Hemingway, Ernest 1899–1961
One of America's most outstanding novelists and short story writers, Hemingway crafted terse and meticulous prose which has had immeasurable influence on younger writers. Critics have said that Hemingway's "ear," his mastery of the nuance and color of ordinary speech, was unequalled in American literary history. Hemingway's reputation was firmly established with the publication of The Sun Also Rises, a novel of the "lost generation," in 1926. Between about 1940 and 1950 he wrote little of significance, but in 1952 he published The Old Man and The Sea, a major novelette for which he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize. He was given the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1954. Hemingway ended his own life in 1961.
By the death of Ernest Hemingway we have lost a Titan: whatever judgment we make upon his books the man was of the stature of a great novelist. He had the energy, the endurance, the personal grandeur of the Balzac, Stendhal, Flaubert, Tolstoy category. I do not think he was a great novelist but he was of the material of which great novelists are made, a Titan who still had it in him to become a god.
That we cannot put him on the highest level is not to his discredit. It is because he chose so completely to represent his era that he could never escape from its limitations; he was at heart a romantic poet who used fiction, even journalism, as his medium. It was writers as artists whom he admired—not novelists whose craft he studied. One cannot imagine him writing a book on the novel.
His first book was called Three Stories and Ten Poems, his first two novels were long short stories. His real novels are only three: A Farewell to Arms, For Whom the Bell Tolls, and Across the River and Into the Trees. He is not a novelist in the sense in which Henry James was, or Joyce or Arnold Bennett or Dreiser—or even Virginia Woolf, another poet. What concerned him was getting down the poetic nature of his own experience, not the construction of a novel as a work of art which would enforce on him its own laws.
The experience he wished to communicate could go into several moulds: the prose poem (like the first version of In Our Time), the didactic essay (Death in the Afternoon), the travel book (Green Hills of Africa), journalism (the articles on deep-sea fishing in Esquire, on the Dangerous Summer in Life), or a film like Spanish Earth which is pure Hemingway and a great film which should be shown again. But above all his medium was the short story: The Sun Also Rises and A Farewell to Arms were begun as short stories and To Have and to Have Not included one, while some of his short stories have the depth and completeness of novels. Of these the greatest in my opinion is The Snows of Kilimanjaro which has all the elements of an autobiographical novel and, in the present circumstances, a prophetic, almost unbearable sadness.
Wonderful as so many of these stories are, and diverse in content, they never take one away from the central point of Hemingway's genius; his stance of a romantic poet in the twentieth century. All are based, almost without exception, on the relationship between man and death, on the confrontation of man's nobility and courage with his ineluctable adversary. (pp. 293-94)
To his study of violent death he brought his exuberant gaiety, immense vitality, a wicked satirical gift and a lyrical sense of words, of their placing and timing.
Gertrude Stein made a writer of him out of a reporter; but his dialogue, which is flowing, natural and inevitable, was his own contribution. He had one grave fault which sprang I think from something warped in his character, a sadistic facetiousness which went with a tendency to sentimentality.
It took several forms; sneering at intellectuals, making smarty wisecracks in what should have been naturalistic dialogue, needling homosexuals, exulting in unpleasant details in the hope of giving offence, [and] revelling in phony characters like the bloodthirsty little old lady in Death in the Afternoon….
The excessively male audience for which most of his journalism and some of his stories were written tended to bring this out and it accounts for the considerable critical coldness on the part of those who shrank from this uneasy vulgarity.
Hemingway, as a writer, was very conscious of his own failings. After the enormous success of A Farewell to Arms (1929) he encountered unpopularity with his two guide books to bullfighting and kudu-slaying, and his socially-conscious novel To Have and Have Not was not a success although it is quite one of his best books, beautifully constructed and marvellously written. (pp. 296-97)
No one has written more knowledgeably about sudden death or with more poetry about physical pleasures and the joy of living, no one has worked harder to give his prose a new dimension, a prose which he thought could never be written, 'without tricks and without cheating. With nothing that will go bad afterwards'. (p. 298)
Cyril Connolly, "Ernest Hemingway: 2" (originally published in The Sunday Times), in his Previous Convictions (copyright © 1963 by Cyril Connolly), Hamish Hamilton, 1963, pp. 293-98.
The central theme in Hemingway's longer work is heroism. Contrary to general opinion, his novels are not primarily studies of death or simply researches into the lost generation. They are not just demonstrations of the world's emptiness, of how all things are nada. They are essentially portrayals of the hero, the man who by force of some extraordinary quality sets the standard for those around him. (p. 55)
Hemingway sought to restore vernacular English as a literary medium, purge the language of Melville's purple prose and Henry James's labyrinthine subtleties, and get back to the colloquial simplicity of Mark Twain. Hemingway approved of Rimbaud's famous cry, "Let us seize rhetoric by the throat and strangle it."
He strove to secure the maximum effect through the minimum means, to see how much he could express in the fewest possible words. He was constantly testing his language to see how large a weight of thought and emotion it could carry, not by dissipating these over a diffuse arena of words but by concentrating, even telescoping them in the tightest possible space. In the same way he was always gauging how much pressure each character could stand in the test of individual survival.
The very act of paring language down to the absolute essentials suggests and supports the process by which men prepare for survival. They can afford nothing extra, no superfluous paraphernalia, no excess baggage. They must travel light. They, too, must strip down to the bare minimum. (pp. 69-70)
Hemingway's art consists of packing as much feeling and thought as he can into the sensory act. He does so partly because thought, if approached directly in art and ladled straight out to the reader, becomes propaganda; and feeling, if too directly approached, becomes sentimentality. But he has another reason: the process of concentration and condensation for the writer is the equivalent of the same process undertaken by his characters for the sake of their own human continuation. Underaccenting does not destroy or eliminate meaning, but only leaves it implied. By leaving it implied rather than stated, a larger amount of meaning can be contained in a smaller space. Proper leverage can lift unexpectedly heavy weights, and traveling light does not mean traveling empty; it means traveling without anything superfluous…. His famous style is there not for its own sake, or for the greater glory of the author, but as the necessary instrument for the kind of story being told and the particular vision of human existence being conveyed.
