Ernest Hemingway Hemingway, Ernest (Vol. 19) - 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 pervades all of his work. Hemingway is noted for his distinctive delineation of action, although some critics find the philosophy espoused in his later novels simplistic and pompous. He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction in 1953 and the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954. (See also CLC, Vols. 1, 3, 6, 8, 10, 13, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 77-80.)

Paul Rosenfeld

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Hemingway's short stories [in In Our Time] belong with cubist painting, Le Sacre du Printemps, and other recent work bringing a feeling of positive forces through primitive modern idiom. The use of the direct, crude, rudimentary forms of the simple and primitive classes and their situations, of the stuffs, textures and rhythms of the mechanical and industrial worlds, has enabled this new American story teller, as it enabled the group to which he comes a fresh recruit, to achieve peculiarly sharp, decided, grimly affirmative expressions; and with these acute depictions and half-impersonal beats to satisfy a spirit running through the age. Hemingway's spoken prose is characteristically iron with a lyricism, aliveness and energy tremendously held in check. With the trip-hammer thud of Le Sacre his rhythms go. Emphatic, short, declarative sentences follow staunchly one upon the other, never precipitously or congestedly or mechanically, and never relenting. The stubby verbal forms are speeded in instances up to the brute, rapid, joyous jab of blunt period upon period. Hemingway's vocabulary is largely monosyllabic, and mechanical and concrete. Mixed with the common words, raw and pithy terms picked from the vernaculars of boys, jockeys, hunters, policemen, soldiers, and obscurely related to primitive impulse and primitive sex, further increase the rigidity of effect. There is something of Sherwood Anderson, of his fine bare effects and values coined from simplest words, in Hemingway's clear medium. There is Gertrude Stein equally obvious: her massive volumes, slow power, steady reiterations, and her intuition of the life of headless bodies. The American literary generations are learning to build upon each...

(The entire section is 706 words.)

Virginia Woolf

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

"Men Without Women" consists of short stories in the French rather than in the Russian manner. The great French masters, Mérimée and Maupassant, made their stories as self-sufficient and compact as possible. There is never a thread left hanging; indeed so contracted are they, that when the last sentence of the last page flares up, as it so often does, we see by its light the whole circumference and significance of the story revealed. The Tchekov method is, of course, the very opposite of this. Everything is cloudy and vague, loosely trailing rather than tightly furled. The stories move slowly out of sight like clouds in the summer air, leaving a wake of meaning in our minds which gradually fades away. Of the two methods, who shall say which is the better? At any rate, Mr. Hemingway, enlisting under the French masters, carries out their teaching up to a point with considerable success.

There are in "Men Without Women" many stories which, if life were longer, one would wish to read again. Most of them indeed are so competent, so efficient, and so bare of superfluity that one wonders why they do not make a deeper dent in the mind than they do. (p. 53)

[All] of these are good trenchant stories, quick, terse and strong. If one had not summoned the ghosts of Tchekov, Mérimée and Maupassant, no doubt one would be enthusiastic. As it is, one looks about for something, fails to find something, and so is brought again to the old familiar business of ringing impressions on the counter, and asking what is wrong?

For some reason the book of short stories does not seem to us to go as deep or to promise as much as the novel [The Sun Also Rises]. Perhaps it is the excessive use of dialogue, for Mr. Hemingway's use of it is surely excessive. A writer will...

(The entire section is 744 words.)

Malcolm Cowley

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The publishers called ["The Old Man and the Sea"] a classic … with a hastiness of epithet that suggests the speed of modern times; in more backward ages it took three or four centuries to make a classic. There is one sense, however, in which the publishers' claim is justified. "The Old Man and the Sea" is classical in spirit if we think of "classical" as a term applied to those works in all fields that accept limitations of space, subject and treatment while trying to achieve faultlessness within the limitations: Greek temples as opposed to Gothic Cathedrals. In its own terms the book is as nearly faultless as any short novel of our times.

