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Hemingway in Nature Essay

The great respect Ernest Hemingway has for nature is manifested as an important character in his works. Although Hemingway cut down his prose to the minimum necessary to convey the action of his characters, he carefully advanced the theme of nature. Hemingway describes trees, leaves and needles, water, rain and bodies of water, rocks, wind and breezes and animals as part of the theme of nature. In so deliberately including the nature theme in his work, Hemingway elevates it as more than a part of the setting of the action to a point that nature plays a role or a character in the action.

Hemingway expresses important concepts and ideas in his writing in a deliberate manner. Within the structure of his sentences and paragraphs, he shapes the concept he is emphasizing by repeating it and using description to highlight it:

He lay on the brown, pine-needled floor of the forest, his chin on his folded arms, and high overhead the wind blew in the tops of the pine trees. (Hemingway 1) Here, the concept of a pine tree is emphasized through its placement both at the beginning and the end of a single, short sentence and the “fruit” of the tree, the needles, are emphasized to a greater degree by description as the “brown, pine-needled floor”. Hemingway makes clear that pine tree is thought of both as a living evergreen tree, i.e., green in color, as well as a tree that sheds its needles to create a brown blanket of cover on the floor of the forest. Also, the pine trees are not simple and unmoving objects.

The pine trees have acted to cover the floor with needles, and they sway, having been blown by the wind. The character then is not alone in a woods, but rather he is among the pine trees who are moving and acting in the scene as the character does.

Hemingway takes the emphasizing to a whole another literal level as he characterizes the interaction between the rain drops and rain and the tree and branches: “The trees were dripping in the rain. It was cold and the drops hung to the branches.” (Hemingway 1) Repetition is an obvious means by which Hemingway adds impact to the role that nature plays in his work:

He was sorry for the birds, especially the small delicate dark terns that were always flying and looking and almost never finding, and he thought, the birds have a harder life than we do except for the robber birds and the heavy strong ones. (Hemingway 29)

Hemingway does not simply state the character’s idea that he feels sorry for a bird. Instead in this excerpt, Hemingway repeats birds, the type of birds, and the action of the birds over and over: “birds”, “terns”, “flying”, “birds”, “robber birds” and “heavy strong ones”. In this way, Hemingway adds focus to what the character is saying, he feels sorrow toward a particular type of bird, a vulnerable or delicate one, one with a “harder life”. Even beyond this, Hemingway implies that certain other birds are not worthy of sorrow; the “robber birds” who are “heavy” and “strong” are worthy of contempt.

Through the repetition of the word “bird” or the bird-like descriptions, Hemingway expands his character’s feelings and provides greater depth to what is stated. In this way, what is stated is given greater meaning, and the character also is given greater depth.

Hemingway could state things in single manner, and in that one manner only. However, his writing style is to repeat an important theme. In this way, there is a certain point to be proven and he makes it clear by underscoring it by repetition. In the excerpt below, Hemingway addresses a snowstorm: In a snowstorm it always seemed, for a time, as if there were no enemies.

In a snowstorm the wind would blow a gale; but it blew a white cleanness and the air was full of a driving whiteness and all things were changed and when the wind stopped there would be the stillness. This was a big storm and he might as well enjoy it. It was ruining everything, but you might as well enjoy it. (Hemingway 71)

Here, the snowstorm, and other words such as “blow”, “blew”, “gale”, “cleanness”, “whiteness”, “stillness”, and again, “storm” all are variations on the meaning of what a snowstorm is and what it represents. It leaves a mental picture almost palpable, with the feel, the look and the sound of this aspect of nature.

In addition to sentence placement, rich description and repetition, Hemingway personifies nature by giving to it human characteristics. In the following except, the rain is given a personality: It turned cold that night and the next day it was raining. Coming home from Ospedale Maggiore it rained very hard and I was wet when I came in. Up in my room, the rain was coming down heavily outside on the balcony, and wind blew it against the glass doors. (Hemingway 142)

In the three sentences above, Hemingway restates three times that it is raining and then finally emphasizes that the rain is blowing against the glass doors. The rain is shown to be insistent. The rain is not satisfied only to make the character wet while he is outside in the rain, but also the rain tries to barge into the character’s room by blowing against the doors. In this way, Hemingway is not content to describe that it is raining, or even that it is raining hard. Instead, he uses imagery of a person prying against a door like a robber to convey that the rain has a purpose or a goal to achieve.

Hemingway takes something as simple as the movement of a weed and beautifully plays it up to be something so much more: Just before it was dark, as they passed a great island of Sargasso weed that heaved and swung in the light sea as though the ocean were making love with something under a yellow blanket. (Hemingway 72) Personifying nature is giving it qualities of humans or portraying an aspect of nature to be doing an action that humans tend to do, Hemingway includes this aspect of writing in many of his works. In the above passage, Hemingway manifests the weeds “making love” in a certain movement.

