Ernest Hemingway Hemingway, Ernest (Vol. 10) - Essay


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Hemingway, Ernest 1899–1961

An American novelist and short story writer, Hemingway received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954 and the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction in 1953. The ultimate truths that face man in Hemingway's world are pain, disillusionment, violence, suffering, and, above all, death. For Hemingway's characters, value and purpose in life can be found in confrontation, in the bullfight, for example, and meaning can be gained through manly action, strong friendships, and, most importantly, through a relationship with nature. (See also CLC, Vols. 1, 3, 6, 8, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 77-80.)

D. H. Lawrence

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[In Our Time] does not pretend to be about one man. But it is. It is as much as we need know of the man's life. The sketches are short, sharp, vivid, and most of them excellent. (The "mottoes" in front seem a little affected.) And these few sketches are enough to create the man and all his history: we need know no more.

Nick is a type one meets in the more wild and woolly regions of the United States. He is the remains of the lone trapper and cowboy. Nowadays he is educated, and through with everything. It is a state of conscious, accepted indifference to everything except freedom from work and the moment's interest. Mr. Hemingway does it extremely well. Nothing matters. Everything happens. One wants to keep oneself loose. Avoid one thing only: getting connected up. Don't get connected up. If you get held by anything, break it. Don't be held. Break it, and get away. Don't get away with the idea of getting somewhere else. Just get away, for the sake of getting away. Beat it! "Well, boy, I guess I'll beat it." Ah, the pleasure in saying that!

Mr. Hemingway's sketches, for this reason, are excellent: so short, like striking a match, lighting a brief sensational cigarette, and it's over. His young love affair ends as one throws a cigarette end away. "It isn't fun any more."—"Everything's gone to hell inside me."

It is really honest. And it explains a great deal of sentimentality. When a...

(The entire section is 476 words.)

Mark Spilka

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

One of the most persistent themes of the Twenties was the death of love in World War I. All the major writers recorded it, often in piecemeal fashion, as part of the larger postwar scene; but only Hemingway seems to have caught it whole and delivered it in lasting fictional form…. Hemingway seems to design an extensive parable. Thus, in The Sun Also Rises, his protagonists are deliberately shaped as allegorical figures: Jake Barnes and Brett Ashley are two lovers desexed by the war; Robert Cohn is the false knight who challenges their despair; while Romero, the stalwart bullfighter, personifies the good life which will survive their failure. Of course, these characters are not abstractions in the text; they are realized through the most concrete style in American fiction, and their larger meaning is implied only by their response to immediate situations. But the implications are there, the parable is at work in every scene, and its presence lends unity and depth to the whole novel. (p. 127)

[His] fear of emotional consequences is the key to Barnes' condition. Like so many Hemingway heroes, he has no way to handle subjective complications, and his wound is a token for this kind of impotence.

It serves the same purpose for the expatriate crowd in Paris. In some figurative manner these artists, writers, and derelicts have all been rendered impotent by the war. Thus, as Barnes presents them, they pass before us like a parade of sexual cripples, and we are able to measure them against his own forbearance in the face of a common problem. Whoever bears his sickness well is akin to Barnes; whoever adopts false postures, or willfully hurts others, falls short of his example. This is the organizing principle in Book I, this alignment of characters by their stoic qualities. But stoic or not, they are all incapable of love, and in their sober moments they seem to know it.

For this reason they feel especially upset whenever Robert Cohn appears. Cohn still upholds a romantic view of life, and since he affirms it with stubborn persistence, he acts like a goad upon his wiser contemporaries. As the narrator, Barnes must account for the challenge he presents them and the decisive turn it takes in later chapters…. [Tokens] of virility delight [Cohn] and he often confuses them with actual manliness. (p. 128)

Cohn's romanticism explains his key position in the parable. He is the last chivalric hero, the last defender of an outworn faith, and his function is to illustrate its present folly—to show us, through the absurdity of his behavior, that romantic love is dead, that one of the great guiding codes of the past no longer operates…. [For] this generation boredom has become more plausible than love….

