Ernest Miller Hemingway (July 21, 1899 – July 2, 1961) was
an American writer and journalist. During his lifetime he wrote and had
published seven novels, six collections of short stories, and two works of
non-fiction. Since his death three novels, four collections of short stories,
and three non-fiction autobiographical works have been published. Hemingway had
an enormous influence on 20th century fiction, not only for the writing style
he introduced, but because of the apparent life of adventure he followed, and
the public image he cultivated. In 1954 Hemingway received the Nobel Prize
he was at the pinnacle of his career.
The Old Man
and the Sea was
published in 1952, after which Hemingway went on safari to Africa where he
nearly died in a plane accident. Much of the rest of his life was spent in pain
or in ill-health. In 1959, he moved from Cuba to Idaho, where he committed suicide in the summer of 1961.
Hemingway produced most of
his work between the mid 1920s and the mid 1950s, though a number of unfinished
works were published posthumously. Hemingway's distinctive writing style is characterized by economy and understatement, and had a significant influence on the
development of twentieth-century fiction writing. His protagonists are typically stoical men who exhibit an ideal described as "grace under pressure."
Many of his works are now considered classics of American
his lifetime, Hemingway's popularity peaked after the publication of The Old
Man and the Sea.
The New York Times wrote in 1926 of Hemingway's first novel:
"No amount of analysis can convey the quality of The Sun Also Rises.
It is a truly gripping story, told in a lean, hard, athletic narrative prose
that puts more literary English to shame". The Sun Also Rises is
written in the spare, tightly written prose for which Hemingway is famous, a
style which has influenced countless crime and pulp fiction novels. It is a
style which some critics consider Hemingway's greatest contribution to
literature. The Nobel Prize committee acknowledged Hemingway's style. In 1954,
when he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature the award was for "his
mastery of the art of narrative, most recently demonstrated in The Old Man and
the Sea, and for the influence that he has exerted on contemporary style".
Hemingway began as a writer of short stories, and as Baker explains, he
learned how to "get the most from the least, how to prune language how to
multiply intensities, and how to tell nothing but the truth in a way that
allowed for telling more than the truth." The style is known as the Iceberg Theorybecause in Hemingway's writing the hard facts float above water; the
supporting structure, complete with symbolism, operates out-of-sight. Jackson
Benson believes Hemingway used autobiographical details to work as framing
devices to write about life in general—not only about his life. For example,
Benson postulates that Hemingway used his experiences and drew them out further
with "what if" scenarios: "what if I were wounded in such a way
that I could not sleep at night? What if I were wounded and made crazy, what
would happen if I were sent back to the front?" The concept of the iceberg
theory is sometimes referred to as the "theory of omission."
Hemingway believed the writer could describe one thing (such as Nick Adams
fishing in "The Big Two-Hearted River") though an entirely different
thing occurs below the surface (Nick Adams concentrating on fishing so to the
extent that he doesn't have to think about anything else).
The simplicity of the prose is deceptive. Zoe Trodd believes Hemingway crafted
skeletal sentences in response to Henry James' observation that WWI had "used up words". In his writing
Hemingway offered an almost photographic reality that was often "multi-focal".
His iceberg theory of omission was the foundation on which he built. The
syntax, which lacks subordinating
conjunctions, creates static sentences. He
used a photographic "snapshot" style to create a collage of images.
Short sentences build one on another; events build to create a sense of the
whole. Multiple strands exist in one story; an "embedded text"
bridges to a different angle. He also used other cinematic techniques of
"cutting" quickly from one scene to the next; or of "splicing"
a scene into another. Intentional omissions allow the reader to fill the gap,
as though responding to instructions from the author, and create three
Hemingway uses polysyndeton to convey
both a timeless immediacy and a Biblical grandeur. Hemingway's polysyndetonic
sentence—or, in later works, his use of subordinate clauses—uses conjunctions
to juxtapose startling visions and images; the critic Jackson Benson compares
them to haikus. Many of Hemingway's acolytes
misinterpreted his lead and frowned upon all expression of emotion; Saul Bellow satirized
this style as "Do you have emotions? Strangle them." However,
Hemingway's intent was not to eliminate emotion but to portray it more scientifically.
Hemingway thought it would be easy, and pointless, to describe emotions; he
sculpted his bright and finely chiseled collages of images in order to grasp
"the real thing, the sequence of motion and fact which made the emotion
and which would be as valid in a year or in ten years or, with luck and if you
stated it purely enough, always". This use of an image as an objective
correlative is characteristic of Ezra
Pound, T.S. Eliot, James
Joyce, and of course Proust. Hemingway's letters refer to
of Things Past several times over the years,
and indicate he might have read the massive book at least twice. His writing
was likely also influenced by the Japanese poetic canon.