Ernest Hemingway: His Life In His Work Essay, Research Paper
F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote in a letter to Maxwell Perkins, This is to
tell you about a young man named Ernest Hemingway, who lives in Paris (an
American)… I d look him up right away. He s the real thing. This is perhaps the most
prophetic statement Fitzgerald ever made in his lifetime, because Ernest Hemingway was
indeed the real thing . Only months after that letter was written, Hemingway s first book
of short stories, In Our Time, was published, and so began the career of one of America s
greatest literary heroes. The works that followed stunned audiences around the world
with the clear, concise language that was used, and the elaborate details that allowed
millions of people an in depth look into the life of an amazingly interesting man.
However, the perfection achieved in his literature was always out of reach to the man
himself. But Hemingway was able to use his real life tragedies and make them into
timeless masterpieces. That is why to this day it can be said that Ernest Hemingway is
the most influential American writer of all time (Turnbull, 167).
Born in Oak Park, Illinois on July 21, 1899, Hemingway was raised to appreciate
the beauty of nature and the importance of spending time in the wilderness. This love of
the outdoors, including fishing and hunting, becomes quite apparent in his later pieces of
literature. At the age of eighteen, Hemingway was stationed in Italy, during World War I,
as a Red Cross ambulance driver. It was there that he first fell in love with Europe. He
was immediately attracted to the beauty of the countryside and the elegance of the
cultures there, and would later spend many years of his life on the continent. Herman
Melville called the sea his Harvard and Yale , to Ernest Hemingway, the continent of
Europe was his (Baker, 17).
Not long after his arrival, Hemingway was wounded by an Austrian shell as it
exploded nearby killing an Italian soldier, and blowing the legs off of another. The
details that followed have been disputed, but one source states that Hemingway, with
shrapnel embedded in his leg, carried two wounded soldiers to safety as machine gun fire
ripped through his already bloodied limb. It was at the hospital in Milan, while having
his leg tended to, where Hemingway first fell in love. She was a Red Cross nurse more
than nine years his senior, but he loved her with all the passion that would become his
trademark. But he soon had to return to the states, and the affair was over (Nelson, 31).
His war experiences would prove to be very useful in the years to come. When he
returned to Illinois, he would give speeches at the public library recounting his adventures
in Italy. At one of these lectures, one of the women in the audience was so taken by the
young man s diction, she asked her husband, who was the editor of the Toronto Star, to
give him a job. Hemingway wrote for the paper, and soon asked to be a foreign
correspondent, so that he could move to Paris and begin his writing career (Baker, 28).
Hemingway arrived in Paris in 1923, and became part of a circle of writers which
included Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, James Joyce, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. It wasn t long
before In Our Time was ready to be published, and with the help of his new friends the
book was being sold in Europe and America in no time. In Our Time is a collection of
short stories that seemed to chronicle Hemingway s life up to that point. This particular
book shows his unwillingness to expose any kind of weakness in his characters, because
his characters are almost always composites of himself, however the writing is some of
his finest (Nelson, 49).
After the publication of In Our Time, Ernest had the most productive years of his
life. From 1925 to 1928, Hemingway would pump out novel after novel gaining him a
reputation world wide as one of the greatest authors of the day. It was in this period that
such works as The Sun Also Rises, The Torrents of Spring, and A Farewell to Arms were
produced. Hemingway took the literary world by storm from his little apartment in Paris
However the days of his invincibility would soon end. Hemingway s marriage to
Hadley Richardson was failing by the end of 1928, and they were considering divorce
when Earnest learned of his father s death. Clearance Hemingway had shot himself in the
head (Nelson, 66).
Returning to the states gave Hemingway a new outlook on life, he soon moved to
Key West, Florida and took a new wife. Meanwhile, his status had risen to super
stardom. Throughout the world imitators attempted to recreate the simplicity of his short
stories (a pattern that continues to this day), and it wasn t uncommon to see his face on
the cover of several magazines. Ernest Hemingway, or Papa as he was now being
referred to, had infiltrated pop culture. In Key West, A Death in the Afternoon was
written and brought an age old culture to light in America, bullfighting in Spanish culture.
