Hemingway, Ernest (Vol. 13)
Hemingway, Ernest 1899–1961
Hemingway was an American novelist, short story writer, and journalist. Numbered by many among the greatest American writers, Hemingway is master of the objective prose style which became his trademark. War and athletic competition often make up the subject matter of his works, allowing Hemingway to explore man's physical and metaphysical strivings. He was confounded by both the idea and the reality of death: indeed, an essential nihilism colors all of his work. Hemingway is noted for his superlative description of action, although some critics find the philosophy espoused in his later novels simplistic and pompous. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954 and the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction in 1953. (See also CLC, Vols. 1, 3, 6, 8, 10, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 77-80.)
When Hemingway's stories first appeared, they seemed to be a transcription of the real world, new because they were accurate and because the world in those days was also new. With his insistence on "presenting things truly," he seemed to be a writer in the naturalistic tradition (for all his technical innovations)…. Going back to his work [later], you perceive his kinship with a wholly different group of novelists, let us say with Poe and Hawthorne and Melville: the haunted and nocturnal writers, the men who dealt in images that were symbols of an inner world.
On the face of it, his method is not in the least like theirs. He doesn't lead us into castles ready to collapse with age, or into very old New England houses, or embark with us on the search for a whale that is also the white spirit of evil; instead he tells the stories he has lived or heard, against the background of countries he has seen. But, you reflect on reading his books again, these are curious stories that he has chosen from his wider experience, and these countries are presented in a strangely mortuary light. In no other writer of our time can you find such a profusion of corpses…. In no other writer can you find so many suffering animals…. And morally wounded people who also devour themselves …—here are visions as terrifying as those of "The Pit and the Pendulum," even though most of them are copied from life; here are nightmares at noonday, accurately...
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Robert W. Stallman
Hemingway's narrator [in The Sun Also Rises] seemingly represents "the true moral norm of the book," but he appears as such only to the prejudiced reader, prejudiced by the bias of the narrator's authoritative voice….
Read the novel from Cohn's point-of-view, and you end obversely in bias against Jake Barnes and his sophomoric code and his friends who damn Cohn by it. Reversal of intention: that Hemingway consciously schemed it so is evidenced by the fact that his narrator is honest enough to include in his story the self-incriminating testimony of witnesses against him, namely Bill Gorton, Robert Cohn, and Jake Barnes himself. Jake confesses his defections from the code he seemingly exemplifies and from his role as historian of the pretenders to it. (p. 173)
Characteristically, what Jake says of his friends applies also to himself. Jake's portrait of Cohn reflects himself; it tells us as much about Jake as about Cohn.
On Jake's own admission, we cannot accept his portrait of Cohn with any certitude: "Somehow I feel that I have not shown Robert Cohn clearly."… Jake Barnes, New York Herald journalist, is not a trustworthy reporter. (pp. 176-77)
Cohn is [pictured as] awful because he is always merely nice. Niceness is discredited because it declares a weakness, an exposed flaw in the mask of mock sophistication which Jake and his friends subscribe to. The...
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It is something of a joke, in view of the common belief that Hemingway is a tough, laconic writer, that the reason for the difficulty [in interpreting "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place"] is that this story by an acknowledged "realist" is as near, in its quality and its effect, to a poem as prose can be without ceasing to be honest prose. (p. 112)
Age, death, despair, love, the boredom of life, two elderly men seeking sleep and forgetfulness, and one still young enough to feel passion, cast into an hour and a place whose silence and emptiness, soon to become more silent and more empty still—it all creates in us, at first, a sad mood in which patience and futility feebly strive with one another, involve us, mesmerize us. Grimness is in the offing. Hemingway's kindness and tenderness save us from that. For Hemingway, deep down, is one of the kindest and most tender of writers. If our final feelings here are of pity and awe it is he who communicates them to us. I believe that Hemingway's "realism" is merely the carapace or shell that protects, grips, holds from overspilling a nature fundamentally emotional and tender. (pp. 112-13)
[With the waiter's confession, "I'm with all those who like to stay late at the café … With all those who need a light at night"] the meaning of the title becomes clear, and in the following references to light, as one of the defenses of man's sad soul against the Baudelaireian horror of...
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Very probably [Hemingway] intended [the title of In Our Time] as a sardonic allusion to a well-known phrase from the Church of England's Book of Common Prayer: "Give peace in our time, O Lord." At any rate the most striking thing about the volume is that there is no peace at all in the stories. The next most striking thing about them … is that half of the stories are devoted to the spotty but careful development of a crucial but long-ignored character—a boy, then a young man—named Nick Adams. These stories are arranged in the chronological order of Nick's boyhood and early manhood, and are intimately related, one to another. Indeed in this aspect the book is almost a "novel," for some of the stories are incomprehensible if one does not see the point, and it is often subtle, of some earlier piece. (pp. 5-6)
A careful reading of ["Indian Camp", the first story of In Our Time,] will show that Hemingway is not primarily interested … in [the] shocking events: he is interested in their effect on the little boy who witnessed them. For the moment the events do not seem to have any great effect on the boy. But it is very important that he is later on a badly scarred and nervous young man, and here Hemingway is relating to us the first reason he gives why that is so. (p. 6)
The six following stories from In Our Time concerning Nick Adams are not so violent as "Indian Camp," but each of them...
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[Often] Hemingway's fictional women emerge as more admirable than his men: braver, more faithful and loving, more responsible. (p. 6)
[Hemingway expressed his view of the morality of compensation, in which nothing can be given or taken without an equivalent] in the metaphor of finance—a metaphor which runs through the fabric of [The Sun Also Rises] as a fine, essential thread. It is Jake Barnes who explicitly states the code of Hemingway's novel…. Jake reflects that in having Lady Brett Ashley for a friend, he "had been getting something for nothing" and that sooner or later he would have to pay the bill, which always came…. (p. 22)
Jake's philosophical musing is illustrated time and again in the profuse monetary transactions of The Sun Also Rises…. Between the beginning and the end, Hemingway specifically mentions sums of money, and what they have been able to purchase, a total of thirty times. (pp. 22-3)
Hemingway reveals much more about his characters' financial condition and spending habits than about their appearance….
Hemingway had several good reasons to note with scrupulous detail the exact nature of financial transactions. Such a practice contributed to the verisimilitude of the novel, denoting the way it was; it fitted nicely with Jake's … obsession with the proper way of doing things; and mainly it illustrated in action the moral conviction that...
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The themes that Hemingway weaves into The Old Man and the Sea, like counterpoint in a Bach fugue, explore the ideas of pride in killing and victory in conquest as opposed to humility in defeat and suffering in abnegation. Santiago is a pagan Catholic whose age, pride, honor, and courage force him to prove that pain is nothing to a man and that a fisherman can perform miracles. This Cuban protagonist of Spanish birth harpoons marlin like a matador and suffers pain like a Christ figure. Using Santiago as a symbolic namehead Hemingway fuses the themes into a moving experience of life and death. (p. 39)
C. N. Stavrou believes that in Hemingway's world human existence moves inexorably toward futility, vacancy, destruction, and waste; that the tug in the direction of death, nothingness, and despair is one of the most significant ingredients in his work. In The Sun Also Rises Jake characterizes Roman Catholicism as a "beautiful religion," but when he tries to pray and fails he concedes that prayer is "a futile gesture." In The Old Man and the Sea Santiago says a few perfunctory prayers, then goes about the more important and pressing business of catching the marlin and fighting sharks. There is also Hemingway's "memorable and excoriating travesty of the Lord's Prayer" in the short story "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place."… (p. 42)
[The saturation of Christian symbolism in The Old Man and the Sea] has...
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