Of course, there is much that is traditional in the satire on Cohn. Like the many victims of romantic literature, from Don Quixote to Tom Sawyer, he lives by what he reads and neglects reality at his own and others' peril. But Barnes and his friends have no alternative to Cohn's beliefs. There is nothing here, for example, like the neat balance between sense and sensibility in Jane Austen's world. Granted that Barnes is sensible enough, that he sees life clearly and that we are meant to contrast his private grief with Cohn's public suffering, his self-restraint with Cohn's deliberate self-exposure. Yet, emasculation aside, Barnes has no way to measure or control the state of love; and though he recognizes this with his mind and tries to act accordingly, he seems no different from Cohn in his deepest feelings…. No, at best he is a restrained romantic, a man who carries himself well in the face of love's impossibilities, but who seems to share with Cohn a common (if hidden) weakness. (p. 129)

With a man's felt hat on her boyish bob, and with her familiar reference to men as fellow "chaps," [Brett] completes the distortion of sexual roles which seems to characterize the period. For the war, which has unmanned Barnes and his contemporaries, has turned Brett into the freewheeling equal of any man…. [She] survives the colossal violence, the disruption of her personal life, and the exposure to mass promiscuity, to confront a moral and emotional vacuum among her postwar lovers. With this evidence of male default all around her, she steps off the romantic pedestal, moves freely through the bars of Paris, and stands confidently there beside her newfound equals…. But when men no longer command respect, and women replace their natural warmth with masculine freedom and mobility, there can be no serious love. (p. 130)

[The cripples who appear in Book I] are all disaffiliates, all men and women who have cut themselves off from conventional society and who have made Paris their permanent playground. Jake Barnes has introduced them, and we have been able to test them against his stoic attitudes toward life in a moral wasteland. Yet such life is finally unbearable, as we have also seen whenever Jake and Brett are alone together, or whenever Jake is alone with his thoughts. (p. 131)

[In a footnote, Spilka states: Hemingway's preoccupation with death has been explained in various ways…. Yet chiefly the risk of death lends moral seriousness to a private code which lacks it. The risk is arbitrary; when a man elects to meet it, his beliefs take on subjective weight and he is able to give meaning to his private life. In this sense, he moves forever on a kind of imaginative frontier, where the opposition is always Nature, in some token form, where the stakes are always manliness and self-respect, and where death invests the scene with tragic implications. In The Sun Also Rises, Romero lives on such a frontier, and for Barnes and his friends he provides an example of just these values.] (n., p. 133)

[The encounter between Cohn and Pedro] is the highpoint of the parable, for in the Code Hero, the Romantic Hero has finally met his match. As the clash between them...

(The entire section is 2456 words.)

Leon Edel

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Hemingway has not created a Style: he has rather created the artful illusion of a Style, for he is a clever artist and there is a great deal of cleverness in all that he has done. He has conjured up an effect of Style by a process of evasion, very much as he sets up an aura of emotion—by walking directly away from emotion!

What I am trying to suggest is that the famous Hemingway Style is not "organic." And any style worthy of the name must be, as the much-worn, but nevertheless truthful mot, that Style is the man, testifies. Is Hemingway's Style the man? At the risk of a pun, I would answer no, it is the mannerism! It is an artifice, a series of charming tricks, a group of...

(The entire section is 536 words.)

Tony Tanner

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

One could easily list the particular moments that Hemingway chooses to focus on in his short stories and nearly always they will be found to be moments of crisis, tension and passion. This is not to say that they are epiphanies in Joyce's sense, but rather that they deal with moments of pain, shock, strain, test, moments of emotional heightening of some kind. It may be an ageing courageous bull fighter facing and succumbing to his last bull, it may be a man listening to his wife say that she is leaving him to go off with a woman: the subject matter varies widely, the emotional pitch of the characters is almost uniformly high. And it is at such moments that the details of the encompassing world seem saturated with...

(The entire section is 3846 words.)

Frank W. Shelton

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Hemingway's books may seem to lack entirely that most primary group to which every individual belongs, at least initially, the family.

However, with the posthumous publication of Islands in the Stream and The Nick Adams Stories, the importance of the family to Hemingway becomes increasingly clear. In Islands in the Stream, Thomas Hudson's loss of his sons in part causes his final deep despair. Placing the Nick Adams stories in chronological sequence, as the recent volume does, also highlights how so many of them deal, at least obliquely, with Nick's relationship with and attitude toward family and marriage.

As a child Nick is never closely tied to anyone for a...

(The entire section is 1073 words.)

John Berryman

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

This short, almost desperate, and beautiful story ["A Clean, Well-Lighted Place"] is an unusually fine example of a very special kind of story which is not anecdotal at all. If you were asked by somebody, "What happens in this story?" you would have to reply, "Nothing." Now nothing is exactly what the story is about: Nothing, and the steps we take against Nothing. The fact that there is no plot is part of the story's meaning: in a world characterized by "Nothing," what significant action could take place? The two waiters are only very gradually distinguished from each other; their voices in the beginning are choric, just two men talking, any two men. Of the old man in the café we learn very little, and of the...

(The entire section is 1761 words.)