Hemingway had, in essence, taken an entire nation to Madrid to see one of these
marvelous displays that he had admired during his days in Europe. Though the book did
not receive critical acclaim, it is widely regard as one of his best novels (Miller, 116).
At this point in his life, Hemingway began thinking about his childhood and his
love of the outdoors and decided to go on an African safari. He had always admired
Theodore Roosevelt and wished to go big game hunting as he did. It wasn t long before
he and his wife were traveling to Africa (Baker, 49).
During his time in Africa, Hemingway was able to compile enough experience to
begin work on The Green Hills of Africa, which was the story of a man on safari. This
book was criticized because of the apparent flawlessness of the main character, who no
doubt was meant to be Hemingway himself. This was common of his works, he very
seldom allowed the reader to see any flaws in the characters that reflected his personality.
However, the short story The Snows of Kilamanjaro, which was also written based on his
experiences in Africa, begins to change that self serving (as some would call it) style of
writing. It is in this piece that we see Hemingway as an old man, who is on the verge of
death, looking back on his life and having regrets. This is one of his most famous and
acclaimed short stories (Sands, 72).
After Africa, Ernest moved to Cuba, where he would spend most of the remainder
of his life. Hemingway left an indelible mark on the city of Havana which can still be
seen today. It was there, after reporting on World War II, that he completed Over the
River and Into the Trees, in which the main character is antagonized by a pretentious,
journalist ex-wife, not unlike Hemingway s ex-wife Martha Gilhorn. Again we see
Hemingway s own life right on the pages of a book of fiction. In Cuba, Hemingway s
depression began to severely affect his life, and his marriage. He began drinking more,
sometimes up to a quart of liquor a day, and he began gaining more weight (at one point
he weighed as much as 270 pounds). He threatened suicide on several occasions, but his
personality was the kind that very few people would stand up and say something to. For
as kind and loving as he was, he could be equally angry and violent. At this point, most
people considered Hemingway s career to be over, and he knew that he had to publish
something that could re-establish him as champion (Hemingway liked to speak in
boxing terms). It was then that he published his most famous short novel (Miller, 171).
It was a fish story. A fish story that Hemingway had been kicking around in his
head for years. And when it was finally written (some say that the first draft was the
final, because the words fit so right that there was no need for a re-write), The Old Man
and the Sea was considered his masterpiece. It won him a Pulitzer prize in 1953, and
gave him enough money to travel back to Africa for one last safari. However, on this trip
Hemingway s plane would crash and leave him with very severe injuries (Sands, 113).
Hemingway returned to Cuba, but only for a while. He traveled to Idaho, to his
boyhood home in Illinois, but where ever he went there was this terrible depression. He
tried many different kinds of therapy, even shock therapy, but none helped. In fact, the
shock therapy affected his memory, which basically destroyed his ability to write, and
Hemingway was very distressed by that. At the end of 1961, Hemingway shot himself in
the head, ending his life (Loscalzo, 62).
After his death, several novels were edited and published, some of them were very
good. But the real impact that Hemingway had after his death, could be seen in every
American short story that followed. And it could be seen on the streets of Havana, where
every year thousands of fans come to sit and drink where he drank, to sleep where he
once slept, and to fish where he found the peace and serenity to write the perfect book.
Hemingway has been imitated, but never equaled, and it will probably be a very long time
before we see another American with his talent, intelligence, and lust for life, emerge
with a piece of writing that can thrill us like Hemingway can. Though biographical
information has been disputed (much due to the fact that Ernest was known for his
tremendous exaggerations), it has been said that to find the truth (about Hemingway),
you must first look at his fiction . Hemingway s life is in his books, and we all have the
opportunity to read it (Miller, 181).
Baker, Carlos Heard. Ernest Hemingway; A Life Story. New York, NY. Scribner. 1969.
Loscalzo, Jim. Hemingway s Cuba . U.S. News and World Report. 26 May 1997.
Vol. 122, P. 62.
Miller, Louis M. Hemingway: The Writer as Artist. Columbus, Ohio. 1983.
Nelson, Gerald B. Hemingway, Life and Works. New York, NY. Facts on File. 1984.
Sands, Garret. The Life and Times of Ernest Hemingway. San Francisco, CA. Eliot
Turnbull, Andrew. Letters of F. Scott Fitzgerald. New York. 1963.