The Influence of Ernest Hemingway - Essay


(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

The Influence of Ernest Hemingway

See also, A Farewell to Arms Criticism.

The 1999 centennial of Hemingway's birth was celebrated in Florida, Idaho, Michigan, Arkansas, Massachusetts, and Illinois, as well as Cuba, Italy, France, Spain, China, and Japan. The event was commemorated with literary conferences devoted to his life and work, with public festivities, with the posthumous publication of an unfinished manuscript, True at First Light (1999), and with a great deal of media attention that focused as much on his iconic persona as on his contributions to American literature. Biographer Michael Reynolds has noted that although “Hemingway's short fiction is what changed American fiction,” particularly in the way subsequent authors wrote dialogue, “there are people who venerate Hemingway who have never read Hemingway.” Despite his reputation as a serious artist—he received the Nobel Prize for literature in 1954, and his novels The Sun Also Rises (1926) and A Farewell to Arms (1929) were included on a 1998 list of the top one hundred novels of the twentieth century—Hemingway has been commodified, or, in author Justin Kaplan's words, “Elvisized.” Hemingway's emblematic American masculinity is used to market everything from tourism to cookbooks to a line of furniture, and his minimalist writing style has been the subject of a yearly “International Imitation Hemingway Competition,” with the winners published in a book series entitled Best of Bad Hemingway.

Although Hemingway's larger-than-life presence—both in life and after his dramatic suicide in 1961—has often threatened to overshadow his work, it is generally agreed that Hemingway is, in James Nagel's words, “one of the finest prose stylists in English,” an author whose work “gave rise to the minimalist movement in American fiction, to the work of Raymond Carver and Susan Minot,” as well as many others, including Richard Ford. The presenter of the 1954 Nobel Prize in literature said: “With masterly skill [Hemingway] reproduces all the nuances of the spoken word, as well as those pauses in which thought stands still and the nervous mechanism is thrown out of gear. It may sometimes sound like small talk, but it is not trivial when one gets to know his method. He prefers to leave the work of psychological reflection to his readers and this freedom is of great benefit to him in spontaneous observation.” In his book, Genius, Harold Bloom pronounced Hemingway a “minor novelist with a major style”; in The Columbia Companion to the Twentieth-Century American Short Story, Peter Mascuch called him “one of the great innovators of twentieth-century form.” At the Hemingway Centennial celebration at the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston, essayist Joan Didion declared, “This was a writer who had in his time made the English language new, changed the rhythms of the way both his own and the next few generations would speak and write and think.” At the same conference, poet Derek Walcott called the best of Hemingway's prose “an achievement superior to anything in poetry.” In a centennial article by Steve Paul, a journalist with the Kansas City Star (where Hemingway was a cub reporter from 1917-1918), author Russell Banks praised “the sheer beauty of [Hemingway's] sentences.” Charles Johnson told Paul, “I think it is impossible not to work in Hemingway's shadow, either as an imitator of his approach to prose writing or in strong reaction against it.” In a keynote address at the Seventh International Hemingway Conference, Terry Tempest Williams stated: “Hemingway has been a powerful mentor, in terms of what it means to create a landscape impressionistically on the page, to make it come alive, pulse, breathe, to ‘make the country so that you could walk into it.’” Novelist E. Annie Proulx, who confesses she is not a fan, nevertheless called Hemingway's work “important”: “It cast a shadow over nearly forty years of American literary history and set countless imitators a-scribbling, liberated writers from nineteenth-century sentence styles as tightly packed and convoluted as intestines in a hog.”

Although recognized primarily as a stylist and innovator of form, Hemingway also embraced a distinctly modern, existentialist worldview that influenced twentieth-century literature. Novels such as The Sun Also Rises and A Farewell to Arms are populated by men who are, in Hemingway's words, “hurt very badly; in the body, mind, and spirit, and also morally.” In these works, World War I casts a shadow over characters who, no longer believing in the traditions and values of the nineteenth century or in the goodness of government, are disillusioned idealists who reject nationalist propaganda and easy sentimentality. Nevertheless, the Hemingway hero struggles to make his own meaning in a world filled with cynicism and war. According to Philip Young, the “Hemingway code”—exemplified by Jake Barnes in The Sun Also Rises, Frederic Henry in A Farewell to Arms, Robert Jordan in For Whom The Bell Tolls (1940), and the fisherman Santiago in The Old Man and the Sea (1952)—involves qualities of stoicism, courage, honor, endurance, and self-control. In his interview with the Kansas City Star, Banks described the Hemingway hero as a “sort of existential hero” who reflects the “romantic alienation that [Hemingway himself] seemed to be emblematic of and that he manifested in his style as well.” Critics have also remarked upon the psychological effects of violence depicted in Hemingway's novels and short fiction, which is ever-present in his descriptions of war, bullfighting, big-game hunting, and surviving in the wilderness. Hemingway's fiction is at its strongest in its portraits of male characters struggling to define their identities and find honor in a chaotic world. For half a century, critics have generally agreed with Leslie Fielder's 1955 contention that “Hemingway is always less embarrassing when he is not attempting to deal with women.”

