A Moveable Feast Themes

  • Hemingway makes frequent references to his poverty. This becomes an important theme in the memoir, as it shapes the lives not just of Hemingway's family but of the entire Lost Generation.

  • Writing and poverty are two themes that go hand in hand. Reading A Moveable Feast, one is reminded of the phrase "starving artist," which describes Hemingway well. Hemingway isn't ashamed of his poverty and in fact thinks of it as fuel for his art.

  • Friendship is another key theme in A Moveable Feast. Hemingway was friends with some of the greatest writers of his generation, including Fitzgerald, Pound, and Joyce. He describes a number of them in his memoir, offering personal critiques of their work.

Themes

Poverty

Hemingway and his family live in poverty for much of their time in Paris. Hemingway saves money by skimping on meals, heat, food, and clothes, and he and his wife barely make ends meet with the money he earns selling stories and betting on horses at the track. Hemingway often borrowed books from Sylvia Beach, owner of famed Parisian bookstore Shakespeare & Company, and he sometimes even accepted small loans from her. Rather than decry their financial situation, Hemingway and his wife embraced it, thinking of poverty as a kind of purifying state. In fact, they looked down on rich people, because they thought that money made it impossible for someone to live an authentic life. It took many years for Hemingway to establish himself as a writer, but he went on to become wealthy and successful. He's now considered one of the giants of American literature.

Writing

A Moveable Feast is full of stories about other writers, so it makes sense that writing, literature, and art are major themes in the memoir. Hemingway describes his own writing process, relating how he buried himself in work at Parisian coffee shops, where he became so absorbed in his writing that he scarcely even noticed the world around him. Every writer has their own process, however, and every writer, including Hemingway, has their own ideas about what literature should be. Hemingway isn't shy about offering critiques of other writers and artist, and most of these critiques are negative to an extent. He reserves his highest praise for F. Scott Fitzgerald, whose writing he finds so beautiful and natural that he compares it to a butterfly's wings.

Friendship

Friendship is another important theme in A Moveable Feast—and not just because Hemingway was friends with some of the best writers and artists of his generation. His friendship with Sylvia Beach, for instance, gave him access to books (and the occasional loan), while his friendship with Gertrude Stein gave him access to her renowned literary salon, where American expatriates mingled with the best new European artists in a setting that allowed for the exchange of ideas. Hemingway describes his friends in detail, for better or worse, praising Stein for her art but expressing irritation about her tendency to think of him and his wife as "children." His portraits of his friends are important to the field of literary history, but are of course biased depending on Hemingway's personal feeling for his friends, which may explain why he criticized some but valorized others like F. Scott Fitzgerald.