Ernest Hemingway



Homes Religion Chronology

Issues and Themes

In his early years, Hemingway was very close to Sherwood Anderson, a writer he highly admired. Anderson found a willing, enthusiastic pupil in Hemingway. Gurko has pointed out that like Anderson, Hemingway thought the mind was "treacherous and abstract", and the senses were always to be trusted (18). Hemingway used his senses at the center of his writing. In Modern Critical Views: Earnest Hemingway, Robert Penn Warren comments that "this intense awareness of the world of the senses is, of course, one of the things that made the early work of Hemingway seem, upon its first impact, so fresh and pure." He adds, "Physical nature is nowhere rendered with greater vividness than in his work, and probably his only competitors in the department of literature are William Faulkner, among the modern, and Henry David Thoreau , among the old American writers" (45). Not long after the relationship that started with Anderson, people began labeling Hemingway as Anderson's disciple. Hemingway didn't like this because he wanted to be his own man. What resulted was The Torrents of Spring in which Hemingway "ridiculed and parodied Anderson's style of writing, his characters, and his most cherished ideas about life." Obviously, their friendship ended. (Gurko 29)

Hemingway was greatly disturbed by his father's suicide. He questioned his father's courage, or lack of courage. His father had taught him to admire courage. Once, Hemingway defined courage as grace under pressure. Yet his father could not handle this extreme pressure. He felt his father had somehow failed him. Soon, Hemingway assumed the nickname Papa, which he held to the end of his life. He was taking on the burden of being the person, or ideal papa, that his own father had failed to be. (Gurko 35)

By 1952, Hemingway had become the most publicized writer in America. Gurko notes that "everything he said and did was avidly recorded by the columnists" and  "his emphatic personality supplied newspapers and magazine editors with endlessly colorful copy" (Gurko 48).

Hemingway's stories are concerned with death. In Our Time is a good example of how his stories
relate to death. There are fourteen brief italicized scenes between the short tales.  These are numbered as chapters. The keynote of these interchapters is violence which contains the threat of death in its most aggressive form. Gurko comments that "loss and approaching death may be the unavoidable fact of human existence" and that "the central lesson of existence, however, is that death must be accepted, faced without demoralization, and thereby mastered."  He adds, "Hemingway's stories are as much a demonstration of the lesson as they are of the fact; their drama arises from the tension between them" (Gurko 177-78).

Hemingway has had an enormous influence on American writers, mainly because of his unique writing style. He used simple nouns and verbs and was still able to capture the scene precisely. He provided detached descriptions of action in that he avoided describing the thoughts and emotions of his characters in a direct way. In an interview from Modern Critical Views: Ernest Hemingway, Hemingway was asked how detached from and experience must he be before writing about it in fictional terms; i.e., the African air crashes.  Hemingway responded:
          It depends on the experience. One part of you sees it with complete detachment from the
          start. Another part is very involved. I think there is no rule about how soon one should write
          about it.  It would depend on how well adjusted the individual was and on his or her
          recuperative powers. Certainly it is valuable to a trained writer to crash in an aircraft which
Hemingway made the reading of the story as close to the actual experience as possible.  Authenticity in writing was important to him and he felt that one's treatment of a subject in writing was more honest if the person had actually experienced it or observed the subject closely.

Below are more excerpts from an interview edited by George Plimpton in Modern Critical Views: Ernest Hemingway.
     Interviewer: Would you admit to there being symbolism in your novels?
     Hemingway: I suppose there are symbols since critics keep finding them. If you do not mind, I dislike talking about them and being questions about them. It is hard enough to write books and stories without being asked to explain them as well. If five or six more good explainers can keep going why should I interfere with them? Read anything I write for the pleasure of reading it. Whatever else you find will be the measure of what you brought to the reading. (128-29)

     Interviewer: How complete in your own mind is the conception of a short story? Does the theme, or the plot, or a character change as you go along?
     Hemingway: Sometimes you know the story. Sometimes you make it up as you go along and have no idea how it will come out. Everything changes as it moves. That is what makes the movement which makes the story. Sometimes the movement is so slow it does not seem to be moving. But there is always change and always movement. (131)

     Interviewer: We've not discussed character. Are the characters of your work taken without exception from real life?
     Hemingway: Of course they are not. Some come from real life. Mostly you invent people from a knowledge and understanding and experience of people.
     Interviewer: Could you say something about the process of turning a real-life character into a fictional one?
     Hemingway: If I explained how that is sometimes done, it would be a handbook for libel lawyers. (132)

     Interviewer: Finally, a fundamental question: namely, as a creative writer what do you think is the function of your art? Why a representation of fact, rather than fact itself?
     Hemingway: Why be puzzled by that? From things that have happened and from things as they exist and from things that you know and all those you cannot know, you make something through your invention that is not a representation but a whole new thing truer than anything true and alive, and you make it alive, and if you make it well enough, you give it immortality. That is why you write and for no other reason that you know of. But what about all the reasons that no one knows? (136)


"The Snows of Kilimanjaro"

The Sun Also Rises


Written and designed by Sherri Byrd, Ashley Lawler, and Misty Wilson, students, University of North Carolina at Pembroke, 1997
Edited by Mark Canada, Ph.D., professor of English, University of North Carolina at Pembroke

© Mark Canada, 1997

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