At the centennial of Hemingway's birth, noted Linda Wagner-Martin, the editor Ernest Hemingway: Seven Decades of Criticism, the question was “why his writings last so well. … [What] else besides nostalgia does it provide the reader here at the very end of that twentieth century?” She noted that over the past seventy years, as views of heroism have changed, so too have critics' views of Hemingway. Rather than writing about “the code hero” much celebrated in the 1950s and 1960s, critics have become interested in the full variety of characters portrayed by Hemingway, including in his female characters. Contemporary critics are now exploring Hemingway's representation of nature, identity, and sense of place, as well as his handling of issues of race, gender, and sexual identity. With the posthumous release of The Garden of Eden (1987) and True at First Light, Hemingway's literary legacy promises to last as long as and run more deeply than his cult of personality. As Jim Windolf in the New York Observer concluded, Hemingway the icon has “very little to do with the perfect first paragraph of A Farewell to Arms and a number of indestructible short stories.”

Principal Works

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

Three Stories & Ten Poems (short stories and poetry) 1923

in our time (short stories) 1924; revised edition published as In Our Time, 1925

The Sun Also Rises (novel) 1926; also published as Fiesta, 1927

The Torrents of Spring (novel) 1926

Men without Women (short stories) 1927

A Farewell to Arms (novel) 1929

Death in the Afternoon (nonfiction) 1932

Winner Take Nothing (short stories) 1933

Green Hills of Africa (nonfiction) 1935

To Have and Have Not (novel) 1937

The Fifth Column and the First Forty-nine Stories (play and short stories) 1939

For Whom the Bell Tolls (novel) 1940

Across the River and into the Trees (novel) 1950

The Old Man and the Sea (novel) 1952

The Snows of Kilimanjaro, and Other Stories (short stories) 1961

The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber, and Other Stories (short stories) 1963

A Moveable Feast (memoir) 1964

By-Line: Ernest Hemingway: Selected Articles and Dispatches of Four Decades (journalism) 1968

Islands in the Stream (novel) 1970

The Nick Adams Stories (short stories) 1972

88 Poems (poetry) 1979

Ernest Hemingway: Selected Letters, 1917-1961 [edited by Carlos Baker] (correspondence) 1981

The Complete Stories of Ernest Hemingway (short stories) 1987

The Garden of Eden (novel) 1987

True at First Light [edited by Patrick Hemingway] (fictionalized memoir) 1999

Toni D. Knott (essay date 1999)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Knott, Toni D. “The Critical Reception—Through Time.” In One Man Alone: Hemingway and To Have and Have Not, edited by Toni D. Knott, pp. 11-39. Latham, N.Y.: University Press of America, 1999.

[In the following essay from an anthology celebrating Hemingway's centennial, Knott reviews responses to the author's controversial novel To Have and Have Not.]

Manning: “Is there anything you've written that you would do differently if your could do it over?” Hemingway: “Not yet.”

“Hemingway in Cuba,” from Bruccoli's Conversations



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Morris Freedman (essay date winter 2001)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Freedman, Morris. “Disparaging Hemingway.” Virginia Quarterly Review 77, no. 1 (winter 2001): 76-82.

[In the essay below, Freedman speculates to what extent the media's fascination with and exploitation of the cult of personality in the case of Hemingway affects considerations of his writing and whether or not this may be justified.]

In introducing his less than admiring review of Ernest Hemingway's Across the River and Into the Trees, in The New York Times Book Review, John O'Hara referred to him as the greatest writer since Shakespeare. O'Hara wasn't simply being contrarian; I'm sure he could have reasonably justified the hyperbole. As a...

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Harold Bloom (essay date 2002)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Bloom, Harold. “Ernest Hemingway.” In Genius: A Mosaic of One Hundred Exemplary Creative Minds, pp. 569-574. New York: Warner Books, 2002.

[In the following essay, Bloom argues that although Hemingway is better known for his life and personality than for his literary production, Hemingway's novel The Sun Also Rises is an important contribution to literary and cultural history.]