Nowhere is Hemingway more clearly revealed as an American than in his preoccupation with the how of living. Pragmatism, formulated by William James, has been the one original American philosophy, and its central question about the reality of any experience, Does it work? has also been the central question of American history from the early days of the geographic frontier to the present age of the technological. Hemingway is the supreme technician among American writers, and his heroes are supremely concerned with the technique of whatever they are doing. (pp. 71-3)
Ethics, a branch of philosophy with which James was not primarily concerned, is subordinate to method. Morality in Hemingway, whenever he ventures to define it directly, is reduced to a matter of mood. On one of his sleepless nights, Jake tries to define morality, but finds it too confusing and gives up. This does not mean that Hemingway—or William James—is neutral on the subject. Hemingway is intensely concerned with moral discriminations, but like questions of metaphysics, the what of things, these are implied in the doing process. And this process is always approached in a spirit of pragmatism. Skill, rather than goodness or badness, is Hemingway's main interest. An act well done creates its own goodness. Something supremely well done carries with it its own ecstasy and its own supreme morality. The right action, not the right thought, is the ultimate healer. (pp. 73-4)
Hemingway wrote three lesser novels…. The first, The Torrents of Spring, was Hemingway's declaration of independence from Sherwood Anderson and Gertrude Stein. Like all parodies it is absolutely dependent on what it is parodying. Unless the reader is familiar with Anderson's novel Dark Laughter, the immediate target of Hemingway's satire, or with Miss Stein's hypnotic repetitiousness, The Torrents of Spring makes little sense. Taken by itself, it is a baffling tone poem in prose, sounding like the effusion of a talented undergraduate disguising himself as a stammering idiot, but with genuinely funny moments. (p. 137)
[It] is an early proof of Hemingway's highly developed ear for speech, sentence rhythm, and even that more subtle process, the movement of ideas—in this case, the ideas of others. It also embodies the paradox of satire: the more it attacks the object it wishes to destroy, the more it immortalizes that object. As long as Hemingway's works are read, Sherwood Anderson will be remembered. (p. 138)
[The Torrents of Spring] is the most "literary" book Hemingway ever wrote, made up of bits and pieces thrown together from other writers. The style is imitation Anderson and Stein. Some of the sentiments, especially the parodied search for deep-down real feelings, are borrowed from D. H. Lawrence, one of Anderson's masters. Turgenev supplies the title; and the subtitle, "A Romantic Novel in Honor of the Passing of a Great Race," is in the best tradition of the nineteenth-century popular romance. There is an epigraph from Henry Fielding, the famous eighteenth-century English novelist, and Hemingway borrows Fielding's practice of interrupting the story to speak in his own person. As himself, Hemingway makes comments as he goes along on the novel he is writing and even introduces his own friends and fellow writers, Dos Passos and Fitzgerald, who make brief appearances in the book. The device from Fielding reminds us that Fielding had begun his career as a novelist with two books, Shamela and Joseph Andrews, both poking fun at Samuel Richardson's Pamela, a best seller of the day. Richardson's attachment to virtue and the techniques of defending it had grown as sentimental as Anderson's attachment to self-discovery and the techniques of promoting it. The Torrents of Spring is Hemingway's farewell to his apprenticeship, a grab bag of the writers he had read, studied, been influenced by, was still associating with, and was now in the process of freeing himself from. He wrote it in a single quick burst after finishing the first draft of The Sun Also Rises, "to cool out," as he said. (pp. 140-42)
To Have and Have Not is Hemingway's depression novel. Its title, ending with "have not," is an obvious reference to the dispossessed. (p. 143)
To Have and Have Not has often been criticized because of its fragmentation and disconnectedness. But it is this fragmentation which reflects its theme…. (p. 145)
The concept of a collapsing world is present in all of Hemingway's novels. Here for the first time the characters collapse with it. (pp. 145-46)
Taken by itself, the action in To Have and Have Not may be self-enclosed and fail to arouse a large enough range of feeling, but it is mastered on its own terms as brilliantly as anywhere in Hemingway. The strength of the novel lies here. (p. 150)
Though limited in scope and bounded on all sides by purely physical dimensions, this is nonetheless an uncanny achievement. Hemingway's art is seen at its narrowest, but what it lacks in breadth it makes up for in descriptive power. The projection of the physical world is so complete that the absence of mind is almost made up for. Almost, though not quite. To Have and Have Not is like Morgan himself. It is, finally, one-armed. (p. 151)
Across the River and Into the Trees, the last of Hemingway's minor novels, is a thoroughly irritating book. It is the most intimately personal of his works, the one Hemingway felt closest to, where almost no difference exists between author and hero…. The novel is an aggressive exercise in narcissism. Much of it displays Cantwell looking in a mirror, or carefully examining his conduct and characteristics past and present and finding them good. (pp. 152-53)
The one unspoiled aspect of the book is Venice. As Cantwell's elegy the novel may be an irritating failure. As a eulogy to Venice it is a success. Hemingway remains unmatched in descriptions of place, and when these descriptions are tinged with strong emotion, as here, they rise to the level of prose poems. (p. 156)
Venice aside, the novel misses all its targets. Cantwell is a man of furious but deformed energy. He is boastful, touchy, thin-skinned, bad-tempered, painfully self-conscious, and childish in his passion to pass all his self-imposed tests. Both he and his story read like a parody of the author, as though all the unfavorable publicity, gossip, and inflated legends about Hemingway were suddenly confirmed.
