Ernest Hemingway – An American Contemporary Essay, Research Paper
Ernest Miller Hemingway was an American novelist, journalist, writer of short stories, and winner of the 1954 Nobel Prize for literature. He created a distinguished body of prose fiction, much of it based on adventurous life. He was born on July 21, 1899, the second of six children, in Oak Park, Ill., in a house built by his widowed grandfather, Ernest Hall. Oak Park was a Protestant, upper middle class suburb of Chicago. He died on July 2, 1961.
Hemingway stated in Green Hills of Africa that civil war is the best war for a writer. Both of his grandfathers fought in the Civil War and the family was proud of its military traditions. The Hemingway children were brought up on heroic tales of the Civil War. Ernest was also fascinated by the wars and heroes at the turn of the century: the Spanish-American War (1898);, the Goer War (1899-1902); and the Russo-Japanese War (1904-05), which inspired him to collect military cartoons. Ernest loved to read the Old Testament when he was a boy because it was so full of battles. (Meyers 3)
Ernest Hemingway’s maternal grandfather was Ernest Hall, who was injured in the Civil War. He tried to shoot himself when he was near death, but Hemingway’s father had removed the bullets from his gun. Ernest was six years old at the time, and thought his father shouldn’t have prevented his grandfather from committing suicide.
His paternal grandfather was Anson Hemingway. He was a formal, serious, and deeply religious man who was active in the temperance movement. He established a prosperous real-estate business. Both families were prosperous.
Hemingway’s parents were Clarence Edmonds "Ed" Hemingway and Grace Hall. They had a fairly happy marriage although they were very different. Grace was the dominant one in the marriage.
Hemingway was an active, imaginative, and fearless youngster. He said at an early age that he wasn’t afraid of anything. He was aggressive, self-confident, and had a tendency to exaggerate. His mother said that he delighted in shooting imaginary wolves, bears, lions, buffalo, etc., and liked to pretend he was a "soldser". She also said he threw temper tantrums if he didn’t get his way. (Meyers 9)
Hemingway’s mother, Grace was an accomplished singer and at one time wanted a career on stage. She settled for being a wife and mother and taught private piano lessons in her home. His father, "Ed", was a doctor who pursued science. His father was a strict disciplinarian while Grace was more permissive. She saw that her children had music lessons and were exposed to the arts. Ernest never had a knack for music and suffered through choir practices and cello lessons.
The gift of the doctor to his children was a knowledge and love of nature. He taught Ernest how to build fires and cook in the open, how to use and ax to build a shelter, how to make fishing flies, how to make bullets, and how to handle fishing gear and guns. He also taught them how to prepare small animals for mounting and how to dress and cook game.
Ernest inherited the temperament and artistic talent of mother and the looks and sporting skills of his father. Both parents, when he was a boy, were foes of dirt and disorder. They brought up their children to follow strict schedules, stand inspection and be scrupulously neat and tidy.
Ernest went to high school in Oak Park where he enjoyed writing for the school’s literary magazine, reporting for the school’s weekly newspaper called The Trapeze. He was mediocre at sports, playing football, swimming, water basketball and serving as the track team manager.
Upon graduation in 1917, he was faced with three choices: college, war, or work. His father wanted him to go to college and be a doctor, but he rejected that; he was not in any hurry to go to war, and a job with the Kansas City Star wouldn’t open until October, so he spent the summer on the farm in Michigan. In October, he took the job as a cub reporter for the Kansas City Star and got seven educational months with them.
As a boy his father taught him to hunt and fish along the shores and in the forests surrounding Lake Michigan. The Hemingway’s had a summer house called Windemere on Horton Bay at the northern end of Lake Michigan and the family would spend the summer months their trying to stay cool. Hemingway would fish the different streams that ran into the lake, or would take the row boat out on the bay and do some fishing there. He would also go squirrel hunting in the woods near the summer house, discovering early the serenity to be found while alone in the forest or on a stream. It was something he could always go back to throughout his life, wherever he was. Nature would be the touchstone of Hemingway’s life and work, and though he often found himself living in major cities like Chicago, Toronto and Paris early in his career, once he became successful he chose somewhat isolated places to live like Key West, or San Francisco de Paula, Cuba, a small village outside of Havana, or after Cuba fell to Castro, Ketchurn, Idaho. All were convenient locales for hunting and fishing.
When young Hemingway was in school in the winter in Oak Park, he dreamed of summer to come. For fourteen years his earthly paradise was Wallon Lake near Petoskey, Michigan, where his family spent its summers. Here he enjoyed playing, fishing, hunting, picking berries, etc.
