Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Known for his clipped, direct style, uncomplicated sentence structure, and simple vocabulary, Hemingway demonstrates in “The Battler” the effectiveness and appropriateness of depicting characters on the social fringe, essentially antiheroes, as unostentatiously as he can. Few of his sentences exceed ten or twelve words. Simple sentences predominate and, when Hemingway uses a compound sentence, it is usually held together by a simple “and.”

During his post-World War I residence in Paris, Hemingway learned a great deal about style from Gertrude Stein, with whom he had a close friendship in the early 1920’s. Stein, a careful observer of how ordinary people actually use language, experimented with dialogue and, especially in her experimental novel Three Lives (1909), captured the authentic means by which common, working-class people communicate. In so doing, she presented endless repetitions, often to the point of exasperating her readers. Hemingway’s “The Battler” uses similar techniques. For example, Bugs tells Nick that Ad’s wife “Looked enough like him to be twins,” then, within half a page, repeats this information in almost the same words. Some authors would intrude on the actual language and would refine the dialogue to eliminate the repetition. Hemingway, however, prefers to allow his characters to speak the way real people speak, even if they repeat themselves.

In shaping his dialogue, Hemingway often avoids forms of the verb “to say.” Rather, he uses such verbs as “advised,” “warned,” “finished,” “asked,” “smiled,” or “came out.” He draws attention to his most significant dialogue by using this device, reserving phrases such as “he said” for the more ordinary dialogue.

Hemingway developed a style unique among American writers, one easily distinguishable by its economy and directness. This style, an amalgamation of much that he learned from Gertrude Stein and of his experience as a journalist, has had a significant impact on more recent novelists, many of whom have striven to imitate Hemingway’s controlled rhetorical simplicity.


(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

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