The writing, too, is nervous, rigid, and tight, itself a flagrant sign that Hemingway is not in control of his material…. If a novel can be said to reflect the novelist's private frame of mind, it was an ominous forerunner of the tensions that were to overwhelm Hemingway as the last decade of his life began. (p. 158)
Hemingway's novels are profound inquiries into the possibilities of heroism. Most of them emphasize the obstacles to achieving it, and define the world's limitations, cruelties, or built-in evil. The Old Man and the Sea is remarkable for its stress on what men can do and on the world as an arena where heroic deeds are totally possible. Like Hemingway's other protagonists, Santiago is confronted with a universe filled with tragedy and pain, but these are transcended, and the affirming tone is in sharp contrast to the pessimism permeating such books as The Sun Also Rises and A Farewell to Arms.
One aspect of this universe, familiar from the earlier works, is its changelessness. The round of nature—which includes human nature—is not only eternal but eternally the same. The sun not only rises; it rises always, and sets and rises again without change of rhythm. The relationship of nature to man proceeds through basic patterns that never vary. Therefore, despite the fact that a story by Hemingway is always full of action, the action takes place inside a world that is fundamentally constant.
Moreover, its processes are purely secular in character: Hemingway's figures are often religious, but their religion is peripheral rather than central to their lives. (p. 160)
In this universe, changeless and unaffected by divinity, everyone has his fixed role to play. (p. 161)
Santiago is the clearest representation of the hero because he is the only major character in Hemingway who has not been permanently wounded or disillusioned. (p. 164)
To be a hero means to dare more than other men, to expose oneself to greater dangers, and therefore more greatly to risk the possibilities of defeat and death. (p. 165)
Men should study the world into which they are born as the most serious of all subjects; they can live in it successfully only to the degree that they handle themselves with skill. Life is more than an endurance contest. It is also an art, with rules, rituals, and methods that, once learned, lead to mastery.
Furthermore, when the great trial comes, one must be alone…. At the bottom of this necessity for solitariness, there is the incurable reliance on the individual which makes Hemingway the great contemporary inheritor of the romantic tradition. The stripping-down of existence to the struggle between individual man and the natural world, during the course of which he rises to the highest levels of himself, has an early expression in Keats's line, "Then on the shore of the wide world I stand alone…." In modern fiction it is Melville and Conrad who give this theme its most significant shape. The mysterious, inscrutable, dramatic nature into which their heroes plunge themselves in search of self-realization supplies Hemingway with the scaffolding for The Old Man and the Sea. Like Captain Ahab, like Lord Jim, Santiago is pitched into the dangerous ocean; for only there, and with only himself to fall back on, can he work out his destiny and come to final terms with life.
The concept of the hero whose triumph consists of stretching his own powers to their absolute limits regardless of the physical results gives The Old Man and the Sea a special place among its author's works. (pp. 168-69)
The Old Man and the Sea is the culmination of Heming-way's long search for disengagement from the social world and total entry into the natural. (p. 171)
This embracing of nature has nothing of Rousseau in it; it is not a revulsion against the corruption and iniquities of urban life. It is, instead, a flight from safety and the atrophying of the spirit produced by safety. It is for the sake of the liberation of the human spirit rather than the purification of social institutions that Conrad and Hemingway play out their lonely dramas in the bosom of nature.
Because The Old Man and the Sea records this drama in its most successful form, it gives off in atmosphere and tone a buoyant sense of release that was new in Hemingway. The story may well have been less a capstone of Hemingway's extraordinary career than a fresh emotional point of departure for the work that, because of illness and death, he was never to complete. (pp. 173-74)
While Hemingway's novels explore the nature of heroism, his short stories are devoted to loss and the resultant melancholy. Their brief incidents, single moods, isolated conversations, are perfectly suited to defining human limitations. The process of affirmation and achievement, especially in a skeptical age like the present, requires more time, detail, and preparation than the short story can naturally or comfortably embrace. The affinity between the short story and the presentation of life on the negative side is as evident in Hemingway as it is in the locked-in structure of the earlier masters, Poe, Maupassant, Chekhov, and Joyce. (p. 175)
The connective theme among his three works of nonfiction [Death in the Afternoon, Green Hills of Africa, and A Moveable Feast] that keeps coming up again and again in all of them almost obsessively, is Hemingway's fierce interest in protecting his own capacity as an artist. He always returns to the question of art, good art and bad, the difference between journalism and creative writing, the difference between criticism and creative literature, good writers and bad writers, and whether one can deliberately write for money and still write well. These problems are usually the concern of college professors, for whom Hemingway professes contempt, and of literary critics, for whom Hemingway professes even greater contempt…. Yet Hemingway himself practises literary criticism and works as much of it as he can into his own published work. (pp. 223-24)
Part of this defensiveness rose from the period. "In those days we did not trust any one who had not been in the war, but we did not completely trust any one." The credibility gap between the liberal slogans of the nineteenth century and the actuality of the First World War made the 1920s peculiarly distrustful and disillusioned. Hemingway was a supreme apostle of that distrust, which pervaded both his life and his art.
