"Banal Story" by Ernest Hemingway was first published in the spring/summer 1926 issue of Little Review. It was reprinted the next year in Hemingway's story collection Men Without Women. It is one of Hemingway's briefest stories, only two pages in length.

In "Banal Story," an unnamed writer reads a copy of The Forum magazine, a prominent American magazine of the 1920s. The Forum advertised itself as an "intellectual periodical" that devoted the main part of each monthly issue to philosophical debates of the decade's most controversial topics, such as prohibition, science vs. religion, and sexual freedom. It also ran fiction pieces, but the magazine had conservative literary standards: stories were expected to obey unities of plot, character, and style, which meant that stories could only have one plot, introduce no new characters late in the story, and be written in only one literary style. "Banal Story" does none of these things.

The first part of the story parodies the content and editorial policies of The Forum. For example, stories for the magazine were expected to be humorous, and the editor, Henry G. Leach, often introduced each issue with a list of rhetorical questions. Hemingway both extracts real quotations from the magazine and adds to them to emphasize his parody.

Hemingway juxtaposes the material from The Forum the unnamed writer is reading with three paragraphs detailing events supposedly occurring at the same moment around the world. The longest of these is the last paragraph of the story. It describes the death of the famous Spanish bullfighter Manuel Garcia, known as Maera, from pneumonia. After his painful death and his funeral, his admirers are described as sitting in cafes and buying colored pictures of Maera that replace the picture of him that had been in their memories. These colored pictures could possibly resemble those published in The Forum.

In the beginning of the story, the unnamed writer seems to be searching for "life," which he equates with "Romance." He picks up the magazine to find it. If The Forum represents Romance in the story, the section about Maera, a cultural hero killed not by a bull but by pneumonia, might represent Realism. Since the story ends with Maera's admirers turning to the colored pictures to remember him, Romance appears to prevail. However, Hemingway's parody of The Forum suggests that unlike the writer in the story, his own aesthetic principles lead him to choose Realism to guide his fiction.

Banal Story Synopsis

"Banal Story" was first published in 1926 in Little Review, and then again in 1927 in Hemingway's short story collection Men Without Women. This story mocks the banality of American culture typified in The Forum, a popular American magazine of the 1920s. "Banal Story" is a relatively overlooked work, which is surprising because its essential message is an allegory of one of Hemingway's recurrent themes/philosophies: realism vs. romance.

The story begins with the narrator (likely representing Hemingway) eating an orange, sitting by the stove at his writing table, claiming, "Here, at last was life." He imagines far off real events, real romance: a boxing match, snow falling in Mesopotamia and a cricket game in Australia. Then he turns to read The Forum, whose patrons claim it to be the new guide for the intellectual. The narrator puts down the magazine, and the story shifts to an elegy: Manuel Garcia Maera, a famous bullfighter, on his deathbed. Newspapers in Andalucia had tributes and pictures of Maera were sold to remember him. Some bullfighters were relieved that he died because he was so good: a dual sign of respect and Machiavellian selfishness. The story ends with a description of men buying pictures of Maera and thoughtlessly stuffing them in their pockets.

Hemingway was mocking the literary selections of The Forum but also its general feel. Stylistically, the magazine simply engages in pretentious name dropping as if to convey a general historical knowledge and a finger on the pulse of current/progressive issues of the day. In the end, it is just a booklet of easily conceived rhetorical questions ("Our deepest convictions: Will science upset them?"). Hemingway was satirizing its laconic sound-bite style, shallow but claiming to stimulate romance and intellectual profundity. However, it is the description (and experience) of eating the orange and the cold, hard fact of the bullfighter's death that are real, and therefore, worth reading about. There is a parallel between the stories in The Forum and the pictures of Maera: not so much that they are only trite representations of reality, but that, for many people, these evoke more emotion than reality itself. So, the "banal story" could be those stories found in so-called intellectual journals or it could be the state of things: the banality that pictures and flowery language strike a more evocative cord with the populace than, say, a real event like the death of a hero.

Hemingway mocks the "warm, homespun, American tales" whose writers "do not try to be smart and are never long-winded." This may be a prescient story or, perhaps, just a feeling common to all periods in popular culture. "Banal Story" does have something of a curmudgeonly "kids these days" message (especially in reference to the young, jealous bullfighters), but the narrator's real dismay is the shifting focus of interest (in writing and life) of substituting flashy headlines, sound bites and pictures for the genuine rawness of reality.

Banal Story Overview

Earnest Hemingway's "Banal Story" first appeared in the Little Review in 1926, the same year as Hemingway published The Sun Also Rises. Its second printing, with a few minor but significant changes, was in Men Without Women in 1927. "Banal Story" has received little attention from critics and remains one of Hemingway's least known and least understood stories. Joseph Defalco says the closing paragraph about the bullfighter Maera represents a Christ "archetype" that is a hallmark representing “true heroes,” which Hemingway contrasts against fictional heroes. Nicholas Joost says the story is a contrast of the "banality" of American culture against the colorful culture of Spain, with Maera as Spain’s symbol. However, Wayne Kvam argues that eliminating the manuscript changes made in 1926 and 1927 reveals that "Banal Story" iterates Hemingway's theory of “aesthetic.”

"Banal Story" is, according to Kyam, the “stream of consciousness” musings of the unnamed male writer-narrator. The story is constructed in two parts. In one part, the writer-narrator offers definitions of life and romance (per Stevenson or Haggard). In the other part, the writer-narrator muses about the particulars and philosophy of a 1920s "intellectual periodical" called The Forum, citing actual topics and editorials from earlier issues of The Forum. The tone of "Banal Story," which is a satirical parody of The Forum, changes from energetic and crisp in Forum passages to dark and somber in the other passages.

"Banal Story" opens with the writer, who is narrating his thoughts, eating an orange and complaining about the snow and cold. He then goes to sit on the electric stove. The writer expresses physical delight at the warmth coming up from the stove, identifying the feeling of satisfying warmth with life. He reaches for another orange and muses about sporting events in Paris, Mesopotamia, Australia and England and defines these as "Romance." His apparently random thoughts fasten on The Forum, which promises the next great novelists and the solutions to vast problems like the population explosion. Hemingway ends with a long paragraph, in stark contrast to the preceding short paragraphs, of the writer's contemplation on the sensually detailed death in Triana of the bullfighter Manuel Garcia Maera. Hemingway explores, as Kvam says, the main conflict of "true and false responses to life." Maera symbolically underscores Hemingway's point that the conservative literary aesthetic upheld by The Forum is a contradiction to his own aesthetic of real physical responses to the real events of life.