the dynamic resolution of violent tensions with symbolic rituals like "boy and father go into the woods."  Evidence could come from historical or sociological studies, Hemingway's other fiction, and his biography, or from the works of other writers whose works contain similar structuring value systems.

        The "hyper-male" vs. "gender-conflicted male" stack at the top of the page could be mined for smaller, easier to explain structuring binaries.  In fact, the "maleness" stack contains three related stacks that are explored below in the hyperlinked pages on "The Doctor and the Doctor's Wife" from Hemingway's In Our Time.  I started from two pairs of opposing terms that most readers should be able to see without difficulty.

open              <---------->                     closed

The Doctor's Wife <----------->                     The Doctor