Hemingway, Ernest Miller (1899-1961), American novelist and short-story writer, whose style is characterized by crispness, laconic dialogue, and emotional understatement. Hemingway’s writings and his personal life exerted a profound influence on American writers of his time. Many of his works are regarded as classics of American literature, and some have been made into motion pictures.
Born in Oak Park, Illinois, Hemingway was educated at Oak Park High School. After graduating from high school in 1917, he became a reporter for the Kansas City Star, but he left his job within a few months to serve as a volunteer ambulance driver in Italy during World War I (1914-1918). He later transferred to the Italian infantry and was severely wounded. After the war he served as a correspondent for the Toronto Star and then settled in Paris. While there, he was encouraged in creative work by the American expatriate writers Ezra Pound and Gertrude Stein. After 1927 Hemingway spent long periods of time in Key West, Florida, and in Spain and Africa. During the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), he returned to Spain as a newspaper correspondent. In World War II (1939-1945) he again was a correspondent and later was a reporter for the United States First Army; although he was not a soldier, he participated in several battles. After the war Hemingway settled near Havana, Cuba, and in 1958 he moved to Ketchum, Idaho.
Hemingway drew heavily on his experiences as an avid fisherman, hunter, and bullfight enthusiast (see Bullfighting) in his writing. His adventurous life brought him close to death several times: in the Spanish Civil War when shells burst inside his hotel room; in World War II when he was struck by a taxi during a blackout; and in 1954 when his airplane crashed in Africa.
A WRITER OF THE LOST GENERATION
One of the foremost authors of the era between the two world wars, Hemingway in his early works depicted the lives of two types of people. One type consisted of men and women deprived, by World War I, of faith in the moral values in which they had believed, and who lived with cynical disregard for anything but their own emotional needs. The other type were men of simple character and primitive emotions, such as prizefighters and bullfighters. Hemingway wrote of their courageous and usually futile battles against circumstances. His earliest works include the collections of short stories Three Stories and Ten Poems (1923), his first work; In Our Time (1924), tales reflecting his experiences as a youth in the northern Michigan woods; Men Without Women (1927), a volume that included “The Killers,” remarkable for its description of impending doom; and Winner Take Nothing (1933), stories characterizing people in unfortunate circumstances in Europe. The novel that established Hemingway’s reputation, The Sun Also Rises (1926), is the story of a group of morally irresponsible Americans and Britons living in France and Spain, members of the so-called lost generation of the post-World War I period. Hemingway’s second important novel, A Farewell to Arms (1929), is the story of a deeply moving love affair in wartime Italy between an American officer in the Italian ambulance service and a British nurse. The novel was followed by two nonfiction works, Death in the Afternoon (1932), prose pieces mainly about bullfighting; and Green Hills of Africa (1935), accounts of big-game hunting.
Hemingway’s economical writing style often seems simple and almost childlike, but his method is calculated and used to complex effect. In his writing Hemingway provided detached descriptions of action, using simple nouns and verbs to capture scenes precisely. By doing so he avoided describing his characters’ emotions and thoughts directly. Instead, in providing the reader with the raw material of an experience and eliminating the authorial viewpoint, Hemingway made the reading of a text approximate the actual experience as closely as possible. Hemingway was also deeply concerned with authenticity in writing. He believed that a writer could treat a subject honestly only if the writer had participated in or observed the subject closely. Without such knowledge the writer’s work would be flawed because the reader would sense the author’s lack of expertise. In addition, Hemingway believed that an author writing about a familiar subject is able to write sparingly and eliminate a great deal of superfluous detail from the piece without sacrificing the voice of authority. Hemingway’s stylistic influence on American writers has been enormous. The success of his plain style in expressing basic, yet deeply felt, emotions contributed to the decline of the elaborate Victorian-era prose that characterized a great deal of American writing in the early 20th century. Legions of American writers have cited Hemingway as an influence on their own work.
In his original work, Hemingway used themes of helplessness and defeat, but in the late 1930s he began to express concern about social problems. His novel To Have and Have Not (1937) and his play The Fifth Column, published in The Fifth Column and the First Forty-nine Stories (1938), strongly condemned economic and political injustices. Two of his best short stories, “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber” and “The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” were part of the latter work. In the novel For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940), which deals with the Spanish Civil War, he showed that the loss of liberty anywhere in the world is a warning that liberty is endangered everywhere. During the next decade Hemingway’s only literary efforts were Men at War: The Best War Stories of All Time (1942), which he edited, and the novel Across the River and into the Trees (1950). In 1952 Hemingway published The Old Man and the Sea, a powerful novelette about an aged Cuban fisherman, for which he won the 1953 Pulitzer Prize in fiction. In 1954 Hemingway was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature. The last work published in his lifetime was Collected Poems (1960). He committed suicide in Ketchum, Idaho, in 1961. Hemingway’s posthumously published books include A Moveable Feast (1964), an account of his early years in Paris; Byline: Ernest Hemingway (1967), selected newspaper articles and dispatches; Ernest Hemingway, Cub Reporter: Kansas City Star Stories (1970); Islands in the Stream (1970), a sea novel; the unfinished The Garden of Eden (1986); and True at First Light (1999), edited by Hemingway’s son Patrick from a draft manuscript.