Death in the Afternoon Critical Context - Essay

Ernest Hemingway

Critical Context

Death in the Afternoon was Hemingway’s first major work of nonfiction. Published after his successful novels The Sun Also Rises (1926) and A Farewell to Arms (1929), the work offered Hemingway another way of reaching his audience with observations about the heroic life-style—its great risks, its moments of success, and its ultimate tragedy. Early reviewers noted its strengths as a simple expository narrative on bullfighting; some considered it the best book on the subject written in English. The enduring quality of the book, however, lies in Hemingway’s analysis of the characteristics of the Bullfighter as Hero. Death in the Afternoon, like the novels that preceded it and like its nonfiction successor Green Hills of Africa (1935), offers a carefully conceived, if obliquely presented, outline of Hemingway’s credo regarding the heroic life-style in the modern world. It serves as an excellent source document for students and scholars wishing to pin down the characteristics of the Hemingway hero. The work also serves as one of the two major sources for discovering Hemingway’s own principles of composition; the author’s literary judgments tossed off at the ends of various chapters of Death in the Afternoon have become commonplaces in contemporary literary criticism.