At the time of Hemingway’s graduation from High School, World War I was raging in Europe and despite Woodrow Wilson’s attempts to keep America out of the war, the United States joined the Allies in the fight against Germany and Austria in April, 1917. When Hemingway turned eighteen he tried to enlist in the army, but was deferred because of poor vision; he had a bad left eye that he probably inherited from his mother who also had poor vision. When he heard the Red Cross was taking volunteers as ambulance drivers he quickly signed up. He was accepted in December of 1917, left his job at the paper in April of 1918, and sailed for Europe in May. In the short time that Hemingway worked for the Kansas City Star he learned some stylistic lessons that would later influence his fiction. The newspaper advocated short sentences, short paragraphs, active verbs, authenticity, compression, clarity and immediacy. Hemingway later said: "Those were the best rules I ever learned for the business of writing. I’ve never forgotten them."
Hemingway, upon reaching Europe, first went to Paris, then in early June, after receiving his orders, traveled to Milan, Italy. The day he arrived, a munitions factory exploded and he had to carry mutilated bodies and body parts to a makeshift morgue…it was an immediate and powerful initiation into the horrors of war. Two days later he was sent to an ambulance unit at a the town of Sohio, where he worked driving ambulances. On July 8, 1918, only a few weeks after arriving, Hemingway was seriously wounded by fragments from an Austrian mortar shell which landed just a few feet away. At the time Hemingway, was distributing chocolate to Italian soldiers in the trenches near the front lines. The explosion knocked Hemingway unconscious while killing one Italian soldier and blowing the legs off another. What happened next has been debated for some time. In a letter to Hemingway’s father, Ted Brumback, one of Emest’s fellow ambulance drivers, wrote that despite over 200 pieces of shrapnel being lodged in Hemingway’s legs, he still managed to carry another wounded soldier back to the first aid station, along the way being hit in his legs by several machine gun bullets. Whether he carried the wounded soldier or not, doesn’t diminish Hemingway’s sacrifice. He was awarded the Italian Silver Medal for Valor with the official Italian citation reading: "Gravely wounded by numerous pieces of shrapnel from an enemy shell, with an admirable spirit of brotherhood, before taking care of himself, he rendered generous assistance to the Italian soldiers more seriously wounded by the same explosion and did not allow himself to be carried elsewhere until after they had been evacuated." Hemingway described his injuries to a friend of his: "There was one of those big noises you sometimes hear at the front. I died then. I felt my soul or something coming right out of my body, like you’d pull a silk handkerchief out of a pocket by one comer. It flew all around and then came back and went in again and I wasn’t dead any more." (AOL 2)
Apparently, Ernest was attractive to women, and he wasn’t satisfied with just one woman. His first love was an American nurse, Agnes von Kurowsky, whom he met while convalescing from his war wounds in Milano, Italy. She was a tall and dark-haired girl who had been reared in Washington, D.C. She was kind, generous, and bright, fond of people, and full of bubbling energy. All the young men in the hospital wanted to get well quickly so that they could have a date with Agnes, Ernest included. Ernest was soon "wildly" in love with Agnes. Agnes refused to permit the affair to progress beyond the kissing stage. She wasn’t ready to marry and settle down.
Young Ernest returned to the United States in January to a heroes welcome. He continued to write to Agnes whom he missed very much. In March, he received a letter from her telling him that she had fallen in love with someone else. Ernest was so upset that he got sick and had to go to bed.
In the fall of 1920, Hemingway became the contributing editor of a trade journal in Chicago. Here he met Elizabeth Hadley Richardson who was twenty-eight, a tall girl with auburn hair. She had lost her father by suicide. She was a little tongue-tied in his presence, but she thought to herself that he liked her for three reasons: Her hair was red, her skirt was a good length, and she played nicely on Doodles’s piano. When she went home to St. Louis, they began to exchange letters every week. (Baker 76)
Ernest went to see her in March . They discussed money , and as she had a small trust fund, she sent him money. When he went again to St. Louis for the Memorial Day weekend, wedding plans were settled. They got married on Sept.3, 1921. To this union there was born one son, John Hadley Nicanor "Bumby" Hemingway, on October 10, 1923.
In 1925, while living in Paris, France, Ernest met Pauline Pfeiffer, the daughter of a landowning squire Piggott, Arkansas. She was small with slender limbs like delicate little birds and had bobbed hair. She worked for the Paris edition of Vogue magazine. At first, Pauline didn’t like Ernest, but later became friends of both Ernest and Hadley. She became very attracted to Ernest. In 1926, she moved in with the Heminways who were quarantined because of whooping cough.