Its length of less than thirty thousand words would seem to place it with earlier long stories like "The Undefeated" and "Francis Macomber" and at first glance it seems to be simpler than either of these. It has no complications of plot and it presents only three characters, counting the fish. When read carefully, however, it proves to have a power of suggestion that gives it more weight and scope than any of the early stories…. I remember one sentence among others: "They walked down the road to the old man's shack and all along the road, in the dark, barefoot men were moving, carrying the masts of their boats." In twenty eight words, all of them short, each of them right, it gives a background to the characters by evoking the life of a whole community.

At cocktail parties you already hear the book described as the poor man's "Moby Dick."… In the present instance it is justified by a surface resemblance in plot, but by absolutely nothing in the essence of the two books. "Moby Dick" is still our greatest novel and the other is a long story; if they illuminate each other—and they do—it is only by contrast.

Where "The Old Man and the Sea" is classical in spirit, "Moby Dick" is quintessentially romantic; it accepts no limits of any sort…. Demon and titan, whale and whalesman, are described in a fashion that strains the resources of the English...

(The entire section is 842 words.)

Robert W. Stallman

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

What has not been noticed about "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" is how it is designed. Scenes of external reality alternate with juxtaposed scenes of internal monologue, reminiscences of Harry's past life that Harry failed to utilize as writer. These cutbacks—they are set into italics—are not dreams, but rather they are recollected reality; the point is that they relate thematically. They are not irresponsible reminiscences. They are relevant in that they elicit, albeit obliquely, one motif or another relating to the plight of the protagonist. The narrative progression moves now forward in present reality and now backward to recollected reality.

The story is about an artist—or potential artist—who died spiritually the day he traded his integrity for security, and here he is dying now with a gangrenous leg…. His gangrenous leg is token symbol of his moral gangrene as creative writer. Obversely put, writing is a struggle, an act of labor and pain…. But Harry never exerted himself, never tried because he feared he might fail…. That he recollects his fragmented past, experiences he failed to recreate into formed literary works, that he recollects all that he has missed out on as potential artist, evokes the ironical poignancy of Harry's situation. What's painful about his present plight is just that. "Now he would never write the things that he had saved to write until he knew enough to write them well. Well, he would not have to fail at trying to write them either."… (pp. 193-94)

It is the characteristic Hemingway division and conflict between internal code or conscience and an external and meretricious code of manners or social front…. (p. 194)

[The construction of "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" depends on] … the various parts being related not logically but psychologically:

That was one story he had saved to write. He knew at least twenty good stories from out there and he had never written one. Why?

'You tell them why,' he said.
'Why what, dear?'
'Why nothing.'

The narrative shifts from recollections, from the mind of Harry, back to reality; here the transposition is clearly managed by the linked "Why?" Harry's memoried experiences furnish a kind of scrapbook of images which Harry had intended to recast into stories; they are all fragments, disjointed episodes, not yet organized into dramatic wholes because Harry never converted them into works of art. They are the unformed life he failed to form. Harry has not organized them, but Hemingway has.

While their sequence is seemingly haphazard, these internal monologues progress toward the climactic and final image of Williamson who was hit by a German bomb as he crawled through the trench's protective wire, "with a flare lighting him up and his bowels spilled out into the wire, so when they brought him in, alive, they had to cut him loose. Shoot me, Harry. For Christ sake shoot me." It is as though Williamson's plea were Harry's own death-wish, and almost immediately subsequent to this image of death-by-agony Harry himself dies—in contrast to Williamson, however, Harry does not die in agony. When "the weight went from his chest,"… Harry dies in his sleep. "It was morning and had been morning for some time and he heard the plane." Harry at the moment of his dying dreams that Compton comes...

(The entire section is 1445 words.)

Robert P. Weeks

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The best of [Hemingway's] critics recognized that though he dealt with a limited range of characters, placed them in quite similar circumstances, measured them against an unvarying code, and rendered them in a style that epitomized these other limitations, it was precisely this ruthless economy that gave his writing its power. And when Hemingway himself commented on his aims, it was clear that he knew what he was doing. He knowingly restricted himself in order to strip down, compress, and energize his writing. Prose, he once said, is not interior decoration but architecture, and the Baroque is over. His best work stands as a striking application to writing of Mies van der Rohe's architectural maxim: "Less is more."...

