Openness-Closure: Functions of Vulnerability and Power in "The Doctor and the Doctor's Wife"
I started with the Doctor's Wife's open Bible and the Doctor's closed (and unread) medical journals, and I looked for more things that were described as being either open or closed. I also moved up the scale of abstraction to the highest terms I could think of that would describe what all the open and closed things had in common: openness or closure.
Vulnerable/Privative Terms <-----------> Powerful/Privileged Terms
openness <------------> closure
open books <----------> closed books
open doors/gates <----------> closed doors/gates
open mouths <----------> closed mouths
Note that 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). The plot confronts closed things with open things and the open things win until someone begins to close them. It's as if the danger of things opening, coming apart, separating, has to be confronted and controlled. Not all open things (Dick Boulton's mouth, the Doctor's Wife's Bible) can be closed by those who want them closed. Dick leaves the gate open when he leaves as an intentional sign of Doc's vulnerability. Billy Tabeshaw, who speaks no English and was close-mouthed, himself, closed the gate after him. Doc closes the door too hard when he leaves the house, scaring/offending his wife so that he must apologize (opening his mouth), but in doing so, he escapes her control, which eerily seems to emanate from that Bible which teaches yielding to violent challenges. Doc helps Nick close the book and they go out into the forest beyond, wordlessly. So what does this pattern of oppositions mean to our understanding of the story's deep structure, or the value systems operating in the culture it describes or in Hemingway's narrative universe? A paper originating from this Structuralist method would explain Hemingway's dramatization of power's relationship to vulnerability as something coded by exposure and concealment, an openness that paradoxically weakens and a closure that strengthens.
Hemingway seems to associate openness with femaleness, and closure with maleness. This may explain why Doc's response to Dick's threats is to retreat to the house where he menacingly loads and unloads his shotgun but never fires it (i.e., he has been "feminized" by the encounter with Dick).
Is this a universal structuring rule, or culturally determined, or revelatory of the era in which the tale was written, or a product of Hemingway's peculiar world view? Supporting evidence for those positions would come from cultural and biographical information from outside the tale. It's OK as long as relevance is established clearly--we're not New Critics any more. Does the open-closed binary have anything to do with the female-male binary (physiologically, too?)?