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Introduction

"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.

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...

(The entire section is 1,294 words.)