Ernest Hemingway Hemingway, Ernest (Vol. 13) - Essay


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Hemingway, Ernest 1899–1961

Hemingway was an American novelist, short story writer, and journalist. Numbered by many among the greatest American writers, Hemingway is master of the objective prose style which became his trademark. War and athletic competition often make up the subject matter of his works, allowing Hemingway to explore man's physical and metaphysical strivings. He was confounded by both the idea and the reality of death: indeed, an essential nihilism colors all of his work. Hemingway is noted for his superlative description of action, although some critics find the philosophy espoused in his later novels simplistic and pompous. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954 and the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction in 1953. (See also CLC, Vols. 1, 3, 6, 8, 10, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 77-80.)

Malcolm Cowley

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

When Hemingway's stories first appeared, they seemed to be a transcription of the real world, new because they were accurate and because the world in those days was also new. With his insistence on "presenting things truly," he seemed to be a writer in the naturalistic tradition (for all his technical innovations)…. Going back to his work [later], you perceive his kinship with a wholly different group of novelists, let us say with Poe and Hawthorne and Melville: the haunted and nocturnal writers, the men who dealt in images that were symbols of an inner world.

On the face of it, his method is not in the least like theirs. He doesn't lead us into castles ready to collapse with age, or into very old New England houses, or embark with us on the search for a whale that is also the white spirit of evil; instead he tells the stories he has lived or heard, against the background of countries he has seen. But, you reflect on reading his books again, these are curious stories that he has chosen from his wider experience, and these countries are presented in a strangely mortuary light. In no other writer of our time can you find such a profusion of corpses…. In no other writer can you find so many suffering animals…. And morally wounded people who also devour themselves …—here are visions as terrifying as those of "The Pit and the Pendulum," even though most of them are copied from life; here are nightmares at noonday, accurately described, pictured without blur, but having the nature of obsessions or hypnagogic visions between sleep and waking.

And, going back to them, you find a waking-dreamlike quality even in the stories that deal with pleasant or commonplace aspects of the world. (pp. 40-1)

Hemingway's stories are most of them continued, in the sense that he has a habit of returning to the same themes, each time making them a little clearer—to himself, I think, as well as to others. His work has an emotional consistency, as if all of it moved with the same current. (p. 41)

After reading [a later story, "Now I Lay Me,"] we have a somewhat different attitude toward the earlier ["Big Two-Hearted River."]… [We] now perceive what we probably missed at a first reading: that there are shadows in the background and that part of the story takes place in an inner world. We notice that Nick Adams regards his fishing trip as an escape, either from nightmare or from realities that have become a nightmare…. "Nick felt happy," the author says more than once. "He felt he had left everything behind, the need for thinking, the need to write, other needs. It was all back of him." He lives as if in an enchanted country. There is a faint suggestion of old legends: all the stories of boys with cruel stepmothers who wandered off into the forest where the big trees sheltered them and the birds brought them food. (p. 42)

[Fishing] is not the only activity of his heroes that Hemingway endows with a curious and almost supernatural value. They drink early and late; they consume enough beer, wine, anis, grappa, and Fundador to put them all into alcoholic wards, if they were ordinary mortals; but drinking seems to have the effect on them of a magic potion. (pp. 42-3)

[Hemingway tried in the] early days to state everything behavioristically, and it was not until later that he began to make a deliberate use of symbolism, together with other literary devices that he had avoided in the beginning, when he was teaching himself to write "commencing with the simplest things."…

Hemingway almost never makes the error that weakens the effect of most symbolic fiction. Ordinarily we think of it as a type of writing in which the events in the foreground tend to become misty because the author has his eyes fixed on something else…....

(The entire section is 1568 words.)

Robert W. Stallman

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Hemingway's narrator [in The Sun Also Rises] seemingly represents "the true moral norm of the book," but he appears as such only to the prejudiced reader, prejudiced by the bias of the narrator's authoritative voice….

Read the novel from Cohn's point-of-view, and you end obversely in bias against Jake Barnes and his sophomoric code and his friends who damn Cohn by it. Reversal of intention: that Hemingway consciously schemed it so is evidenced by the fact that his narrator is honest enough to include in his story the self-incriminating testimony of witnesses against him, namely Bill Gorton, Robert Cohn, and Jake Barnes himself. Jake confesses his defections from the code he seemingly exemplifies and from his role as historian of the pretenders to it. (p. 173)

Characteristically, what Jake says of his friends applies also to himself. Jake's portrait of Cohn reflects himself; it tells us as much about Jake as about Cohn.

