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Who was Ernest Hemingway?

Updated on December 2, 2016

The Life of Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Miller Hemingway, the son of Clarence Edmonds Hemingway and Grace Hall Hemingway, was born on July 21, 1899, in Oak Park, Illinois. His father, a doctor of medicine, was a hunter and fisherman, and through him Hemingway was introduced to the out-of-doors, which attracted him all his life. Summer vacations on Walloon Lake in Michigan also shaped his interests and supplied the basis for much of his early short fiction. In Oak Park, he played football, boxed, and wrote columns for the school newspaper, in imitation of Ring Lardner.

Upon graduation in 1917, Hemingway decided to forego college and instead went to work for the Kansas City Star. There he learned much that was to help him in his eventual career as a writer. Soon he wanted to fight in World War I. However, the Army rejected him because of an earlier eye injury, and he became an ambulance driver for the Red Cross. Just before his 19th birthday, he was seriously wounded at Fossalta di Piave, Italy. The Italians subsequently decorated him for bravery.

Hemingway recuperated in Italy and in northern Michigan before signing on as a foreign correspondent for the Toronto Star. Then he went to Paris, where he was guided in his efforts to become a writer by other American expatriates, notably Ezra Pound and Gertrude Stein.

His first major publication, In Our Time (1925) attracted much attention because of its lean style and brutal subject matter, both of which would remain his trademarks. His second important publication and first major novel, The Sun Also Rises (1926), depicted in colloquial, vivid terms the aimlessness of the postwar "lost generation" and gained him a fame at 27 that would last the rest of his life.

In the years that followed he was divorced from three wives-Hadley Richardson, Pauline Pfeiffer." and Martha Gellhorn- before he was married to Mary Welsh. During the 1930's he spent much time in Spain, in Africa, and in Florida as, respectively, a bullfight aficionado, big-game hunter, and deep-sea fisherman. Subsequently he involved himself as a correspondent on the Loyalist side in the Spanish Civil War and with the First Army in World War II. In connection with the latter assignment he became a somewhat legendary figure, fighting more than he wrote and better known for his military than for his journalistic achievements.

After 1945, Hemingway settled on an estate called Finca Vigia near Havana, Cuba, until the Castro regime forced him out of the country.

There followed a journey once more to the bullfights in Spain and a stay at Ketchum, Idaho, near Sun Valley, where he intended to settle. He was in very poor health, however, subject to acute depression and loss of memory, and was twice hospitalized at the Mayo Clinic. On July 2, 1961, immediately following his second visit, he killed himself with a shotgun at his home in Ketchum.


From Hemingway's life to his fiction is not a difficult transition, for both were filled with the same ingredients- war, sports, drinking, brawling, traveling, loving. Yet these preoccupations do not obscure his dedication to his craft. On the one hand, he was among the most colorful and most publicized men of his time; on the other hand, he was an artist, perhaps the most influential American writer of prose in the first half of the 20th century.

Image in the Public Domain
Image in the Public Domain

Hemingway's Novels

Hemingway produced six novels and more than 50 short stories. Of his novels, The Sun Also Rises (1926) portrays the aimless expatriates of the 1920's, in Paris and at a fiesta in Pamplona, Spain.

A Farewell to Arms (1929) is about a young American, disillusioned with World War I and the society that produced it, who is driven to desert the crumbling Italian Army and loses his mistress in childbirth.

To Have and Have Not (1937) is a Depression novel, set in Cuba and Key West, Florida., about a man who is killed after becoming an outlaw to support his family. For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940), an epic work set in the Spanish Civil War, argues for the brotherhood of man and is Hemingway's first basically optimistic novel. Far inferior, Across the River and into the Trees (1950) deals with an American, Colonel Richard Cantwell, who returns to his favorite city, Venice, to see his young girl friend, to remember his life and military career, and to die from a heart condition. The novelette The Old Man and the Sea (1952) chronicles the adventure of an old Cuban fisherman, Santiago, who sails out beyond sight of land, farther than he should, to catch a huge marlin, only to have it eaten by sharks. It is a paean to man's endurance, with the theme that "a man can be destroyed but he cannot be defeated." This was Hemingway's last work to be published during his lifetime.