Ernest later wrote:
"an unmarried young woman becomes the temporary best friend of another young woman who is married, goes to live with the husband and wife and then unknowingly, innocently and unrelentingly sets out to marry the husband. When the husband is a writer and doing difficult work so that he is occupied much of the time and is not a good companion or partner to his wife for a big part of the day, the arrangement has advantages until you know how it works out. The husband has two attractive girls around when he has finished work. One is new and strange and if he has bad luck he gets to love them both. Then, instead of the two of them and their child, there are three of them. First it is stimulating and fun and it goes on that way for a while. All things truly wicked start from innocence. So you live day by day and enjoy what you have and do not worry. You lie and hate it and it destroys you and every day is more dangerous, but you live day to day as in a war." (Baker 163)
In 1927, Ernest and Hadley were divorced and Ernest married Pauline. They left Paris and moved to Key West, Florida. To this union there were born two sons, Patrick and Gregory.
In December, 1936, Ernest met Martha Gellhorn in Sloppy Joe’s place in Key West. She was a tall girl with bright blond hair that reached to her shoulders. She was from St. Louis and was also a writer. They developed a friendship which later turned to love. They both served as war correspondents during the Spanish Civil War. After a long affair with Martha, Pauline and Ernest were divorced, and Ernest married Martha in 1940. He said he found it "wonderful to be legal" after four years of association. (Baker 355) He took her to an estate he had purchased outside Havana, Cuba, La Finca Vigia,
his residence for 20 years. (Grolier 2)
In 1944, shortly before the Allied invasion of Normandy, Ernest moved to London as war correspondent for Collier’s. Shortly after his arrival in London, Ernest met a diminutive blonde from northern Minnesota. Her name was Mary Welsh and she had just turned thirty-six. During the Spanish Civil War, after five years on the Chicago Daily News, she had come to England to work as a feature writer for Lord Beaverbrook’s Daily Express. She was married to Noel Monks, an Australian reporter. When Ernest met her, he became interested in her. They fell in love and started having a relationship. Martha officially divorced him in December of 1945, and Mary and Ernest formalized their marriage in Havana on March 14, 1946. Mary and Ernest stayed together until his death, even though he still saw other women.
The first novel of Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises (1926), is a semiautobiographical account of the adventures of a group of expatriates, members of the so-called lost generation, in France and Spain in 1925. They are led by Jake Barnes, a journalist. Although a war wound has made Jake impotent, he and Robert Cohn, another American romantic, are rivals for the attentions of Lady Brett Ashley. The action moves from Paris to Pamplona and the fiesta of San Fermin, where the real hero, a bullfighter named Pedro Romero, conquers several bulls as well as Lady Brett, who nobly rejects her Spanish lover and returns hopelessly to Jake. (Grolier)
A Farewell to Arms (1929), Ernest Hemingway’s third novel, helped popularize the author’s spare, deceptively simple prose. Set on the Italian front during the disastrous years 1915-17, A Farewell to Arms relates the story of Lt. Frederic Henry, a U.S. ambulance driver, and his love for Catherine Barkley, a British nurse, who has helped him recuperate from leg wounds. Following the Italian retreat from Caporetto, during which Henry barely escapes execution for desertion, they flee to Switzerland. Their Swiss idyll terminates tragically, however, when Catherine dies in childbirth. Hemingway drew partly on personal experience for the brilliantly recreated war sequences, and the amatory episodes, though much fictionalized, recall his abortive love for Agnes yon Kurowsky, his American nurse in Milan. The novel was filmed in 1932 and again in 1958. (Grolier)
A powerful but flawed novel, To Have and Have Not (1937), concerning the hard-luck career of a sailor of fortune in the Caribbean, contained hints that Hemingway might be moving toward the political left. This view was partly confirmed by his espousal of the Loyalist cause during the Spanish Civil War (1936-39), in which he served as correspondent for the North American Newspaper Alliance. This experience led to his most ambitious novel, For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940), on the tragedy that had befallen the Spanish people. (Grolier)
For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940), Ernest Hemingway’s fifth and most genuinely tragic novel, grew out of his personal observations of the Spanish Civil War. It tells the story of Robert Jordan, an American teacher who has volunteered his services to the Loyalists in their fight against the Fascist rebels. Charged with dynamiting a strategic bridge, he joins a guerrilla band in the Guadarrama Mountains. His brief love affair with the young woman Maria is partly instigated by the spiritualist Pilar, who foresees Jordan’s death. Despite the treason of Pilar’s consort Pablo, Jordan destroys the bridge, but dies while covering the guerrillas’ retreat. A film version of the novel appeared in 1943. (Grolier)
Ernest Hemingway’s novel The Old Man and the Sea (1952), tells the moving story of Santiago, an aged Cuban fisherman who endures immense hardships in conquering a gigantic marlin, only to lose his prize to a succession of voracious sharks during the long voyage home in a skiff too small to accommodate his catch. The novella was based on a true story that Hemingway had heard 15 years earlier. In the interim he charged the story with many ulterior meanings and invoked Christian symbolism to suggest that, in Santiago’s words, "A man can be destroyed but not defeated." (Grolier)
These are just a few of Hemingway’s works. He wrote many more books, both fiction and non-fiction, many short stories and poems.