In life it helped breed in him the bristling self-protectiveness that complicated his friendships and rendered him so vulnerable to criticism. In art it made him acutely, almost obsessively conscious of "faked" emotion and "faked" writing, and elevated "true" and "truly" into the climactic words of his theorizing about style and technique. A distrust of the false, the insincere, the verbally exaggerated was stimulated in Hemingway by the period in which he lived, and heavily influenced the creation of his deliberately deflationary, exaggeratedly underaccented and understated manner of writing. If this seemed mannered at times, if it produced artificial effects easy to imitate and parody, this only revealed the violence of his reaction against the prevailing tradition of sentimental optimism that was one of the early victims of the Great War. (pp. 225-26)
The traditional novelists, like Dickens and George Eliot, were concerned with the total personalities and social relationships of their characters. Their method was the leisurely examination and exposition of character…. Hemingway discarded this encyclopedic technique. Instead, he evaluated his men and women by their reaction to some deliberately contrived strain. He is interested in them only to the degree that they are under pressure, and indeed approaches them in no other way. The crisis situation, the breaking point, is his chief, almost his sole concern. His principal aim is to measure the capacity to endure under difficulties. The normal moments in life, when men function within their ordinary capacities, are scarcely present in Hemingway. It is the outer limits of energy and tension that absorb him. (p. 228)
Heroism is a lonely act, and heroes are essentially lonely men. They are on a plateau by themselves, apart from others, the very quality that makes them exceptional inevitably producing their separation. Society and the social structure are almost totally absent from Hemingway's work. The individual man, in contact with at most a handful of others, is at the center of his art. To highlight this individual and provide him with an appropriate context, a small arena was indispensable. Hemingway made himself master of the small arena. (pp. 229-30)
It is a popular misconception that Hemingway subjects his heroes only to the pressure of action. On the contrary, he subjects them to the pressure of thought as well…. Hemingway is expert at describing sensory experiences. But the richness and complexity of his novels depend finally on what goes on in the minds of their central figures. The claim of The Sun Also Rises as Hemingway's greatest work rests in part on the density of Jake's mental and emotional life. It is not accidental that one of the writers Hemingway greatly admired was Henry James. James had little interest in pure sensation, but his concentration on the texture of mental life was phenomenal. (pp. 232-33)
Why some men are heroic and others are not is the mystery at the heart of Hemingway's work. (p. 233)
In a literary period dominated by the anti-hero, Hemingway's preoccupation with heroism was a singular phenomenon. It was nevertheless highly contemporary and had little to do with traditional concepts. (p. 235)
The motive behind Hemingway's heroic figures is not glory, or fortune, or the righting of injustice, or the thirst for experience. They are inspired neither by vanity nor ambition nor a desire to better the world. They have no thoughts of reaching a state of higher grace or virtue. Instead, their behavior is a reaction to the moral emptiness of the universe, an emptiness that they feel compelled to fill by their own special efforts….
The image of the isolated, self-contained individual poised on the brink of nada but saving himself through suddenly discovered tenacity and courage is a recurring one in Hemingway. (p. 236)
It is not his physical self that is being rescued. Nature—fertile, unchanging, eternally nourishing—sees to that. It is his emotional and spiritual self, betrayed by a universe which has lost its purposiveness, that needs rescuing, and the only rescuing agent is himself. The role once performed and since abandoned by God is now taken over by man. To preserve humanity may not be a heroic achievement for God, but it is a supremely heroic one for men…. The twentieth century is a dark, blank, mutilating age to Hemingway. His art is a complex attempt to control its effects, a passionate call to endure it bravely and humanly.
The effort extracts a certain price from his characters. They tend to be snobbish, touchy, clannish, and nearly always in a state of tension. They are not above moments of cruelty. They are almost obsessively self-preoccupied. They live in perpetual imbalance, depending too much on themselves in a world which has withdrawn its support from them. This is self-reliance, but hardly Emerson's. It is too one-sided to fit the Emersonian concept of the individual who finds himself in a promising universe and is encouraged to great personal efforts. (pp. 237-38)
It is Hemingway's search for a relevant and sustainable heroism that lies at the heart of his work. This search is responsible for the profound appeal of his writing and provides the secure ground of his reputation. And that reputation, so high in its author's lifetime, will surely survive among the great reputations of American literature. (p. 239)
Leo Gurko, in his Ernest Hemingway and the Pursuit of Heroism (copyright © 1968 by Leo Gurko; reprinted with permission of Thomas Y. Crowell Co., Inc., Publisher), Crowell, 1968.
[Islands in the Stream] has no literary importance, but its personal candour is essential. This is of course the basest motive for reading; contemptuous of the art of fiction, the reader is interested in the book only in so far as it gives access to the author: "This is just a story but Ernest Hemingway is writing it…." The satisfactions are finding out how Hemingway drank and handled a boat, and spoke, and made love, and treated his friends. These revelations are considered important, for once the reputation is made and the novel is a study rather than a pleasure (or a bore), the hero of the novel is its author. Fortunately for Hemingway his life began to be studied before he failed as a novelist, so it was never acceptable to say, "This novel is bad." The novels were aspects of the man, and the man's heroism was never questioned. (p. 63)
Paul Theroux, "Lord of the Ring," in Encounter (© 1971 by Encounter Ltd.), February, 1971, pp. 62-6.