Nature is beautiful and was one of Hemingway’s great loves, yet he was not to sugar coat things. When something was mediocre, he brought it into the light: It stormed all that day. The wind drove down the rain and
everywhere there was standing water and mud. The plaster of the broken houses was gray and wet. (Hemingway 174)

Just as humans have both good and bad qualities, Hemingway illustrates that nature can mimic just the same. It would be a very great fate to find a paragraph of Hemingway’s that has nothing to do with nature. He carefully articulates each sentence and it has vast meaning. There may be question as to why he includes some; “‘Fish, he said, ‘I love you and respect you very much. But I will kill you dead before this day ends.’” (Hemingway 54).

A man is speaking to a fish, he is well aware that the fish will not respond, but it’s the meaning of taking the time to include him telling the fish that he will have to kill him, assumedly for food. Hemingway addresses nature so as to emphasize its importance to his works. Nature is not simply a part of the setting of scenes by Hemingway in his works.

Various depictions of nature are written in a manner that create a tension between nature and the characters. The fact that Hemingway is so careful to emphasize nature in his writing style cannot be viewed as accidental or sentimental. Hemingway’s work as a whole is remarkable for the reason that it is so precise and cut down to a bare minimum:

… A.J. Verdelle, what do you think {Hemingway’s] most positive legacy for American writing has been?
A.J. Verdelle: Well, actually, I think that Hemingway changed American writing. I think that he lived in a time at the edge of the florid 19th century, long writing. And he made it spare. He made it new. He made it vigorous. He made it fresh. And I appreciate him a great deal for that. (Verdelle Web.)

For his writing which is otherwise “spare”, Hemingway devotes much energy to making the appearances of nature in his work memorable and active. Some may wonder why Hemingway chooses to write in such a spare manner, yet not one bit bland: It’s really up to you how much you want to read into the pine needles. Regardless of whether they have any larger meaning, Hemingway’s use of the same image at the beginning and end of the book – not just pine needles, but Robert Jordan lying on them – gives the novel nice bookends, and a nifty little sense of circularity…

Reading a little more into it, it’s likely that the pine needles on the ground are meant to be the singular image for the land of Spain itself, for Spanish earth, which Robert Jordan loves. (Siminoff Web)

Mr. Siminoff proves an excellent point about the pine needles, however, there are pine needles in France, Michigan, and Austria — all places that Hemingway was familiar with and set other stories. So, isn’t the larger point about pine needles that Hemingway connects the action of his characters to nature?

The immediacy or vividness of nature in Hemingway’s work comes from the precise and planned way in which Hemingway writes, giving great meaning in a condensed form to that which he places in a scene:

Physical nature is nowhere rendered with greater vividness than in his work…The meadows, forests, lakes, and trout streams of America, and the arid, sculpturesque mountains of Spain, appear with astonishing immediacy, an immediacy not dependent upon descriptive flourishes. (Bloom Web).
Bloom studied many great American authors, thus making his knowledge of literature is pronounced. Hemingway wrote solely about the things that he knew, nature depriving itself from all the places he ever went or travelled.

The accounts of criticism on the unique writing style of Hemingway are vast and numerous. One common thread between them all is that Hemingway put himself into each piece of literature that he wrote, each reflecting his life in a way: It seems fair to say that Hemingway never really understood himself. His well-publicized front of bravado and he-man feats masked a nature that was somehow empty. What comes through in the huge volume of letters edited by Carlos Baker is the portrait of a man utterly deluded about the extent and sources of his pain, a malicious bully whose exploits served to fill up a life in which something — love, empathy, genuine interest in others — was missing. (Atlas Web).

While harshly critical of Hemingway, there is a point to be made. They say it is best to write about the things you know, Hemingway did just this. Atlas believed his writing became mainstream and lost its freshness. He argued that Hemingway was missing something from his writing. However, this is only one account.

Ernest Hemingway was a man among men. He was the true embodiment of a “jack of all trades.” All the nature, hunting, fishing, and war tales that he wrote were a part of him. These things were his life and all that he knew. Nature is evidentially manifested in Hemingway’s works through sentences placement, the repetition of a single element in nature, rich description, and by being given human characteristics parts of nature. Upon reading Hemingway novel or short story, immediately bound to a vivid perspective of nature the reader is and that is a true gift.

Works Cited:
Atlas, James. “Papa Lives” The Atlantic Monthly Group. 31 Mar. 2011. Web. 31 Mar. 2011
Bloom, Harold. Bloom’s How to Write about Ernest Hemingway. New York: Infobase, 2009. Print. Bloom, Harold, ed. “Bloom on Ernest Hemingway.” Ernest Hemingway, Bloom’s Major Short Story Writers. Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishing, 1999. Bloom’s Literary Reference Online. Facts On File, Inc. BMSSEH01&SingleRecord=True (accessed February 3, 2011). Hemingway, Ernest. Farewell to Arms.

New York: Scribner Paperback Fiction, 1929. Print. Hemingway, Ernest. The Old Man and the Sea. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1952. Print. Hemingway, Ernest. “Up in Michigan.” The Short Stories. New York: Scribner Paperback Fiction, 1953. 81-87.

Print “Reflections on Hemingway.” Joe Stoppard. Web. 31 Mar. 2011. <>. Siminoff, David. “From Whom the Bell Tolls.” Shmoop. Web. 31 Mar. 2011. <>.

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