Hemingway led a very vigorous and adventurous life. You would think that after being so severely wounded at age 19 that he would want to live a quieter life. But, it seems, as he said when a very young boy, he wasn’t afraid of anything.
He lived and worked in Paris, Key West, Cuba, and traveled in Europe and Africa. By the 1930’s Hemingway’s fame was worldwide. His great adventure of 1933-34 was a big-game safari in Kenya and Tanganyika, from which he returned laden with trophies and the materials for his nonfictional Green Hills of Africa (1935). Two arresting short stories, "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" and "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber" (1936), also grew out of the African experience.
In 1941, a few months before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Ernest and his wife Martha flew to China to report on the Sino-Japanese War. Six months after the United States entered World War II, Hemingway armed his cabin cruiser, Pilar, and spent two years hunting German submarines in the Caribbean. (Grolier 2)
After finishing the Old Man and the Sea in 1952, and after discussing with Leland Hayward about making a film version of the novel, Ernest was eager to go another shooting safari in Africa. Most of Ernest’s thoughts were now of Africa. The pending business with Leland Hayward delayed his departure all through the spring of 1953, and he chafed at the postponement. For nearly three years, he said he had labored steadily at sea level. Now he was eager to "get up into the hills." He sharpened his shooting eye with quail-hunting expeditions into the back country, and banged away at pigeons in the Club de Cazadores. (Baker 508)
On the first Monday in May while he was fishing, he heard The Old Man and the Sea had won the Pulitzer fiction prize for 1952. He was very pleased as it was the only Pulitzer he had ever won.
They finally left on their trip, going to Spain for the bullfights and sightseeing. Then they went to Paris, and finally boarded a ship for the voyage to Mombasa. After several months in Africa, and shooting a lot of game, they left on January 21, 1954, in a Cessna plane. The plane crashed after flying into birds. The next day the plane they were taking burst into flames on take-off. Ernest had a concussion, a ruptured liver, spleen, and kidney, temporary loss of vision in the left eye, loss of hearing in the left ear, a crushed vertebra, a sprained right arm and shoulder, a sprained left leg, paralysis of the sphincter, and first degree burns on his face, arms, and head. Because of these injuries, he was unable to go to Sweden to accept the 1954 Nobel Prize for literature.
He enjoyed many activities such as bull-fights, deep sea fishing, and dude-ranching in Wyoming. He wrote Death in the Afternoon (1932) which was an exhaustive nonfiction survey of the art and sociology of the Spanish bullfight.
Despite two airplane crashes that ended his second African safari (1953-1954) and obliged him to accept the 1954 Nobel Prize for literature in absentia, Hemingway’s productivity continued in the late 1950’s with A Moveable Feast (1964), a memoir of his youth in Paris, and a three-part novel, Islands in the stream, about Bimini and Cuba. He also wrote sections of a new book about Africa and "The Dangerous summer", on the Spanish bullfights of 1959.
By his sixtieth birthday in 1959, Hemingway’s health was beginning to fail. He had a serious kidney infection, and extremely high blood pressure. His mental health was also seriously impaired. In 1960 he left Cuba for Ketchum, Idaho, where he had recently acquired a house. After his second stay in Mayo Clinic and a series of shock treatments for his mental conditions, the doctors thought he was well enough to go home to Ketchum. When Mary came to get him, she knew that an enormous mistake was being made. Ernest was eager to go home, and she felt that she must comply. They reached Ketchum on Friday, June 30th, 1961.
Sunday morning Ernest awoke early, put on his red robe, and padded softly down the carpeted stairway. He went down into the basement and unlocked the gun storage room. He chose a double-barreled Boss shotgun, took some shells from one of the boxes, climbed back upstairs to the front foyer, slipped in two shells, lowered the gun butt carefully to the floor, leaned forward, pressed the twin barrels against his forehead just above the eyebrows, and tripped both triggers. (Baker 563-64)
After the electric-shocks his memory was fried by attempts to burn the depression out of his brain. With memory went insight and motivation to write. A whole universe of mourning descended. A depression that couldn’t be killed by electrical pulses. Only the double fisted thud of lead would do. He couldn’t write any more. His guard was down. The last punch was a knockout.
He loved to drink, hunt, and gamble. He loved beautiful women and moments of purity. He loved the company of trusted friends. He loved bullfights, boxing, rivalry and rebellion. He loved so many things so deeply. He overflowed, spilling them onto the page – through his fingertips – he inhaled life and exhaled words. They were the same to him. Now he’s holding his breath forever. (Hoerman 2-3)