- "Couldn't you have gotten into something else? Couldn't you have gotten into some other jam?"
- "Vice is a monster of such fearful mien, the young man said bitterly, "that to be something or other needs to be seen. Then we something, then embrace."
- "He was not the same-looking man as he had been before he had told her to go. He got up from the table, picked up the two checks, and went over to the bar with them."
Ernest Hemingway's "The Sea Change" revolves around a young couple appear to have been vacationing throughout the entire summer and are now in a bar in Paris. They are a young couple and the story opens with the two of them arguing inside an almost empty bar (with the exception of the bartender and two people sitting at a distant table). From the beginning, it is strikingly interesting that the man (whose name is Phil) is the one doing all of the arguing. He is clearly upset about something that the young woman (whose name is never mentioned) has done. She, on the other hand, appears to be sorry and speaks with an apologetic tone that aims to appease Phil. Phil does not allow himself to be appeased by the woman's apologetic words and calm tone. He seems disturbed and perplexed by what the woman has done (or is about to do) and so he bluntly asks her: "Couldn't you have gotten into something else? Couldn't you have gotten into some other jam?" Based on these questions and on the conversation that develops at the beginning of the story (during the course of which Phil even threatens to kill another woman) it only follows that the woman is thinking about leaving to have an affair with another woman. In other words, the argument between allows for the inference that the woman is bisexual and Phil is uncomfortable with her sexual preference/inclination.
Upon analyzing the argument that unfolds in the bar between Phil and the woman it becomes clear that their views on the subject matter (the woman's implied bisexuality) are fundamentally different and opposite. Phil is openly against and is overly critical and judgmental of the woman. This clearly indicates that he is a conservative man with rigid, traditional values and morals. When referring to the subject the man characterizes as a perversion and a vice; "vice is a monster of such fearful mien," the young man said bitterly, "that to be something or other needs to be seen. Then we something, then embrace." Phil is distraught by what he has learned about the woman he is with and which he evidently loves. On this point it is important to point out that the story is set in the 1930s; this was a time in which gender equality was nonexistent and in which homosexuality and bisexuality were fundamentally complex taboos. Phil, in this context, represents the mindset of the 1930s conservative society.
The woman, contrary to Phil, is open and liberal. She is a woman that acknowledges who she really is and accepts her own sexual preference. This becomes clear by the fact that throughout the play she does not appear to be sorry for being a bisexual (although she does evidence feelings of sadness and grief for hurting Phil). Furthermore, she is a woman that does not see any fault in loving a man (as she clearly loves Phil) and a woman at the same time. This becomes clear by the fact that she tries to reassure Phil by telling him that he need not worry because she will not abandon him. She intends to come back to him as soon as "it' is finished.
The contradictory views evidenced by both characters make it clear that they have different mindsets. Seeing the way in which each acts during the argument it also becomes clear that their personalities are different. However, there is one thing in which they are one and the same: the love that each holds towards the other. Phil genuinely loves the woman and she reciprocates this love; this much is clear because none can muster the strength to leave the other. In fact, the love that Phil feels for the woman is so profound that in the end he foregoes his objections and compromises his own moral values by acquiescing to her request. After having objected to her proposition at first (of leaving to be with another woman and then return to him) Phil ends giving in and simply tells her to leave right away. Upon hearing Phil's words the woman lights up; she is happy and thankful. She leaves him without looking back, but after she leaves he comes to realize that something has changed in him. Looking himself in the mirror he realized that "he was not the same-looking man as he had been before he had told her to go. He got up from the table, picked up the two checks, and went over to the bar with them."
By the end of the story, it becomes clear that Phil has decided to accept the woman's bisexuality. He understands that despite considering such a sexual preference a vice and a perversion, he cannot give her up because he loves her. This story develops the story of two opposing characters that through love find a way of finally reaching common ground intolerance and acceptance. Finally, it can be stated that through "The Sea Change" Ernest Hemingway characterizes the conservative fashion and mindset of the 1930s society, as well as the beginning of an intrinsic sexual liberation (which is evidence in the woman's character).
- Vigía, Finca, ed.The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway. New York: Simon & Schuster Inc., 2008. Print.