On Jake's own admission, we cannot accept his portrait of Cohn with any certitude: "Somehow I feel that I have not shown Robert Cohn clearly."… Jake Barnes, New York Herald journalist, is not a trustworthy reporter. (pp. 176-77)

Cohn is [pictured as] awful because he is always merely nice. Niceness is discredited because it declares a weakness, an exposed flaw in the mask of mock sophistication which Jake and his friends subscribe to. The criterion is irony, and Cohn never once speaks ironically….

In both The Sun Also Rises and The Great Gatsby the narrators default on the standards by which they measure and judge others. Duplicity characterizes both narrators. (p. 178)

Contra Carlos Baker's notion of "the moral vacuum in Cohn," Cohn stands out as exemplar of the Christian virtues. That moral vacuum is located—by my reading—in Jake, in Brett, and in Mike; also in Romero. (p. 180)

Hemingway's public has been brain-washed by the Hemingway Code.

The story narrated by Jake Barnes is the story of Robert Cohn, the betrayed tin Christ. Everyone in The Sun Also Rises regards himself as a little tin Christ—the exceptions are the Count and Montoya and Cohn. They crucify Cohn as though he were one. They hang a wreath of twisted garlics around his neck...

(The entire section is 974 words.)

Sean O'Faolain

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

It is something of a joke, in view of the common belief that Hemingway is a tough, laconic writer, that the reason for the difficulty [in interpreting "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place"] is that this story by an acknowledged "realist" is as near, in its quality and its effect, to a poem as prose can be without ceasing to be honest prose. (p. 112)

Age, death, despair, love, the boredom of life, two elderly men seeking sleep and forgetfulness, and one still young enough to feel passion, cast into an hour and a place whose silence and emptiness, soon to become more silent and more empty still—it all creates in us, at first, a sad mood in which patience and futility feebly strive with one another, involve us, mesmerize us. Grimness is in the offing. Hemingway's kindness and tenderness save us from that. For Hemingway, deep down, is one of the kindest and most tender of writers. If our final feelings here are of pity and awe it is he who communicates them to us. I believe that Hemingway's "realism" is merely the carapace or shell that protects, grips, holds from overspilling a nature fundamentally emotional and tender. (pp. 112-13)

[With the waiter's confession, "I'm with all those who like to stay late at the café … With all those who need a light at night"] the meaning of the title becomes clear, and in the following references to light, as one of the defenses of man's sad soul against the Baudelaireian horror of...

(The entire section is 544 words.)

Philip Young

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Very probably [Hemingway] intended [the title of In Our Time] as a sardonic allusion to a well-known phrase from the Church of England's Book of Common Prayer: "Give peace in our time, O Lord." At any rate the most striking thing about the volume is that there is no peace at all in the stories. The next most striking thing about them … is that half of the stories are devoted to the spotty but careful development of a crucial but long-ignored character—a boy, then a young man—named Nick Adams. These stories are arranged in the chronological order of Nick's boyhood and early manhood, and are intimately related, one to another. Indeed in this aspect the book is almost a "novel," for some of the stories are...

(The entire section is 4365 words.)

Scott Donaldson

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Often] Hemingway's fictional women emerge as more admirable than his men: braver, more faithful and loving, more responsible. (p. 6)

[Hemingway expressed his view of the morality of compensation, in which nothing can be given or taken without an equivalent] in the metaphor of finance—a metaphor which runs through the fabric of [The Sun Also Rises] as a fine, essential thread. It is Jake Barnes who explicitly states the code of Hemingway's novel…. Jake reflects that in having Lady Brett Ashley for a friend, he "had been getting something for nothing" and that sooner or later he would have to pay the bill, which always came…. (p. 22)

Jake's philosophical musing is...

(The entire section is 3184 words.)

Ben Stoltzfus

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The themes that Hemingway weaves into The Old Man and the Sea, like counterpoint in a Bach fugue, explore the ideas of pride in killing and victory in conquest as opposed to humility in defeat and suffering in abnegation. Santiago is a pagan Catholic whose age, pride, honor, and courage force him to prove that pain is nothing to a man and that a fisherman can perform miracles. This Cuban protagonist of Spanish birth harpoons marlin like a matador and suffers pain like a Christ figure. Using Santiago as a symbolic namehead Hemingway fuses the themes into a moving experience of life and death. (p. 39)

C. N. Stavrou believes that in Hemingway's world human existence moves inexorably toward...

(The entire section is 2505 words.)