They were seated in the boat, Nick in the stern, his father rowing. The sun was coming up over the hills. A bass jumped, making a circle in the water. Nick trailed his hand in the water. It felt warm in the sharp chill of the morning.


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Russell Banks, Charles Johnson, Michael Ondaatje, E. Annie Proulx, Bob Shacochis, Robert Stone, Terry Tempest Williams, and Steve Paul (interview date spring 1999)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Banks, Russell, Charles Johnson, Michael Ondaatje, E. Annie Proulx, Bob Shacochis, Robert Stone, Terry Tempest Williams, and Steve Paul. “On Hemingway and His Influence: Conversations with Writers.” The Hemingway Review 18, no. 2 (spring 1999): 115-32.

[In the following article, Paul interviews several well-known and highly respected writers concerning Hemingway's influence on their own work and what they find most compelling about Hemingway.]

Is it possible for an American writer, on the eve of the 21st century, to write outside the shadow of Ernest Hemingway?

Well, yes and no. For some the shadow receded long ago; for others it was never...

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Derek Walcott (essay date 2000)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Walcott, Derek. “Hemingway Now.” North Dakota Quarterly 68, nos. 2-3 (spring-summer 2001): 6-13.

[In the following essay, originally given as the keynote address for the Ninth International Hemingway Conference in 2000, Walcott, a Nobel Prize-winning poet, recounts how, as a young writer growing up on the Caribbean island of St. Lucia, Hemingway's precise descriptions of geography and light were critical to his own development as a poet.]

As I write this in the Santa Cruz valley in northern Trinidad, I think I hear what sounds like the echo of collected rain on the thick, rich forests that cover the hills, the sounds of rain either going or coming, a sound...

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Mario Vargas Llosa (essay date fall-winter 2000-01)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Vargas Llosa, Mario. “Extemporaneities.” Salmagundi, nos. 128-129 (fall-winter 2000-01): 42-7.

[In the following essay, Vargas Llosa, one of Latin America's best-known writers, reflects on the archetypal qualities and origins of Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea.]

When his mediocre novel Across the River and into the Trees was savaged by critics, few would have predicted the comeback Hemingway would make with The Old Man and the Sea, an exemplary, concise modern classic about courage that may well have assured his reputation and won him the Nobel Prize. The plot of the 1952 novel is simple: an old fisherman, eighty-four days without a catch,...

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H. R. Stoneback (essay date 1999)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Stoneback, H. R. “Freedom and Motion, Place and Placelessness: On the Road in Hemingway's America.” In Hemingway and the Natural World, edited by Robert E. Fleming, pp. 203-19. Moscow: University of Idaho Press, 1999.

[In the following essay, Stoneback meditates upon Hemingway's use of geography and myth in his short fiction.]


The center line of highways was the boundary line of home.

Ernest Hemingway, “The Strange Country”

This essay is concerned with Hemingway's American landscape, actual and symbolic, natural landscape and paysage moralise, and...

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Edward Whitley (essay date 2002)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Whitley, Edward. “Race and Modernity in Theodore Roosevelt's and Ernest Hemingway's African Travel Writing.” In Issues in Travel Writing: Empire, Spectacle, and Displacement, edited by Kristi Siegel, pp. 13-29. New York: Peter Lang Publishing, Inc., 2002.

[In the following essay, Whitley suggests that Hemingway's depiction of Africa and Africans in The Green Hills of Africa was informed by the travel writing of the adventurer Theodore Roosevelt, who promulgated the legend of the great white hunter in Africa.]

Coming on the heels of Theodore Roosevelt's return from his 1909 East African hunting safari, the Pittsburgh Gazette-Times ran an...

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Glen A. Love (essay date 2003)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Love, Glen A. “Hemingway among the Animals.” In Practical Ecocriticism: Literature, Biology and the Environment, pp. 117-81. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2003.

[In the following excerpt, Love draws upon the diverse fields of evolutionary biology, ecology, psychology, and literary theory to explore the importance of humanity's relationship to the natural world in Hemingway's short novel, The Old Man and the Sea.]

Do you know the sin it would be to ruffle the arrangement of the feathers on a hawk's neck if they could never be replaced as they were?—

Ernest Hemingway, Death in the...

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Thomas Strychacz (essay date 1989)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Strychacz, Thomas. “Dramatizations of Manhood in In Our Time and The Sun Also Rises.” In Hemingway's Theaters of Masculinity, pp. 53-86. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2003.

[In the following excerpt, from an essay that was origingally published in 1989, Strychacz discusses the ways in which Hemingway's characters enact masculine identity and explores the meanings and difficulties of masculinity in In Our Time and The Sun Also Rises.]

