Study Guide

The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway

by Ernest Hemingway

The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway Characters

Social Concerns / Themes / Characters

In this volume, which contains seventy separate pieces of fiction, Hemingway addresses a broad spectrum of social concerns and themes. Excluded from this discussion are the first forty-nine stories in this volume, which have been in print since 1938 and have generated a vast amount of critical commentary. These are the stories on which Hemingway's reputation as a master of the short story rests. There are two other categories of "story" included in the collection. Part two is subtitled "Short Stories Published in Books or Magazines Subsequent to The First Forty-nine,'" including fourteen pieces; the third part is headed "Previously Unpublished Fiction/' and includes seven new pieces, ostensibly "short stories."

Of the fourteen pieces in the second section, three are segments from novels ("One Trip Across," and "The Tradesman's Return" from To Have and Have Not and "An African Story" from The Garden of Eden); two are not, properly speaking, short stories but fables — "The Good Lion" and "The Faithful Bull"; one, "Summer People," is a very early story (1924), with a corrupt text (missing page), yet it is still of considerable interest even if Hemingway never intended to publish it; another text of great interest is "The Last Good Country," not a story at all, but a posthumously edited, rewritten, and bowdlerized portion of a novel-in-progress manuscript that Hemingway worked on between 1952 and 1958. Thus only seven of the fourteen purported short stories published in this section may accurately be called short stories published with Hemingway's approval and final editing. These are "The Denunciation," "The Butterfly and the Tank," "Night Before Battle," "Under the Ridge," "Nobody Ever Dies," "Get a Seeing Eyed Dog," and "A Man of the World." The first five date from the late 1930s and constitute a grouping of Spanish Civil War stories.

The social concerns and themes of these Spanish Civil War stories turn on the complex political issues brought into focus by that conflict: questions of left and right, Communism and Fascism, and every shade and nuance of political and social engagement or disengagement. As a group, these stories represent Hemingway's effort to clarify for himself his own political attitudes toward the Spanish Civil War, as a prelude to the writing of his masterpiece about that conflict. For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940). Social and political concerns are the strong point of these stories, characterization the weakest point. The first story, "The Denunciation" (1938) deals with the question of the writer and narrator of the tale as a foreign observer of a war, and the attendant moral and aesthetic involvement and responsibility of such a writer. There are troublesome currents in this story, and some critics feel that Hemingway is engaged here in self-denunciation; that he is confessing his own guilt over his attacks on fellow writer and former close friend, John Dos Passos; or, more generally, confessing his personal bad faith in certain aspects of his involvement with the Spanish situation. Of...

(The entire section is 1243 words.)