Ernest Hemingway sample essay
Ernest Hemingway is one of the writers that define American Literature. Although he accomplished much in reputation and status due to his novel, his most celebrated works have always been his short stories. His short stories, which are known for their simple language and artful prose, are often seen as a reflection of his life. It can indeed be seen through several of the plots he penned that he was drawing out his own life experiences such as his portrayal of himself as a macho man, his relationship with the women in his life, war and death and of course alcohol.
Noting this Martin Scofield rightly states, “the personal experience on which he frequently drew directly in his writing was full of confusing tension and conflict – between masculine and feminine elements in his personality, between admiration for the physical courage and a growing disillusion with violence, and between the optimism of youth and physical energy, and the inevitable depredation of old age and death. In his short stories we see vividly developed snapshots of turmoil, precise delineations of individual fragments of disparate experience.” (Scofield 139).
The kind of heroes that the author went to write about in his book were a direct reflection of the kind of man he wanted to be. The male protagonist has an aura of dignity and an unwavering integrity about them. Compromise is not known to these characters in most instances. In fact both male and female characters that were created by Hemingway are more often than not, defiant of the society that they exist in and continually go against the societal norms and expectations.
Hemingway was by nature a macho man. His life has shown us his indulgences in great adventures. The time he spent in wars, hunting and sport is reflected in several of his works. The kind of heroes Hemingway wrote about will probably not suffice today; torn soldiers, and death defying hunters, adventurers and bullfighters made up his works, but that these characters exhibited a personal code of honesty and decency.
Harvey Claflin Mansfield rightly categorized the author’s personality in his book ‘Maniliness’, “Hemingway was a macho fellow and a seeker of adventure when coupled with fun…” (Mansfield 52). An example of this can be taken from his short story ‘Indian Camp,’ where the physician is neither concerned with his lack of anesthetic and equipment nor the screaming patient. In true alpha male mode, he goes onto deliver a child with a jack-knife. His complete lack of interest in the women’s pain, which normally affects people, and the way he goes onto admire his work as though it was a non-living thing gives off a very sadistic and stereotypical macho essence.
At the same time we can compare the physician’s character to the American Indian man who slit his throat and died during his wife’s giving birth. That man did not have the courage and strength to face the ordeal that his wife was going through, unlike the physician who seemed to think nothing of it. And like that Hemingway continuously writes about men that could stand up to things and endure things. The strength which he at times referred to ‘grace under pressure’ was reflective of the kind of man that does not succumb to his problems. His story of the bull fighter can also be seen as an example of this very thing, where the protagonist ignores injuries to enter battle.
Explaining the development of the characters through the developments in Hemingway’s life, John Campbell noted, “In the 1920s, Hemingway began to develop a public role for himself in an attempt to show people how a writer acts when not writing. He became comfortable with this role and wrote essays for Esquire Magazine that reflected a person, outdoorsman image of a very physical man; he made a safari to Africa in the 1930s, killed big game, and so on. His male characters began to resemble this image and became more “Active” in the 1930s and 1940s.
Readers often associate this macho image with Hemingway, but it is difficult to generalize about men in his work, since the early male characters are vulnerable and the later ones – more independent – have a sense of “toughness” strength and masculinity.” (Campbell 251)
Hemingway wrote extensively throughout his career. One of the main recurring themes that can be seen in his short stories is that of war and death. He participated in the First World War as an ambulance driver under the Red Cross. It was during his term in Italy that he had his first love affair and was also injured. As a part of the Italian infantry he was awarded two decorations by the Italian government as well. It was his time here that he witnessed first hand the ruthlessness and stoic attitude of soldiers around him.
Much of his observations later became part of his works. His time as a war correspondent in span also influenced his work. The events of the civil war that took place in Spain greatly affected him. “The Spanish civil war stories have two characteristics in common. The first-person narrator in all of them is obviously Hemingway himself, correspond dent, film-maker, raconteur, and famous personage. The second characteristic is that the real subject of all these stories, as well as the play, is the political nature of the conflict.
Philips Rawlings, the main character in the ‘Fifth Column’ is also substantially autobiographical and the ‘girl,’ Dorothy Bridges, is clearly based on Martha Gellhorn, as is the girl in the story ‘Landscapes with Figures” (Donaldson 236). The stories are his version of events and how he saw the war. Most of the material is based on first hand information and as he experienced it.
