Ernest Hemingway is one of the most legendary figures in American literature, known for his writing as well as his love of the dangerous—deep sea fishing, big game hunting, bullfighting in Spain, etc. As an author, he covers myriad subject matter in a very distinctive style. His sentences are short and non-descriptive, and the reader must work to uncover literary elements like theme. Dialogue is his real specialty. He uses very few descriptive details. His novels tend to be more about masculine subjects and based on his adventures while his short stories are known for his exploration of roles between men and women.
His novels tend to be based on his experiences. In fact, as the Hemingway Resource Center states, “When you want to find the truth about Hemingway’s life, look first to his fiction” (Hemingway resource center). In Our Time was published in 1925 and contained some very notable short stories, such as “Big Two-Hearted River. ” Men Without Women was published in 1927. The Sun Also Rises was one of the first books he published, and the subject matter was a group of young people living in Spain, expatriates living abroad.
The main character was in “love” with a woman who was also in love with a bullfighter. “The Sun Also Rises introduced the world to the “lost generation” and was a critical and commercial success. Set in Paris and Spain, the book was a story of unrequitable love against a backdrop of bars and bullfighting” (Hemingway Resource Center). Soon after that in 1929 came A Farewell to Arms, which some would say is the best book to come out of the experience of World War I. The tragic ending actually comes from one of Hemingway’s wives (Pauline) and her struggles with childbirth.
And after that came his dissertation called Death in the Afternoon, all about bullfighting. Hemingway says that, “It is intended as an introduction to the modern Spanish bullfight and attempts to explain that spectacle both emotionally and practically. It was written because there was no book which did this in Spanish or in English. ” In this dissertation he began to form his idea of the true hero as “grace under pressure. ” He also outlined his “theory of omission” or “iceberg principle,” which is a theory very important to future literature.
He states: “If a writer of prose knows enough about what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of the iceberg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water. The writer who omits things because he does not know them only makes hollow places in his writing. ” (Hemingway Resource Center). His novel called The Green Hills of Africa in 1935 came from the fascination Hemingway had with Teddy Roosevelt’s African hunting safaris.
With borrowed money from his wife’s uncle, Hemingway spent three months in Africa on a safari of his own. The novel comes from this. 1940 brought For Whom the Bell Tolls, a novel about the Spanish Civil War. Many of his novels were really about that whole idea of the Hemingway hero. The Hemingway hero must face death bravely and live life to the fullest even in the presence of death. Hemingway suffered through a long period of not being favored by the critics and was determined to gain back his previous status. This is when he published The Old Man and the Sea, the quintessential novel of courage and persistence.
This book sold over 5 million copies in a very short time, and suddenly Hemingway was on top of the heap once again. This book about a man’s struggle with a humongous marlin even won the Pulitzer Prize in 1953. He simply could not duplicate the brilliance of this book again. His nonfiction sketches of Paris in the 1920s called A Moveable Feast (1964) did nothing to advance his reputation. Unfortunately, due to age and medical problems Hemingway never wrote anything close to this again. He ended up killing himself due to depression and medical problems.
While the themes of his novels tend to revolve around his experience, his short stories do so too but to a lesser extent. His focus in many of his famous short stories tends to be more about the lack of communication between males and females. For example, His short stories “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” and “The Short Happy Life of Frances Macomber” both come from the safari experience as well although the focus is different. In “Snows of Kilimanjaro,” Hemingway’s main male character is a writer who has basically wasted his talent by becoming sexually involved with a rich woman who buys him everything he needs.
This short story can certainly be seen as Hemingway himself lamenting the way that he was wasted his talent as a write although some say it is about F. Scott Fitzgerald. His male character, Harry, is a chauvinistic pig while the female character attends to his every need. She is weak, and this allows the writer to take total advantage of her. Again, the reader can’t help but wonder how much of this is autobiographical. Another short story that has gained much attention is from the 1927 book called men without Women.
This story is called “Hills Like White Elephants” shows how much of a story Hemingway could tell with very little. It defines his minimalist style. In classic Hemingway style a couple sits at the bar of a train station discussing an unknown subject. Part of the beauty of the story is that the reader must work to uncover the subject of their conversation, but also that every detail in the setting, in the story itself goes toward making meaning. It also shows the communication breakdown between man and woman.
