Ernest Hemingway 1899–-1961
American novelist, short story and novella writer, dramatist, poet, journalist, essayist, and memoirist.
The following entry presents criticism of Hemingway's short fiction works from 1995 to 2002. See also Ernest Hemingway Criticism (Introduction), and Volumes 1, 3, 6, 8, 10, 13.
Hemingway is lauded as one of the greatest American writers of the twentieth century. Considered a master of the understated prose style that became his trademark, he was awarded the 1954 Nobel Prize in literature. Although his literary stature is secure, he remains a highly controversial writer, and his novels and short stories have evoked an enormous amount of critical commentary. His narrow range of characters and his thematic focus on violence and machismo, as well as his terse, objective prose, have led some critics to regard his fiction as shallow and insensitive. Others claim that beneath the deceptively limited surface lies a complex and fully realized fictional world. Although Hemingway's literary achievement has been measured chiefly by his novels The Sun Also Rises (1926) and A Farewell to Arms (1929), and his novella The Old Man and the Sea (1952), his short stories have increasingly won critical acclaim. Today, works of both genres are widely read, and Hemingway remains one of the most imitated writers in modern literature.
Born and raised in Oak Park, Illinois, by strict Congregationalist parents, Hemingway had a fairly happy, upper-middle-class childhood. By his teens he had become interested in literature, and he wrote a weekly column for his high school newspaper and contributed poems and stories to the school magazine. Upon his graduation in 1917, he took a junior reporter position on the Kansas City Star, covering the police and hospital beats and writing feature stories. Of tremendous impact to Hemingway's development as a writer was his participation in World War I as a Red Cross ambulance driver in Italy. Wounded in both legs by a shrapnel explosion near the front lines, he returned to the United States a decorated hero. He eventually returned to journalism to support himself, contributing features to the Toronto Star.
Following his first marriage in 1921, Hemingway returned to Europe to launch a writing career. For the next seven years, Hemingway resided principally in France, though he traveled frequently, covering the Greco-Turkish War of 1922 and writing special-interest pieces for the Toronto newspaper. During this period Hemingway matured as a writer, greatly aided in his artistic development by his close contact with several of the most prominent writers of the time, including Gertrude Stein, James Joyce, Ezra Pound, Ford Madox Ford, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. He eventually quit journalism, though he periodically returned to the medium, serving as a correspondent during several major wars. By the middle of the 1940s, however, a variety of recurrent physical ailments had severely curtailed his creative energy. In 1960 Hemingway suffered a mental breakdown and was admitted to the Mayo Clinic for electrotherapy treatments. His depressive behavior and other illnesses persisted, and Hemingway committed suicide the following year.
Major Works of Short Fiction
Hemingway's power and originality as a writer of compressed, impressionistic sketches became apparent with in our time (1924). A series of eighteen brief, untitled chapters stemming from Hemingway's war and journalistic experiences, this work was revised, greatly expanded, and published in the United States a year later as In Our Time. The American version included fifteen complete short stories with the remaining vignettes serving as interchapters.
By the appearance of his next story collection, Men without Women (1927), Hemingway's literary reputation—as the author of The Sun Also Rises and consequent chronicler of the “lost generation”—was all but solidified. While the 1930s were Hemingway's most prolific years, he published little of lasting significance, save for the short story collection Winner Take Nothing (1933) and an assemblage of forty-nine stories, published with the play The Fifth Column, which incorporated such widely anthologized stories as “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber” and “The Snows of Kilimanjaro.”
Although Hemingway’s most significant works include such renowned novels as The Sun Also Rises, A Farewell to Arms, and For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940)—as well as his Pulitzer Prize-winning novella, The Old Man and the Sea—critical response to these works has been varied. His short stories, however, particularly those in In Our Time, are consistently considered some of his finest efforts. There has been a myriad of criticism on Hemingway’s short fiction; collections and individual works have been examined from autobiographical, sociopolitical, psychoanalytical, and feminist perspectives. Hemingway’s influence as a short story writer has also been a recurrent topic of critical discussion, and his spare, understated narrative style is considered Hemingway’s literary legacy. His colorful life and work has garnered unrelenting critical and popular attention, and he is generally regarded as one of the greatest American short story writers of the twentieth century.