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Among many of the great American short story writers in the 20th Century was Ernest Hemingway: the author of numerous classics such as The Sun Also Rises, For Whom the Bell Tolls, Moveable Feast, and others. Born in Oak Park, Illinois, in 1899, he certainly enjoyed his childhood life. (Hodgins 651) He was born to Grace Hall, a talented singing teacher and Dr. Clarence Hemingway, who was a well loved physician. Hemingway had a very adventurous life. As a child, he enjoyed fishing and hunting with his father in the northern woods of Michigan. (hemingway-bio.html) He attended Oak Park High School, where he was involved in many activities. He played football, edited the school paper, The Trapeze, and contributed his own writing's to the school's literary magazine, The Tabula. After his graduation in 1917, rather than going to college, Hemingway worked for the Kansas City Star, as a reporter. The following year, he joined a Red Cross ambulance corps and was sent to Italy to serve. In 1921, he acquired a job as a journalist with the Toronto Star and soon left for Europe. (Hodgins 651) In September of 1921, he got married to Hadley Richardson. He divorced Hadley in 1927 to marry Pauline Pfeiffer. In 1943, he divorced Pfeiffer and married Martha Gellhorn. Finally, he divorced Martha to marry Mary Welsh. Hemingway had three sons, one by Hadley and two by Pfeiffer. Ernest Hemingway ended his own life by committing suicide in 1961. (Werlock 208)
By his graduation, U.S had already entered World War I. In the 1930's, he covered the Spanish Civil War as a foreign journalist. Also, during the liberation of France, he served as a reporter and military aid. When U.S was driven into the war, Hemingway wanted to recruit and fight in Europe, but was rejected due to his vision problems. As a reporter, he traveled through Europe and Near East where he found a variety of topics that would assist him in his writing carrier. (Hodgins 651)
Many of his famous stories were derived from his childhood experiences in the woods of Michigan. Through his stories, Hemingway portrayed soldiers, hunters, bull fighters, and others who lacked courage. For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940), was based on his experiences as a reporter during the Civil War in Spain. (hemingway-bio.html) And in many other books, he wrote about war itself. Some of his work include, The Green Hills of Africa, a novel about hunting, The Sun Also Rises, a novel about American expatriates hunting for sensations to forget about the war, Death in the Afternoon, a novel about bull fighting, and Moveable Feast, a novel on his early days in Paris (Hodgins 652). In 1954, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, but he failed to attend the ceremony to accept the prize. (Welock 209)
Unlike nineteenth-century fiction, with its strict attention to a story's beginning, middle, and end, Hemingway's story starts right in the middle of the action. Hemingway's novels and short stories had a unique identity because most of the scenes consisted of short, tangible, and direct dialogue. (ernest-hemingway) "His writing style, while it may make his words accessible, is also, as he title of one of his short fiction informs us, only 'the tip of the iceberg': that is, seven-eighths of the story's meaning lied submerged while only one- eighth is visible on surface. (Werlock 209)" Hemingway's "iceberg principle" means that the full meaning of the text is not necessary to move a plot forward. Hemingway's protagonists were always people that went to aboard, and his fictional settings are always outside of America, such as France, Italy, Spain and Cuba. Most of his work were reflected by his own experiences and background. His own background as a wounded veteran of World War I, reflected many of his stories. (ernest-hemingway) For example, "In Another Country", the main character is a soldier who is fighting for France. Hemingway's famous style is the use of long sentences that are simple in construction. (Kennedy 111) He then uses conjunctions such as "and" and "but" over and over again to connect these long sentences and therefore tighten the story (Hodgins 658). An example of this would be from Hemingway's short story, "In Another Country", "I took the young Irish setter for a little walk up the road and along a frozen creek, but it was difficult to stand or walk on the glassy surface and the red dog slipped and slithered and fell twice, hard, once dropping my gun and having it slide away over the ice." This method is known as polysyndeton, a rhetorical term for the repeated use of conjunctions to link together a group of words, clauses, or sentences. Hemingway also uses a minimum of descriptions but considerable dialogue, and when characters speak they do so in a clipped, abbreviated manner (Hodgins 658). A great example comes from Hemingway's short story, "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place", where one of the character says,
What did he want to kill himself for?
How should I know?
How did he do it?
He hung himself with a rope.
Who cut him down?
It is noticeable that he summarized the whole scene about the suicide just in a dialogue. He also uses repetition, a rhetorical device which simply repeats words or phrases to make emphasis. For example, in The Killers, the phrase, "George looked up at the clock." is used three times throughout the story to shows its significance.
Ernest Hemingway has once said, "Every man's life ends the same way. It is only the details of how he lived and how he died that distinguish one man from another." (ernesthemi131095.html) He is saying that everyone dies no matter what, and it is the things people do in life that distinguishes their life from others. Through many of his stories, Hemingway portrays the theme of death and how people react differently to this situation. Ernest Hemingway defines death as an inescapable lesson of life through his short stories.
"In Another Country"
"In Another Country" which represents Hemingway's theme most importantly, is a story of loneliness and isolation. The story focuses on a young soldier who is serving in Europe. He has been wounded during the war and visits a hospital in Milan every afternoon for treatment. There he becomes friends with other wounded soldiers. First, he became friends with three Italian boys who has been wounded just like him. He became very close to them but when they realize that he received his medals for being American, they lose their respect for him. Then he meets another young boy who has been wounded and has to rebuilt his face. He becomes good friends with this young man also. Lastly, he meets a major who has suffered an injury to his hand, who still hasn't lost his hopes for recovery.