(The entire section is 1205 words.)

Linda Welshimer Wagner

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

In 1972, Ezra Pound made one of his rare comments, that "Hem did not disappoint." Craftsman that Pound had consistently been, his admiration for Hemingway grew at least partly from the younger writer's accomplishments in his writing. Forty-two years earlier, in 1930, Pound had himself classified Hemingway's writing style as "Imagist," describing the younger man as

accepting the principles of good writing that had been contained in the earliest imagist document, and applying the stricture against superfluous words to his prose, polishing, repolishing, and eliminating, as can be seen in the clean hard paragraphs of the first brief In Our Time, in They All Made Peace, in...

(The entire section is 2841 words.)


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Ernest Hemingway's early years as a writer constituted an apprenticeship, during which he emulated a number of his elder contemporaries. Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, Sherwood Anderson, and James Joyce are among those who, it often has been asserted, contributed certain qualities to Hemingway's technique. His relationship to T. S. Eliot, however, is of a different order. At one time or another, Hemingway was a friend and an admirer of Stein, Pound, Anderson, and Joyce, but his attitude toward Eliot was consistently that of outspoken antagonism.

Despite Hemingway's generally negative personal opinion of Eliot, certain resemblances between his work and Eliot's make it clear that the novelist was...

(The entire section is 2349 words.)

Seymour Krim

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Hemingway's collected poems, 88 Poems,] show the thin, hard stream of his contempt even more clearly than his prose. Among the people and things that he subjected to his nostrilwincing amonia were blank verse, "clean" sports, Martel cognac, highbrows, gabby Jews, clergymen, wedding gifts, gung-ho soldiers, Teddy Roosevelt, Democracy, expatriates, liberals….

And yet—it sounds unbelievable after this catalogue of peeve—Hemingway was an endearing writer as well as a courageous one. The strange word "endearing" comes to mind because he was so wholehearted in his motives: when he hated he hated, when he had contempt it was not disguised. Even though Hemingway was a dirty fighter with words,...

(The entire section is 618 words.)

Carole Moses

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Critical attention to language in For Whom the Bell Tolls usually focuses on the Spanish quality of the dialogue. Written in English, the novel imitates the vocabulary and sentence structure of Spanish, creating a highly stylized prose. Edward Fenimore has commented on the "Elizabethan" tone of the language, and concludes that it contributes to the epic quality of the work. In a similar vein, Earl Rovit maintains that the language distances the reader from the novel, and that this distance adds to the timelessness and universality of the characters and events being described. Hemingway's preoccupation with language is not merely stylistic, however, but it constitutes a major sub-theme in the novel: the...

(The entire section is 1433 words.)

Kathleen L. Nichols

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Until recently, most interpretations of Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises have been based on the assumption that the plot reveals no linear progression, but is circular in form. Although critics such as Philip Young have tried to transform this seeming defect into a virtue by suggesting the inseparability of form from content, the recent trend in Hemingway criticism is to reject (as Hemingway himself did) the necessary corollary to this view—that Jake Barnes and his "lost generation" are static characters, incapable of learning and profiting from experience. (p. 321)

Such interpretations still miss Hemingway's subtle development of an ordered and logical sequence of action based on essential...

(The entire section is 2483 words.)

David M. Wyatt

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Hemingway at his best is not a maker of metaphors. He resists the notion that anything can overtly be compared to anything else. While his images almost always function on two levels—the literal and the figurative—Hemingway refuses to help his reader bridge the gap between the two realms by in any way suggesting that his language might be two-dimensional. The pervasive sense that an overwhelming symbolic logic lurks just beneath the level of the literal is precisely the sense of the uncanny which Hemingway at once wishes to exploit and deny. From the perspective of rhetorical decorum, the "uncanny" acquires a stylistic as well as a psychological definition, since the tenor of every vehicle is just "that which...

(The entire section is 1384 words.)