Style and Technique
One of the great achievements of “My Old Man” is Hemingway’s creation of Joe’s voice, a pre-adolescent narrator who speaks like Huck Finn, Mark Twain’s wise child. The narration is both knowing and naïve, reflecting Joe’s position in the adult world. The story is further complicated by the fact that it is a tale told in retrospect, presumably by an adult Joe looking back on his childhood events in order to understand their significance for his life. At the conclusion of the story, he admits that he still does not know what it all means.
In this early story, Hemingway provides carefully rendered, highly evocative narrative events but withholds authorial comment about what they suggest. He was already following his famous dictum of not telling but showing. By not explaining what a scene means for either the characters or the audience, Hemingway engages the reader with the narrative in ways that not only elicit multiple possible meanings within the story but also invite an examination of the responses the story may call forth from life outside the fiction. This authorial technique became an important characteristic of Hemingway’s prose and helped him to secure a place as one of the masters of the modernist movement in twentieth century literature.