For example, the very fact that the story is set in a train station is pure beauty. This couple must make a decision about the issue before them (abortion). There is no going back and there is not standing still. They must get on whichever train they are getting on without hesitation. As the girl looks out one side of the station, she sees green, fertile ground. As she looks out the other side, she sees dry barrenness. Again, the symbolic meaning is clear. The couple has an entire conversation and never mentions the word abortion, nor do they look at each other.
They look at everything else which shows the extent to which they are uncomfortable with the subject and each other. They repeat the same phrases over and over again without any true understanding, although the girl does seem to catch on in the end. This is classic Hemingway to show the lack of communication even between two people who are supposed to be close. A sample of Hemingway’s masterful dialogue follows: Well,’ the man said, ‘if you don’t want to you don’t have to. I wouldn’t have you do it if you didn’t want to. But I know it’s perfectly simple. ‘And you really want to? ’ ‘I think it’s the best thing to do. But I don’t want you to do it if you don’t really want to. ’ ‘And if I do it you’ll be happy and things will be like they were and you’ll love me? ’ ‘I love you now. You know I love you. ’ ‘I know. But if I do it, then it will be nice again if I say things are like white elephants, and you’ll like it? ’ ‘I’ll love it. I love it now but I just can’t think about it. You know how I get when I worry. ’ ‘If I do it you won’t ever worry? ’ ‘I won’t worry about that because it’s perfectly simple. ’
To say that this man and “girl” do not understand each other is pure understatement. They are talking in circles and are just not communicating. Hemingway’s short stories are full of this kind of dialogue. Another famous story called “Cat in the Rain” discusses the sense of isolation for an American wife. As Darren Felty states, “The work revolves around the desire of Hemingway’s protagonist, an American wife vacationing in Italy, to rescue a cat from an afternoon rain storm. She fails in her attempt, revealing in the process the emotional distance she feels from her husband and the attendants at the hotel.
The story employs a complex of barriers, enclosures, and geometrically defined details to represent the emotional and psychological boundaries that restrict character interaction” (Felty). This seemingly simple story uses barriers to symbolize the relationship between the man and woman. Once again, communication is a huge problem. While the wife tells her husband of this poor kitty in the rain, he barely looks up from his paper. Eventually she ends in a tantrum, much like “Hills Like White Elephants” in order to be heard. But the details of setting that Hemingway uses are genius to show the alienation of the characters.
This story is told to perfect satisfaction in two pages. In following with a very important theme of Hemingway is “Big Two-Hearted River. ” In this story, the reader follows Nick from innocence to knowledge. Basically Nick returns to a place he fished when he was younger, but the whole area has been destroyed by fire. However, by returning to this place of innocence from his youth, Nick is able to go forward in life as Hemingway’s heroes are. The theme of alienation is played out chillingly well in “A Clean Well-Lighted Place. ” Again, we see a Hemingway hero living his life but accepting death.
In this story an old man comes to this diner every night. He arrives late one night as the young waiter is closing up, but the young waiter doesn’t want to let him have a drink. An older waiter, the voice of experience, allows him to have a drink because he understands just how important it is for everyone to have “a clean well-lighted place” that is open as long as possible. In other words, he understands loneliness in a way the younger waiter could never imagine. Lastly, an important short story is “The Short and Happy Life of Frances Macomber.
In this story, Hemingway’s idea of a hero is played out. On this safari, Frances is very scared. He is also ruled by his wife. However, he stands up to his wife and is happy for a few seconds until he is killed. Like Hemingway’s code hero, he becomes brave (if only for a minute). He faces his fear and overcomes it; it matters not that he dies shortly after. F. Scott Fitzgerald criticized Hemingway for writing stories in which nothing happens. That is true in a way. There is not much action in Hemingway’s novels or short stories, but the dialogue and the setting tell the reader so much.
Hemingway is known for his masterful use of dialogue and his sparse details to tell more than a complete story. He describes this in his iceberg principle. “If it is any use to know it, I always try to write on the principle of the iceberg. There is seven-eighths of it underwater for every part that shows. Anything you know you can eliminate and it only strengthens your iceberg. It is the part that doesn’t show. If a writer omits something because he does not know it then there is a hole in the story” (Hemingway). Overall, Hemingway is one of the greatest American writers the world has seen.