Who Was Earnest Hemingway?

Earnest Hemingway was perhaps the most widely known American novelist of recent times. His style of narration created a revolution in the art of English prose. His attitude to life caught the imagination of a generation of war-weary youth. It was a name associated with war and courage, with love and violence, with beauty and death. His leading characters came to be widely recognized throughout the world. And he himself became a sort of legend because of his life of colourful adventure.

Hemingway was born in 1899 in Oak Park near Chicago. From his doctor-father, he acquired a passion for fishing and shooting, hunting and rowing and living adventurously. From his musical mother, he inherited an observant eye and extraordinary sensitive mind. The father wanted him to study medicine and the mother wanted him to bloom as a musician. But Hemingway wanted to be a soldier. World War I was then on in all its destruction and fury. The army, however, rejected him on account of an injured eye. So he got the job as a reporter on the ‘Kansas City Star’. This job taught him the economy of words and narration and these features became characteristic of Hemingway’s style.

In a few months, Hemingway managed to leave for Italy as an ambulance driver. He got into Italian infantry and witnessed real action at the front. He was badly wounded. 227 splinters had to be removed from his body. However, he had to leave his job because of his invalidity. He came back home in 1919. Experiences of war and injuries played an important part in shaping Hemingway’s literary creations and his personal life. It gave him a deep insight into human suffering.

Next year, Hemingway was back in Europe as the correspondent of the ‘Toronto Star’. He made a name as a reporter. But he had the intention of becoming a creative writer. So, he settled in Paris and began to write with vigour. Two notable American writers Ezra Pound and Gertrude Stein helped him in his literary realm.

The Sun also Rises was the first novel that shot Hemingway to fame. It deals with the lives of American repatriates like him who had served in the war with great hopes and ideals. But now they were frustrated. Naturally, Hemingway became the voice of the ‘lost generation’.

Returning to America he brought out ‘A Farewell to Arms’ which achieved instant popularity. He narrated the unsuccessful love affair with Agnes, the nurse in Red Cross Hospital and his experiences with the Italian army. So the novel put Hemingway among the richest authors of that time.

Hemingway returned to Toronto. His wife Hadley gave birth to his first son. After the birth of his son, he came to Paris in December, 1923 to continue his literary career. Here he broke up his first marriage with Hadley and married Pauline, a rich young lady, who also wrote articles on fashion for the magazine ‘Vogue’. In 1928 Hemingway left Paris and went to America, setting down in key, West Florida’ for the next ten years. For the next ten years, his achievements in sports, triumphs as a hunter and fisherman, his eccentric sayings and his capacity for bullfighting gleamed in his ‘Death in the Afternoon’ and his big game hunting in ‘Green Hills of Africa’. He became the image of the American hero—people, who had never read his novels, knew him as a personality.

It was the civil war in Spain that brought out the best of Hemingway, the writer. He witnessed the suffering and sacrifices of the freedom fighters when he served as the Special Correspondent of the North American newspaper, ‘Allance’; ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’ was a powerful record of these impressions.

It became the crowing achievement of his literary career. While in Spain, he met Martha Gellhorn, another journalist, who became his disciple. She developed intimacy with Hemingway. So Pauline divorced him leaving Hemingway free to marry Martha in November, 1940. It was his third marriage. But he was not a libertine.

Hemingway also saw active service in World War II. He flew on a number of missions with the American Air Force and R.A.F as a correspondent for ‘Colliers’. He was with the American Army when it broke through into France and Germany.

His relations with Martha underwent a change. Their marriage came to an end. She refused to look after him during his illness. Mary Welsh nursed Hemingway in his illness and became his fourth wife.

After the war, he wandered all over the world with restless energy. In 1954, he was on hunting trip in Africa in the company of his fourth wife, Mary Welsh. His plane crashed in a jungle in Kenya. He was believed dead. But he survived the crash.

1954 also brought him the coveted Nobel Prize for Literature. He had written the novelette in 1952’ The Old Man and the Sea’. It is a short, simple and adventurous story of an old fisherman’s struggle to bring into port a giant fish he had caught in the Gulf of Mexico. This book got the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. It was a befitting recognition of Hemingway’s contribution to American literature .Next year, the Nobel Prize committee raised him to the World Peerage of literature praising his power and skill. He had created a new literary style embodied in ‘The Old Man and the Sea.’

Hemingway lived in a grand style after attaining wealth. He stayed in Florida and then in Cuba. The Castro revolution displaced him from Havana. He finally settled in Idaho near the Sun Valley. His health began to deteriorate. In July, 1961 despising a life of physical weakness, he shot himself dead. He had been working until the end, leaving many unpublished manuscripts in the care of Mary. In 1963, there appeared his posthumous and best selling memoir of Paris in the Twenties, ‘A Moveable Feast.’