Ernest Hemingway has frequently been called a cinematic writer; but it is only in the fiction of his middle period that we find him imitating motion picture construction. Two short stories, "The Capital of the World" (1936) and "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" (1936), and two novels, To Have and Have Not (1937) and For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940), show evidence of a filmic imagination. (p. 218)
"The Snows of Kilimanjaro," which Hemingway considered his finest short story, is much better known than "The Capital of the World." Although both works rely on movie devices to move the action, their specific techniques differ due to the radical difference in the subject matter of "The Capital of the World" and "The Snows of Kilimanjaro." Hemingway's formal problem in the latter story was to find a means of getting into Harry's past through long internal monologues without destroying the structure of the present action. By plunging into the stream of consciousness, Hemingway was led to duplicate cinematic techniques used earlier by Joyce, Virginia Woolf, and Faulkner. Whereas in "The Capital of the World" time remains fixed while the spatial dimension changes, in "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" space remains fixed while the protagonist's consciousness moves fluidly in time (except for the last hundred and seventy-five words or so everything is seen from Harry's viewpoint). Four years later Hemingway was to combine the montage methods of the two 1936 stories in structuring For Whom the Bell Tolls. (p. 221)
Hemingway once said that he had put the material for four novels into "The Snows of Kilimanjaro." Though it might be argued that the story is somewhat diffuse, it is also true that this is a work which uses the stream of consciousness and hence a certain amount of "looseness" would seem desirable for the sake of realism. Occasionally, one encounters a critical study in which Harry's interior monologues are called "flashbacks"; but it should be noted that Hemingway scrupulously avoids presenting the hero's memory sequences scenically. By centering the point of view in Harry, and by keeping the remembered moments from the past within the protagonist's mind at present, Hemingway maintains control over and unifies his material. (p. 224)
With the publication of For Whom the Bell Tolls at the end of the decade, the cinematic tendencies in Hemingway's fiction of the middle period finally become unmistakable…. Perhaps the first thing to observe about the novel is its point of view, which consistently remains in the third person. While most of the action is seen from Robert Jordan's viewpoint, Hemingway frequently shifts his focus of narration to some of the other principal figures in the tragedy. (p. 227)
When W. M. Frohock argues [in The Novel of Violence in America 1920–1950; see CLC-1] that the story in For Whom the Bell Tolls is restricted to a few days because Hemingway had his eye on a Hollywood sale and wanted to make certain that action would be sustained, he may have a point. But the critic apparently overlooks the structural and thematic advantages gained in terms of the novel itself by Hemingway's choice of a restricted time-sequence. It is certainly valid for a writer to focus on a few days, or even a few hours, in order to develop maximum tension and significance. As several commentators have noted, the form of For Whom the Bell Tolls is circular, with the bridge at the center of both the action and the symbolic structure. In an attempt to enlarge the meaning of Robert Jordon's assignment to destroy the bridge, Hemingway uses two devices—namely, flashbacks and crosscuts—which switch attention to another time and/or place. Though the "movie flashbacks" (as Frohock calls them) tend to break the tension established in the present order of action, they also serve to render the novel more complex in meaning. (pp. 227-28)
Crosscutting … enables the novelist to reveal the humanity of certain men on both sides in the fight, at the same time that it also allows him to underline the forces that are destroying such men. Furthermore,… [as Carlos Baker said, in Hemingway: The Writer as Artist], Hemingway is able to expose "the betrayal of the Spanish people—both by what lay within them and what had been thrust upon them—and it is presented with that special combination of sympathetic involvement and hardheaded detachment which is the mark of the genuine artist."
Although I would hesitate to call For Whom the Bell Tolls Hemingway's greatest novel (I concur with the majority critical opinion in finding The Sun Also Rises and A Farewell to Arms superior to any of the author's subsequent efforts), I also feel that it is a far better work than it is acknowledged to be. And much of the brilliance of the writer's achievement resides, I think, in his inspired use of filmic technique—a technique, it should be noted, that is not imposed mechanically on the material for the purpose of achieving a cheap melodramatic tension but which naturally follows upon the author's complex approach to his subject. Hemingway may or may not have written For Whom the Bell Tolls with a future screen sale in mind; whatever the author's motives or intentions, the finished work—in spite of its cinematic borrowings—remains very much a novel. (pp. 228-29)
Edward Murray, "Ernest Hemingway—Cinematic Structure in Fiction and Problems in Adaptation," in his The Cinematic Imagination: Writers and the Motion Pictures (copyright © 1972 by Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., Inc.), Ungar, 1972, pp. 218-43.
Whatever the symbolic significance of the sharks [in The Old Man and the Sea], they are nonetheless palpable, and Santiago at least has the chance to try to combat them, if unsuccessfully. But how does one combat the kind of fate that robs Thomas Hudson [protagonist of Islands in the Stream] of his sons? And are men, like Hudson or Santiago, ultimately and essentially alone, "islands" in the stream of human relationships which may, for a time, provide the solace of love, but not lastingly and always mysteriously? Does the passing bell, after all, toll for each one only?
Waggish critics may argue that the biggest loss revealed in Islands in the Stream is Hemingway's ability to write, although some at least concede that the novel lay unfinished and unpublished at his death. In the portrayal of Roger Davis (like Hudson, another version of the author), Hemingway treats the causes and condition of this type of loss as sensitively and honestly as anyone has ever done. What is more to the point is that the book generates new strengths. In many ways, like The Old Man and the Sea, this is Hemingway's existential novel: his attempt to show what it is like to live in a world in which there aren't any answers and where one's deepest relations with others are constantly in jeopardy when they are not in fact destroyed. But along with the elegiac tone, set off by interludes of different moods, there is also this: an attempt, it seems, to adapt the usual adventure story to a different kind of structure in which the climax is deliberately played down…. The focus then remains not on the object of the hunt, but on the relationships among those engaged in the hunt…. If this was Hemingway's intention, then he took some real risks—deliberate ones, I suspect—in boring hell out of the reader to make his point. (Compare the related situation much earlier in Death in the Afternoon.) I don't think Hemingway had lost mastery of the art of fiction at all, though he obviously succumbed to certain stylizations, as in the sons' dialogue with their father or Hudson's memories of love-making, that are sometimes pretentious or even silly. But if Hemingway did not get everything quite the way he wanted it (one almost dreads to imagine what the still unpublished Garden of Eden might be like), his accomplishment here—in his rendering of the sense of bereavement without sentimentality or false courage, of duty without ostentation, and of isolation in the midst of comradeship—is very considerable. (pp. 457-58)
Jay L. Halio, in The Southern Review (copyright, 1973, by the Louisiana State University), Vol. IX, No. 2, Spring, 1973.
