Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961)
When people hear the name Ernest Hemingway they automatically think of some book titles like “The Sun Also Rises,” “A Farewell to Arms.” “For Whom the Bell Tolls” and “The Old Man and the Sea.” What I find surprising is that only serious readers are aware that Hemingway won the Noble Prize for Literature in 1954, mostly due to the works that are listed.
For me Hemingway is the quintessential author who wrote what he felt, and from his life-experiences drew his characters and gave them life in the reader’s mind’s eye, mostly for what his characters had to say to one another, their thoughts and reactions to what they saw, but not necessarily what was happening around them. You see the story from the characters’ point of view. This sparely narrated style is best illustrated in Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea”.
In this work character dialog is everything. Most of the story takes place at sea in a small boat called a skiff, just a bit larger than a rowboat outfitted with a mast and sail, with only Santiago the angler on board, struggling to bring in a Marlin that is longer than his skiff. One of the all time best fish stories ever told.
Hemingway used a (contrapuntal structure) in his writing, this punchy point-counterpoint dialog between characters is best found in “For Whom the Bells Toll.” Hemingway let his characters tell the story, not leading the reader through the story from an outside point of view, but rather an inward point of view that revealed the story from his characters point of view. The narrative of most of the story was related to describing settings and the actions that were out of the characters control or due to something, the character had experienced in the character’s life.
Hemingway made strong statements in his books, insightful comments on life.
In “A Farewell to Arms” he wrote:
“The world breaks everyone and afterwards many are strong in the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good, the very gentle, and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too, but there will be no special hurry.”
Insightfulness like this only comes from living through a trauma, like war. In 1918, Hemingway at the age of 18, volunteered for the Red Cross as an ambulance driver in the “Great War” World War I, during his tour of he was decorated for bravery by the Italian Army for lifesaving actions at Fossalta di Piave. After being wounded by enemy artillery, he saved the life of Italian solders by taking them out of harms-way in the ambulance he was driving.
After recovering stateside Hemingway hunted and fished with friends, he started to write. A short story came out of these trips and was what I believe some self-doctoring for Hemingway. His main character is “Nick Adams” a returning war veteran who can no longer relate to anyone who has not seen war firsthand. In these first short stories, we find Hemingway using the “Theory of Omission” or the “Iceberg Theory” you only write about the tip and let the reader imagine what lies beneath.
He used the same style of writing in “Death in the Afternoon”. One must know the truth, the whole truth of what is being written about in order to convey a part and have the richness of the whole truth shine through. It is like seeing grief on the face of a loved one and knows the depth of that grief without saying a word.
A simple way to describe this “Theory of Omission” or the “Iceberg Theory” is, what are the actions of a person trying not to think about a tragic happening in their life, through a descriptive narrative of character action, actions mundane and simple but done by the character to avoid thinking about a trauma or impending danger the writer conveys a deeper drama to his plot, through symbolism.
To illustrate this for moviegoers, let’s take a page out of Alfred Hitchcock’s book of tricks. The main hero thinks he has foiled the villain and is safe, but we see the villain watching and waiting to strike back, the hero unaware of the impending danger. Aware or unaware, points of view that the writer must take into account when writing, as is the actions of avoiding or confronting a threat or situation.
Hemingway moved to Paris in the 1920s and became part of the “Lost Generation” a collection of artist, poets, and writers; Pablo Picasso, Joan Miro, Juan Gris, and Ezra Pound, to name a few. This was a school for the creative mind and influenced Hemingway’s work.
In 1928 Hemingway, after bouncing around Europe ended up in Key West Florida. This is where I pick up an interest in Hemingway. I lived in Key West for a time and actually met people that had known Hemingway as children, and drank at Sloppy Joe’s on occasion. Hemingway used Key West as a base, and was in and out of there to East Africa. Out of that trip came a short story “The Snows of Kilimanjaro”.
In 1937, Hemingway agreed to report on the Spanish Civil War. He was a globetrotter for a while, ending up in Cuba in the 1940s. He bounced between Cuba and Sun Valley Idaho and as was his habit took his work with him. He published “For Whom the Bells Toll” in 1940, and made Hemingway famous and was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.
The year 1944 saw Hemingway at war again, from June of 1944; “D Day” where he was ashore with the second wave, and stayed in the thick of the fighting covering the war from the solder’s point of view. For his front line reporting, he was awarded the Bronze Star. After the war, it was back to Cuba. After some family problems and globetrotting Hemingway published “The Old Man and the Sea.”Tthis won him the Pulitzer Prize in 1952.
In 1954 Hemingway went back to Africa, and was almost killed. He was involved in two plane crashes, in as many days. The local press published obituary notices reporting the Hemingway had died. In October of 1954 Hemingway was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. He was too ill to travel to Stockholm to personally except the award but sent a short acceptance speech.
Hemingway continued to write on and off into the 60s. He died July 2, 1961at home in Ketchum Idaho. It was not until 1966 that Mary Hemingway admitted that her husband had taken his own life. Mary Hemingway established the Hemingway Foundation in 1970, and the Hemingway Society was started in the ‘80s.
Much has been said about Hemingway and his influence on literature. But in the end, you should make up your own mind about Hemingway. No amount of incisive study can express the impact that any one of Hemingway’s works has on any one person. Reading Hemingway can be a deeply personal journey.