Every writer is the product of the age in which he writes. Hemingway is no exception. No other American author has cast such spell on his generation as Earnest Hemingway. He is one of the authors, who must be regarded as a special product of the age of freedom. He became a living legend in his lifetime for his work as well as his personal adventures. Excited boys and girls saw in him the ideal ‘tough guy’ and the image of masculinity. The way he handled English prose will remain a challenge and inspiration for generations to come.

Hemingway stepped into literature through journalism. His work as reporter on the ‘Kansas City Star’ taught him the essentials of powerful narration. He learnt how to get the maximum effect from a minimum of words. He used short sentences and cut out clichés and bombastic words. The result was a prose marvellous in its simplicity, directness and power.

The Hemingway style became famous and produced a host of imitators. The sentences are clipped, short and colloquial. Words are mostly monosyllabic. They are often repeated in a free verse effect. The narration is severely objective. There is no sentimentality in it. Emotion is held at arm’s length. Only the bare happenings are recorded. He makes the speech of everyday life into a prose, which is living and alert. He has shown the authors how to write natural dialogues with a rhythm.

Hemingway follows the symbolist technique for expressing the conditions of his characters. In ‘A Farewell to Arms’ the mountains find easy association with the ideas of ‘home’ security, peace and health. The plains represent filth, fatigue, war and death. Sometimes, rain is used as a symbol of death and destruction. Snow is used as a symbol of death in ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’. Santiago in ‘The Old Man and the Sea’ sees the second shark attacking the huge marlin; he exclaimed ‘Ay Hemingway said,..” There is no translation for this word. Santiago’s description of posture with his straight arms and the palms of his hands up are clearly symbolic.

Hemingway’s plot-construction is an achievement. His ‘The Old Man and the Sea’ provides a fine example of an excellent plot for its integrity. He has been able to convey an intensely felt personal vision. So, he is a superb craftsman of novels and a great story-teller.

Hemingway used his lucid and powerful prose to portray the mind of an era. From the very beginning, he became the voice of the ‘lost generation’. ‘In Our Time’, ‘Men without Women’ and ‘A farewell to Arms’ are poignant’ expressions of the agony of a war-wounded generation. His own opinion about style is clear from the revelation in ‘Death in the Afternoon’; “Prose is architecture not interior decorations…..”

He had respect for form and discipline, for perfection and exact phrase. His hard-boiled narrative technique conveys indelible impressions.

Hemingway’s naturalism presents a picture of life more real than the one found in realistic writings. His naturalism has a philosophical base that man is no more than the roof and crown of animals. His character and destiny are determined by his heredity and environment. In ‘A Farewell to Arms’ there is reflection of determination in Frederic Henry’s passionate prayer to God to spare Catherine Barkley’s life. But it goes unanswered because determination does not believe in divine dispensation.

There is a strong undercurrent of pessimism and fatalism in his writings. Be it is a short story like ‘The Killers’ or a description of adventure like ‘The Green Hills of Africa’ Or the novelette like ‘The Old Man and the Sea’ – the theme is essentially the same. The hero may be a soldier, a general, a gambler, a smuggler, a hunter or a fisherman; but he has always been gravely wounded, physically and mentally. He carries the scars on his body and in his mind. The moral and philosophy of life of a Hemingway as hero can be summed up in one sentence. “A man can be destroyed but not defeated’. His head is bloody but unbowed.” A bull-fighter in the ‘Death in the Afternoon’ is overcome by the raging bull. But he does not surrender and, therefore, proves to be the victor. In his last work, ‘The Old Man and the Sea’ the aged Cuban fisherman triumphs through his fight with the giant fish. In the end, the sharks eat away his catch and deprive him of the reward for his exertion and sacrifice.

This theme runs like a continuous thread through all Hemingway’s works. Many critics maintain that his outlook is limited and incomplete. His conception of honour and heroes is rather primitive or childish. But this very limitation found a powerful response among a generation and looked to men of strength.

Hemingway once remarked that a writer has only one mission—to tell the truth. His view may or may not be acceptable. But he deserves admiration because he strips every falsehood, every conventional hypocrisy from the innermost. He has left his mark by his remarkable gift of narration, his sensitiveness to impressions especially of the natural world.

Written by Lucas Beaumont

Generalist. Wikipedia contributor. Elementary school teacher from Saskatchewan, Canada.

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