Critics have so totally accepted Hemingway's word that he spurned the surprise ending that they have failed to acknowledge that Hemingway was wont to employ his own brand of the surprise ending. On first look, the ending of the typical Hemingway story may appear to be radically muted, its effect more oblique than that of the typical O. Henry story. But like O. Henry's, those endings are unexpected and highly ironic. One need look only at "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place" with the older waiter's dismissal of his despair as "probably only insomnia," "Indian Camp" with the child's conviction that as for himself, despite the suicide he has just witnessed, he will never die, and the revelation in "A Canary for One" that the American couple, who have just been subjected to a long disquisition on the superiority of American husbands, are about to get a divorce—one need only sample Hemingway's characteristic endings to see that in his own way Hemingway was as addicted to the "wow" as was O. Henry. What he did do, in reality, was adapt the surprise ending to his own quite different view of human experience. (p. 297)
Most readers will agree that Hemingway's "Snows" is a more complex performance than O. Henry's "The Last Leaf." Its mosaic of retrospectives and its shifts between Harry's inner reality and the outward reality he shares with his wife have no parallel in O. Henry's story. Nevertheless, the stories deal with the same basic situation: a disabled artist facing death. And both stories depend upon a "wow" ending. (pp. 300-01)
O. Henry works out everything toward his "wow" ending; but Hemingway tries to make every detail of the story release that "wow" gradually. Perhaps it is only in retrospect that we perceive how in "A Day's Wait" Hemingway has tried to define the nature of contradictory human experience by so arranging his story through a sequence of ironies; but there can be no doubt that Hemingway's faith in his kind of resonant ending—the ending without the single O. Henry "wow"—was justified. It is after one has finished the story that one sees the purposes of the earlier details and scenes, and the fact that those details unfold a series of quiet, decentralized ironies gives us a sense that the author is revealing something about the nature of human life. Not an ironic incident only does he present us with, but the felt sense that life itself is grained with irony. In O. Henry's "The Last Leaf" we are left with an incident which concludes ironically; in Hemingway's "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" we are left with a chapter in the author's assessment of the ironic nature of human experience. The difference, of course, is one of total outlook. Fascinated by the small ironies of human experience, O. Henry heightened the drama of life to an artificially precise final effect, but Hemingway, seeing the whole of human life as itself inherently and inescapably ironic, worked to move the reader toward his own discovery that irony is at the core of human experience. Despite the essential differences, however, and all public disclaimers notwithstanding, in practice Hemingway never did forsake the "wow" or surprise ending. He merely moved it around a bit. (pp. 301-02)
George Monteiro, "Hemingway, O. Henry, and the Surprise Ending," in Prairie Schooner (© 1974 by University of Nebraska Press; reprinted by permission from Prairie Schooner), Winter, 1973/74, pp. 296-302.
With Hemingway's fiction (as with the Imagist poems that preceded it by a decade) each word counts. Years before he created the iceberg theory, he operated under its premises but with perhaps even more attention to making each word do several things. In this, Hemingway's admiration for Joyce and Pound was no doubt of greater influence than his shorter-lived friendship with Gertrude Stein.
In considering each word's significance, the writer was also constrained to create an active, moving focus. Literature could never exist as a static picture. Verbs were prized; adjectives made useful. The Imagists had initially made these suggestions and Pound's work with Chinese ideograms intensified their interest. For Hemingway, the principle of active writing operated at a double level in The Old Man and the Sea. There are many verbs and surprisingly few adjectives, considering that much of the novel is description. And, in a broader sense, Santiago's struggle is always a dynamic one. There is movement, verve—even when only the stars are moving. The book's original title (The Sea in Being) suggested this dynamism, reflecting the source of Hemingway's later pride as he commented that "the emotion was made with the action." (pp. 518-19)
By focusing on the immediate action, Hemingway follows Imagist doctrine and also avoids the sentiment inherent in his choice of hero. Santiago is pure pathos—alone except for an unrelated boy, poor, comfortless, unlucky, and old; yet because Hemingway presents him as proud and courageous, aligned with the arch young lions, that is the way we see him. (As Pound commented [in his Literary Essays], the poet can at least partially control his readers' reactions, as the journalist cannot.)
Perhaps this is one of the most difficult of the Imagist tenets to employ, the fact that the author controls without interfering. He presents, he renders the story; but his control is limited to the selection of details. (p. 519)
As his experiments with language in his earlier novels had shown, Hemingway was also concerned with [a kind of] rhythmic identity as an integral part of the whole effect. The rhythm of The Sun Also Rises is laconic, abrupt; of For Whom the Bell Tolls, moderately smooth, with much longer sentences. Hemingway's attempts to use the Spanish language, and the more personal pronoun forms, were ways of attaining the flavor—at least partially a rhythmic concern—of the Spanish people (the duration of the word thee is longer than you no matter how slowly the latter is said). Even Richard Cantwell's crudities help create the disjointed, even staccato measures of Across the River. But nowhere does Hemingway match so well the language of his persona with the narrative voice of the novel. Santiago's tranquillity sets the pace for The Old Man and the Sea, in keeping with his slow, chary, and deceptively uncomplicated speech. (p. 521)
By the time of The Old Man and the Sea, Hemingway had learned not only to move easily between first person and omniscient (and here to include dialogue for more necessary insights); he had also learned to give the reader didactic help at crucial moments. Rather than have us believe what Santiago says—that the pain is nearly comfortable—Hemingway tells us how it really was. And rather than have us slide over the moon-sun passage, he adds a summary image a few pages earlier, so that Santiago's position is crystallized in our minds. (p. 525)
Hemingway's theme has changed little throughout his writing, but his method of expressing that theme has been modified toward greater directness and greater emphasis on the final effect. The latter part of The Old Man and the Sea is the most didactic of any of Hemingway's writing.
The "Cuba" and "Sea" sections of the posthumously published Islands in the Stream run a close second, however, and in the Thomas Hudson story is found the same emphasis on endurance. By depriving Hudson of his three sons, two at the close of the "Bimini" section and the third during the "Cuba," Hemingway has set up a different kind of endurance test, a torture of the heart rather than the body…. Unwieldy as some parts of the novel are, and unfinished, the book is still a moving study of man's bereavement. Just as Santiago loses parts of the fish to the sharks, so Hudson loses parts of his own life until finally, as his behavior in the "chase" section suggests, that life means little. (pp. 526-27)
In Islands, so many people are involved that giving any one of them sufficient emphasis is difficult. The situation may have been closer to the author's own, but it was much harder to achieve artistically than the single man-single boy of The Old Man and the Sea. Only once in Islands does Hemingway achieve a similar concentration, when David tries to land the fish. There also the action is meaningful; it is focused on only several characters (with Hudson's position as separate, yet horribly involved, clearly drawn), and the scene moves quickly. Like Santiago's feeling for the marlin, David's reaction to his fish is compelling—his injured hands and feet, his feeling of union with the fish, his reticence, and his love for it. The boy's experience is, however, finally less effective than Santiago's because of the constant interruptions from the other six people on the boat and also because Hemingway uses third person point of view to convey the boy's reactions. (p. 527)
Linda W. Wagner, "The Poem of Santiago and Manolin," in Modern Fiction Studies (© 1974, by Purdue Research Foundation, West Lafayette, Indiana), Winter 1973/74, pp. 517-29.