Short Stories

Hemingway's short stories appeared in three major collections: In Our Time (1925), Men Without Women (1927), and Winner Take Nothing (1933). They were all collected, with his only play, in The Fifth Column and the First Forty-nine Stories (1938). (The play, The Fifth Column, based on his experience in the Spanish war, did not enjoy great success.)

But of the tales, a few-such as The Killers, The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber, and The Snows of Kiliman;aro-are as widely known, admired, and imitated as any in English. The Killers is part of a series of stories about Nick Adams, a youth much like the young Hemingway, who grows up in northern Michigan, learns the cruel facts of life, goes to war, is wounded, comes home but cannot adjust, likes to hunt and fish, but has bad dreams because of the horrors he has seen. One such horror is the subject of The Killers, in which some gangsters come to murder a Swede, who is in such despair that he will do nothing whatever to save his life. The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber concerns a man gone to waste, who suddenly learns the meaning of courage on an African hunt. The Snows of Kilimaniaro portrays the last hours of a writer who has not used his talent and now is dying on an African plain composing in his mind all the stories he would never live to tell.


In addition to his novels and stories Hemingway wrote much poetry and journalism. His notable volumes of nonfiction include Death in the Afternoon (1932), a treatise on bullfighting; Green Hills of Africa (1935), an account of big-game hunting; and the posthumously issued A Moveable Feast (1964), an entertaining and highly polished reminiscence of the Paris years that preceded his fame. By-Line Ernest Hemingway, a selection of his published journalism, was issued in 1967. Most of his verse has never seen print.


At a time when many writers were using a florid "literary" and often verbose style, Hemingway determined to strip language to its essentials, to cut out all words that were not strictly necessary. The style he developed is still associated with his name. It bears a superficial likeness to that employed in grade-school reading texts, but its simplicity is actually forged out of complexity, under great pressure. It is characterized by sentences that are short and simple, with few adjectives and adverbs. The nouns and verbs are concrete, frequently repeated, and the cadence is at times monotonous.

However, Hemingway was not satisfied with merely shipping the language; he wanted also to be as objective and honest as possible about what he saw and wrote. "I was trying to write then," he said in a famous passage from Death in the Afternoon describing his apprenticeship, "and I found the greatest difficulty, aside from knowing what you really felt, rather than what you were supposed to feel, and had been taught to feel, was to put down what really happened in action: what the actual things were which produced the emotion that you experienced ... the real thing, the sequence of motion and fact which made the emotion .... " His idea was to describe a series of actions without comment or emotional rhetoric; the reader would then visualize the sequence and experience the emotion, which the author had deliberately left out.


"Grace under pressure" was Hemingways definition of courage, a quality with which much of his work is concerned. In his view? life is painful and complex, The only way to survive is to face what comes with honor, dignity, strength, knowledge, and endurance. These principles make up what is known as the "Hemingway code," and the people who maintain them in his work are known as "code heroes." It is they who teach the "Hemingway hero," a scarred and sensitive man closer to the author himself, how to behave. Hemingway's overall message, however, especially as established in The Old Man and the Sea, is that although life is a lonely, losing battle, it is a struggle that a man can dominate in such a way that his loss has dignity and is itself a victory.

Yet such thoughts are seldom made explicit in Hemingway's fiction. He was opposed to didacticism, preferring rather to let the incidents convey the meanings. Cut out all the "Big Political Thought passages" in War and Peace, he once suggested, "and see how true and lasting and important the people and action are .... That is the hardest thing of all to do." Philosophy in a novel, he maintained, should be submerged like the seven eighths of an iceberg that is invisible.


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    • NeilsHotDeals profile image


      6 years ago from New York

      I visited his house in the Key West Florida in 2005. I wound up writing a few essay’s about his books in college.


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