In the bullring, men are made or unmanned. The “kid” in the first bullfight vignette of In Our Time submits to the code of the ring and, by killing five times, reaches his...

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Susan F. Beegel (essay date 2002)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Beegel, Susan F. “Santiago and the Eternal Feminine: Gendering La Mar in The Old Man and the Sea.” In Hemingway and Women: Female Critics and the Female Voice, edited by Lawrence R. Broer and Gloria Holland, pp. 131-156. Tuscaloosa: The University of Alabama Press, 2002.

[In the following essay, Beegel draws upon Catholic iconography, the work of environmentalist Rachel Carson and others, and the writings of Herman Melville to consider the ways in which the sea takes on a complex, gendered persona in Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea.]

“Hemingway is always less embarrassing when he is not attempting to deal with women,” Leslie A. Fiedler...

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Debra A. Moddelmog (essay date 2002)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Moddelmog, Debra A. “Queer Families in Hemingway's Fiction.” In Hemingway and Women: Female Critics and the Female Voice, edited by Lawrence R. Broer and Gloria Holland, pp. 173-89. Tuscaloosa: The University of Alabama Press, 2002.

[In the following essay, Moddelmog examines In Our Time, For Whom the Bell Tolls, The Sun Also Rises, and The Garden of Eden through the lens of queer theory to argue that although Hemingway did not depict many stereotypical nuclear families, his fiction is nevertheless deeply concerned with kinship.]

… even when you have learned not to look at families nor listen to them and have learned not...

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Nancy R. Comley (essay date 2002)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Comley, Nancy R. “The Light from Hemingway's Garden: Regendering Papa.” In Hemingway and Women: Female Critics and the Female Voice, edited by Lawrence R. Boer and Gloria Holland, pp. 204-17. Tuscaloosa: The University of Alabama Press, 2002.

[In the following essay, Comley discusses how Hemingway's works, particularly their depiction of gender, contributed to her development as a teacher and scholar.]

The road to my present identity, a woman scholar writing on Hemingway, began with Brett Ashley. This is not surprising, of course, for Brett, until Catherine Bourne was unearthed, was the most interesting woman character in a Hemingway text. In addition, for...

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Erik Nakjavani (essay date spring-summer 2001)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Nakjavani, Erik. “Hemingway on War and Peace.” North Dakota Quarterly 68, nos. 2-3 (spring-summer 2001): 245-73.

[In the following essay, Nakjavani draws upon philosophy, military history, psychoanalysis, and literary theory to consider Hemingway's treatment of the metaphysics and psychology of war in A Farewell to Arms and other works.]

You had read on and studied the art of war ever since you were a boy and your grandfather had started you on the American Civil War.

—Ernest Hemingway, For Whom the Bell Tolls (335)


We know that Ernest...

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Ronald Berman (essay date 2001)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Berman, Ronald. “Hemingway's Questions.” In Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and The Twenties, pp. 132-48. Tuscaloosa: The University of Alabama Press, 2001.

[In the following excerpt, Berman considers Hemingway's interest in and relationship to religion and philosophy, with particular attention to his novel A Farewell to Arms.]

Throughout Hemingway's work is the evidence of his interest in both religious and secular dogma. “Soldier's Home” is about the social gospel of the early twenties; The Sun Also Rises deals not only with Catholicism but also with Robert Cohn's vague and wistful philosophy of self-change; A Farewell to Arms begins with the...

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Robert E. Gajdusek (essay date 2002)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Gajdusek, Robert E. “Harder on Himself Than Most: A Study of Hemingway's Self-Evaluation and Self-Projection in His Work.” In Hemingway in His Own Country, pp. 357-67. Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 2002.

[In the essay below, Gajdusek explores how some of the characters in Hemingway's fiction represent a “self-projection” of the author's own history and background, asserting that Hemingway “lets himself … stand in for the failures and delinquencies of twentieth-century man,” and “descends into his own unconscious to gain what insight he has into and what evidence he has for the basic moral failure of his age.”]

It would be...

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Further Reading

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)


Berman, Ronald. Fitzgerald-Wilson-Hemingway: Language and Experience. Tuscaloosa: The University of Alabama Press, 2003, 125 p.

Contains two chapters on how Hemingway's innovative use of language conveys a modern sense of reality.

Broer, Lawrence R. and Gloria Holland, eds. Hemingway and Women: Female Critics and the Female Voice. Tuscaloosa: The University of Alabama Press, 2002, 344 p.

A collection of diverse and provocative essays that explore the complicated roles that both gender and gender identity played in Hemingway's life and work.

Fleming, Robert E., ed. Hemingway and the...

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