Ernest Hemingway's dialogue with the public … passed through several stages, the first of which may best be described as Joycean. It was Joyce who laid down the survival formula for the modern artist, "silence, exile and cunning," and Hemingway espoused the idea; espoused it, in fact, so ardently and publicly as, paradoxically, almost to contradict it….
Of course Hemingway had worked as a successful journalist for at least four years before turning exclusively to fiction, and it may be that his training in this world made him instinctively aware that the best news stories were the ones that were hardest to get. In any case he made it hard for critics and editors to learn that in Hemingway they had not only a writer who beamed out a personal invitation to his readers through his work, but that in person they had a heady mixture of continent-hopping foreign correspondent, romantic expatriate, decorated war casualty, bullfight aficionado, champion athlete, crack shot, prodigious drinker, and the possessor of one of the most handsomely photogenic faces ever to appear in a popular journal. His protests that none of this mattered, his periodic letters to the press denying this or that extravagant story about him, only fed the flame, and by the decade's end it is probably fair to say that Hemingway, protesting the while, had replaced Fitzgerald as the nation's most personally celebrated young writer….
The Joycean axiom had been that the work of art was the end, and that the artist's life was simply the means by which that end was reached; any audience that subsequently addressed itself to the completed work of art was on its own. This had been Hemingway's avowed position during the 1920s. Its opposite, however, would hold that the work of art was itself only a means to an end, a vehicle which would take the audience on a journey into the realm of the imagination, make the audience aware of that realm, and precipitate, as it were, a union between the individual and his imagination that would generate power—power to enable the individual to encounter adversity and win. Hemingway's nonfiction had a hundred subjects but just a single theme: art was the most profound guide to imaginative strength available to the human being. To demonstrate the truth of the theme, he offered a prime example of a human being who had won the battle of life through his command of imaginative resources—he offered the example of himself. Art was not simply an end, in this vision, but a springboard, one that had elevated him to a vantage point from which he commanded life, impervious to the destructive powers of society's institutions, privy to all the secrets of sensual pleasure. Read him carefully, pore over the lore of his legend, and you would learn how to do it—in the bull ring, the battlefield, the African veld, the barroom, the bedroom. For thirty years he swaggeringly offered to fight any institutional man in the house, and exactly because he had the resources of the artistic imagination at his disposal, he promised that he would win. On the personal level he did this, no doubt, because he needed to do it and it fit into his personal fantasies, but on a cultural level he did it because his readers needed him to do it, because his fantasy was their own, and because through him they could aspire to the rich life and prove their freedom to themselves. (pp. 458-60)
Robert F. Lucid, in American Scholar (copyright © 1974 by the United Chapters of Phi Beta Kappa; reprinted by permission), Vol. 43, No. 3, Summer, 1974.
By all odds Ernest Hemingway should have ended up a … stringer here and there for the news services, free-lancing now and then for True and Argosy—a testy old bastard who in a mellow mood would raise a glass occasionally to the time in his youth when he did a little writing of his own in Paris. What made the difference? I think it was that he was so very typical of what we are, while being so extraordinary. Gertrude Stein called him a Rotarian at heart. And that is precisely the point. He brought a good deal of what is middle-class Americanism into literature without very many people recognizing what he had done. Like Faulkner's Benjy, the intellectuals smelled it but couldn't quite locate the source of their discomfort. (p. 2)
What was extraordinary about Hemingway … was not his energy, ambition, and Horatio Alger faith—a million Midwestern boys came off the farm and out of the small town with the same equipment—but with all his rigidity, he exercised an extraordinary capacity for learning, remembering, and adapting. And beyond those gifts, add the greatest gift of all: perhaps the best ear that has ever been brought to the creation of English prose. (p. 3)
A second amazing thing was that his keen ear and appetite for material led him into habitual and extensive imitation and borrowing; yet, he eventually became one of the most individually distinctive voices in modern literature…. Even when he was terrible, he was terrible in his own way. (p. 4)
A third amazing thing was Hemingway's metamorphosis from a young man anxious to use writing as a means to success into an artist completely devoted to the processes and possibilities of writing as an art form. (pp. 4-5)
I have my own theories as to why Hemingway has become one of the top half-dozen most analyzed and interpreted authors in all of American literature. First, however, I should point out that all this critical activity is not happening in a vacuum, in a sealed glass dome where a perpetual motion machine is fueled by the kinetic energy of the publish or perish system. One of the canards that has been passed from essay to essay in recent years holds that Hemingway is passé, that he is not read by young people any more. I don't know that there ever was a Hemingway fad, in the same way there have been Kerouac, Salinger, Tolkien, and Hesse fads. Hemingway's claim has been a more fundamental and persistent one. He is simply there, at the center; if you read at all, you will find him; but you won't rush out into the streets claiming a discovery. (p. 9)
The main reason that Hemingway will continue to be read and discussed lies in the nature of the work itself. Simply stated, his position is in a closer alignment with our felt positions than that of any other modern writer. I said [earlier in this essay] that the thrust of his style and the method behind that style is Classical. I think that his fundamental position in regard to the world is Classical also. Hemingway deals essentially with contained space. His style, imagery, descriptive patterning, and narrative strategy all relate directly to the task of carving out a defensible position from which the forces of chaos can be excluded and within which the power of justice and virtue can be established and sustained.