Through this story, Hemingway shows one of his major themes and that is, death is an inescapable part of everyone's life. Therefore, it should be accepted and confronted openly. In the story, the main character says, "I was very much afraid to die and often lay in bed at night by myself, afraid to die and wondering how I would be when I went back to the front again." This shows how people observe death as a miserable event in life. He also uses symbolism to portray his theme. He describes the setting as, " There was much game hanging outside the shops, and the snow powdered in the fur of the foxes and the wind blew their tails. The deer hung stiff and heavy and empty, and small birds blew in the wind and the wind turned their feathers." p. 653 He uses winter, which represents isolation, death and loneliness as the setting for this story, which helps better understand the theme. Winter is the time when spring is over and life is taken away. Therefore, winter symbolizes the end of life.
From all his friends, the narrator learns that failure and ruin happens in everyday life. But no matter what, a person should have courage. Many of the characters struggle with a loss purpose and faith in life, but they are not willing to give up. They try their best to lift themselves up from their ruin. For example, the Major uses the machine to heal his wounds even though it might never be healed. By the end of the story, the narrator learns that although he is scared to confront death, he shouldn't give up. He should be brave enough like his friends and just because he is wounded, it doesn't mean all his hopes and dreams should be destroyed.
"A Day's Wait"
"A Day's Wait" is about a nine year old boy, named Schatz who becomes sick one night. His father soon calls his doctor to check him. The doctor examines him and says he has a high fever. The boy overhears his doctor telling his father that he has a fever of 102. This information causes misunderstanding between the father and son. Schatz has learned from his classmates that if someone has a fever of 44 degrees or more, then they will die. The boy thinks he is going to die and becomes very depressed and unhappy. But not knowing this, the father tries to make him feel better by reading to him. But the boy is very distracted because all he thinks about is his death. He awaits for his death all day long, until his father explains to him that he has referred to a different type of thermometer and has misunderstood the doctor.
Many Critics believe that "A Day's Wait" represents Hemingway's personal life. When Hemingway took part in World War I he was wounded twice. And there were incidents where he thought he would die. His fear about death is expressed through the main character in the story. The boy believes that he will die with a fever of 44 degrees but he does not understand that he is referring to a different thermometer. So again, the major theme is the fear of death. Through this story, Hemingway allows his readers to understand that the fear of death let things appear in different ways. One's someone gets over that fear, things will change.
Hemingway uses repetition throughout the story to portray the theme. He repeats the phrase "one hundred and two" to show its significance. For example,
"I've got a hundred and two." and "Something like a hundred. It was one hundred and two and four tenths." to drive the reader's attention to this phrase. The boy believes that a fever over 44 degrees will kill him. So the phrase, "one hundred and two ", is repeated to show the readers how afraid he is of dying.
In addition, symbolism is also used to help the readers better understand the theme. The hunting story inside this story plays a major importance. While his son is in bed, sick, thinking about his own death, the father goes out to hunt. In the setting there is a description of nature covered in ice. I think the winter season symbolizes death and isolation. Also it mentions how everything is covered with a "glassy surface " and "ice-coated" This shows how the mood is very gloomy.
Hemingway also uses imagery to gives us that gloomy feeling. The setting is described as, "It was a bright, cold day, the ground covered with a sleet that had frozen so that it seemed as if all the trees, the bushes, the cut brush and all the grass and the bare ground had been varnished with ice."
"A Clean Well-Lighted Place"
"A Clean, Well-Lighted Place", written in 1933, is also story of despair and loneliness. The story begins in a cafe in Spain where two waiters are waiting for their last customer to leave. While they are waiting, they talk amongst themselves about how the old man tried to commit suicide the past week because he is in despair. When the old man asks for another drink, the young waiter gets angry. He purposely lies to the old man and says that they ran out. He tells the older waiter that he wants to close up and go home to his wife. But the older waiter represents the old man, who wants to stay longer because he doesn't have a wife to go to and feels lonely. The old waiter believes that the cafe represents an idealized space. A place where, even the loneliest, most despairing people can find happiness. The cafe represents a space in which a person can escape from their troubles and problems of daily life. The older waiter explains how he needs the cafe to be clean and quiet, and why a lot of light is required to give it a feeling of comfort. The story ends with the older waiter going to another bar to stay away from going home for a while.
Many critics believe that in this story, Hemingway relates the main character to himself. Hemingway uses dialogues between the old and young waiter to show how the two generations reflect on the nature of happiness and the inevitability of death. The young waiter is happy in his life, but the old waiter has confronted failures and ruins and doesn't appreciate the life he has. The theme for this short story is also very similar to his other works and it is that old age and death are parts of being human. People should not be afraid to die and shall learn to approach death properly. In the beginning of the story, he uses his terse dialogues to convey his theme. For example,
Last week he tried to commit suicide
He was in despair
In this story, the old man tries to commit suicide because he feels lonely and scared of old age and his natural death.
In addition, Hemingway also uses symbolism to convey his theme. He describes the cafe as , "You do not understand. This is a clean and pleasant cafe. It is well lighted. The light is very good and also, now, there are shadows of the leaves." The well-lighted cafe represents hope for the old man. The light represents young age. Through this story, Hemingway allows his readers to comprehend that old age and death are parts of being human. Therefore, people should not be afraid to die and shall learn to approach death properly.
Hemingway uses many wonderful writing strategies to get his meaning across. Through his stories, he examines a major life lesson and that is death is inevitable. Through his short stories, "In Another Country", "A Clean Well-Lighted Place" and "A Day's Wait", he allows his readers to learn and understand that death is a part of everyone's life and that it is not avoidable. The only solution to this common problem is to be brave and strong to cope with your failures and enjoy life to the fullest.