His short stories poignantly portrayed soldiers that left behind and lived with legacies of combat. In ‘Soldier’s Home,’ Krebs is the disillusioned veteran that comes back to home to find himself without a spiritual home. He is out of place, alienated from his family, religion and society. Hemingway’s examination of the war torn characters can also bee seen through Nick Adams.
Some critiques have linked the short stories to a potential autobiographical connection and their thematic treatment to the various stages the characters go through i.e. Nick’s stages of recovery from his physical and psychological war wounds which mirror the one’s Hemingway suffered himself. It is Hemingway who in the third-person story supports the fundamental idea of Nick’s physical and spiritual recovery and renewal. It can be taken in view that writing was a form of catharsis for the author and through writing about his ordeal he managed to work through his anxiety of war (to an extent).
We can see through the stories, glimpses of Hemingway’s own pain and anguish. When he returned from war ridden areas he was deeply affected. The effects of his experiences were heavy influences on his work and gave them a new sense of life.
Hemingway had extremely turbulent relationships with the women in his life. His love stories are ruled by conflict between men and women whose lives are always stuck in some momentum of great tension and problems, or an extremely vivid change. He was married to four different women and was infamous for his multiple affairs. If one was to look at Hemingway’s life, one would notice that he lacked the will to stick to one woman. At some point and time breaking things off and moving on stopped giving him the guilt it once did and women became just a habit for him. His relationships with women affected his work a great deal; Paul Reuban went onto prove this in his work when he wrote that, “His [Hemingway’s] writing also reflected his trouble with relating to women and his tendency to treat them as objects, as he had four marriages and countless affairs, highlighting his theme of alienation and disconnection [in his work].”
It was his guilt over women that led him to the bottle and subsequently drenched him in depression. He could not move past his guilt quickly enough before he moved onto the next woman. In his entire life he repeatedly cheated on all the women he was with; it was a vicious cycle of finding love, breaking love by finding someone else, getting depressed over his actions, finding someone else to get out of the depression.
An example of the effect that his love life had on his work can be seen in ‘Hills like White Elephants,’ which was written after Hemingway had cheated on his wife Hadley with her own friend Pauline Pfeiffer. When Hemingway asked for a divorce, Hadley placed a condition of a separation between him and Pfeiffer for a certain period of time; if he remained in love even after that time he was to be granted the divorce. It was during this period that he wrote the story.
The biggest similarity between his life and the short story is that in either a family member or loved one was being separated. The story which centers on a conversation between a man and a woman show that the man is the authority. The poor communication skills between the two also reflect that their relationship might end. Perhaps Hemingway himself saw this as Hadley and himself which poor communication was ending up in the death of something that connected them, in the case of the characters this would be the unborn child.
When in Italy, Hemingway had a love affair while he was wounded in this duration. The effects of this can be seen in his works as well. In ‘A very short story,’ the injured solider who is found on the Italian front has a love affair with a nurse who tended to him. Just like Hemingway himself who fell in love with Agnes Von Kurowsky. As the story goes, the nurse later leaves the solider for an Italian officer. “‘A very short story’ ranks as one of Hemingway’s least effective stories. Behind a pretense of objectivity, it excoriates the faithless Agnes.
Even four years after the jilting, he was too close to his subject matter to achieve the requisite artistic distance… twice again he explored the subject of love between a wounded soldier and his nurse…” (Beegal 105). Throughout his work it will be seen that he advocates the kind of courage in the world where men must survive without women, which goes against the work itself because it is based largely on this mother, sisters, wives, lovers etc.
Hemingway’s works paved way for an entirely new genre of writing. He used plain simple language to give voice to his stories. Much of his work, when it comes to short stories, is greatly influenced by his life and it can be seen through the various example given herewith, how his life was a muse to him. His relationships with women and subsequently alcohol, his experiences at war and the death that he saw, and his ideas on masculinity and manhood were some of the basic ideas that he infused with his writings to form the basis of many of his stories. Hemingway may have been gifted but he very conflicts that he tried to work out through his writings, and the very tensions that he wrote about, subsequently became the reason he took his own life.
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