In a chaotic world with competing claims, slippery values, and omnipresent pressure and fear, this contained space, which has its inner as well as outer dimensions, is an island of cool. As long as that island can maintain its independence, then meaningful life can exist. The enemies are many, but by and large they are those who would violate the selfhood of others. Among the most dangerous of these are the individuals or groups who may not intend to destroy us and who hide behind or justify their destruction on the basis of "love" or other conventional virtues. These include parents, wives, and husbands at one end of the scale and movements and governments at the other end.
There are many labels one can apply to such a vision with a certain amount of accuracy. First, we are dealing with what might be called "civilized" in the Classical sense—self-discipline and true community within the barbarian wasteland. We are also dealing with art and the role of the artist, for art is the imposition of humane order on inner space. We might think also of "existential," in that each of us is required to create his own authentic life within a wilderness of decayed institutions and values. One might also add "paranoia." Unlike the author's own fears near the end of his life, however, these fears are justified—society everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of every one of its members. (pp. 9-10)
Jackson J. Benson, "Introduction" to Hemingway in Our Time, edited by Richard Astro and Jackson J. Benson (© 1974 Oregon State University Press), Oregon State University Press, 1974, pp. 1-12.
[In In Our Time] the general pattern of Nick Adams' life fits in with the scheme of existential neurosis. (p. 7)
First, the precise symptoms of existential neurosis—sense of meaningless, ennui, and determinism—are what appear most vividly in the contrast between the world of the expatriates and the world of the bullfighters. The ritual of the latter, with its controlled rules, goals, and meaning, heightens the existential neurosis of the postwar drifters, the Krebs, the Nick Adamses, the Elliotts, the man and wife in "Cat in the Rain." These symptoms, of course, appear in a more highly developed form in The Sun Also Rises, especially in the contrast between Romero and Jake Barnes.
Next, the events likely to precipitate such a neurosis are the very events faced by Nick in his youth—death, social conflict, and the revelation of his own inadequacies. In fact, the story-interchapter relationships in the first section indicate that Nick comes to see the essential similarity in the patterns of violence in peace and war. Thus he confronts the stress of death and social breakdown at the same moments, both in growing up and in going to war. The prefatory sketch of the Smyrna quay with the mules splashing helplessly in the water seems perhaps a recurrent dream symbolizing the terror at the heart of the violent world facing Nick. In fact, several of the interchapters could be interpreted as dream-level comments of the author on the events of the stories.
Third, the dispositions for such a breakdown could be found without difficulty in the disillusioning education of Nick. The pitiful response of his father to the evil in his marriage and in death, the flight from evil into the spiritual world of Christian Science by his mother, the entire course of his initiation into violence among his companions—all indicate Nick's personality was being shaped in a process that would make him incapable of surviving the stress of war and imminent death. The destruction of Nick's illusions about his parents parallels the destruction of the son's faith in his jockey father in "My Old Man." Nick himself gradually loses his sense of a benevolent environment, and eventually all sense of self-determination. The pressures of social forces and the transitoriness of his relationships gradually undermine his identity to a point at which he can find no solution short of total re-education through a reconstruction of his simplest sensory life. The typical adult subject to such a neurosis feels, as do the soldiers in the interchapters, that he is playing a role for society about which he has no choice. Once freed from the war, the soldiers, like Krebs, or the wounded soldier in the Italian hospital, or the lapsed apostle, find themselves victims of false hopes and illusions. They return to a routine of alienated search for minimal satisfactions with no responsibilities or complications.
The final section of In Our Time could perhaps be called a picture of Hemingway's therapy for the existential neurotic. Nick in "Big Two Hearted River" is seeking a simplified controllable setting in which to begin a new life after his death-wound in the war. Just as Hemingway had learned to write by carving out the interchapter sketches ("beginning with the simplest things"), so Nick has to learn to feel and reflect all over again, beginning with the simplest experiences. The difficulty with such therapy is, of course, that it might be a further symptom of the neurosis itself. An escape to fishing and camping may be no more than another attempt to opt out of the search for meaning and of the acceptance of responsibilities and complications. If the existentialist neurosis developed partially because his education had reduced his personality to a passive oversimplified sense of self, then any attempt to cure the personality by means of simplification of environment may also result in a similar reduction of the person to a mere function of his biological drives or social setting. Perhaps this danger is suggested by Nick's inability to meet the challenge of the swamp. At any rate, [Philip] Young is quite correct [in Ernest Hemingway: A Reconsideration] in describing the Nick Adams of the final stories as a "sick man … in escape" living on the "strictest sort of emotional diet." He is the existential neurotic seeking his peace separated from the violence of the present order in our time. (pp. 7-8)
David J. Leigh, S.J., "'In Our Time': The Interchapters as Structural Guides to a Psychological Pattern," in Studies in Short Fiction (copyright 1975 by Newberry College), Winter, 1975, pp. 1-8.
In the two genuine masterpieces among his novels, A Farewell to Arms and For Whom the Bell Tolls, nostalgia was among the forces that strengthened and sustained Hemingway. In the lesser works of his final years, however, nostalgia drove him to the point of exploiting his personal idiosyncrasies, as if he hoped to persuade readers to accept these in lieu of that powerful union of objective discernment and subjective response which he had once been able to achieve. Certain adumbrations of the new imbalance began to be evident as early as 1937. Even though the change seems to have been very gradual, and even though he never altogether lost that tight grip on observational accuracy which … [is] one distinguishing feature of his earlier work, a change of emphasis does nevertheless become evident…. [A] delicate formulaic balance, hitherto so well maintained, was upset if not destroyed, and the loss is ours as much as it was Hemingway's. (pp. 110-11)
Carlos Baker, "Hemingway's Empirical Imagination," in Individual and Community: Variations on a Theme in American Fiction, edited by Kenneth H. Baldwin and David K. Kirby (reprinted by permission of the Publisher; copyright 1975 by Duke University Press, Durham, North Carolina), Duke University Press, 1975, pp. 94-111.