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Ernest Hemingway’s Literary Techniques

Info: 2509 words (10 pages) Essay
Published: 10th May 2021 in English Literature

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 Every successful author has various writing approaches within their pieces of literature. These writing techniques are much like an artist’s signature at the bottom of a canvased masterpiece, to indicate to viewers and spectators, or in this case, readers, that a piece of work belongs to a specific creator. This added touch or flair gives individuality to their work, and sets the author apart from other writers; it provides the reader with a sense of remembrance of who the author is after reading multiple pieces of literature created by them. There are many different writing techniques in the field of literature, some being more practical, like alliteration, or use of similes, while others are more complex, such as the use of theme, symbolism, and character development. Authors use theme as a literary technique to convey their message, idea, or opinion to spark a belief, point of view or understanding into the minds of their readers. Other types of complex literary techniques include symbolism, in which writers will use an artistic approach using symbols to represent ideas, or in other forms of literary technique, character development, in which writers will create believable characters by giving the character depth and personality. The interesting part about reading literature is that no author writes the same as another. Many of these literary techniques are used in various kinds of writing, however, they are all executed in very different ways. As an example, Ernest Hemingway has a very exclusive way of carrying out his various short stories. Ernest Hemingway’s “The Killers”, “Hills Like White Elephants”, and “The Good Lion” all use theme, symbolism, and character development effectively. The theme in these three pieces of literature similarly display the struggle of social acceptance and social conformity within various cultures. These three pieces of literature also similarly display symbolism, and ambiguity, as well as how Hemingway’s characters are often defiant of what society expects. These patterns are found across all three stories, and is not only used effectively, but is also characteristic to Hemingway’s style of writing.

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 One of the many ways that Hemingway executes literary techniques within his short stories is through his common theme that displays the struggle of social acceptance and social conformity within various cultures. This theme is found within all three pieces of literature, “Hills Like White Elephants”, “The Good Lion”, and “The Killers”.  Within “Hills Like White Elephants” the theme of seeking social acceptance is very clear. This story is about a young man and woman travelling in Spain for a very specific operation that is never outwardly mentioned what the operation is, however, it is assumed this procedure they are travelling for is an abortion. “Ernest Hemingway’s ‘Hills Like White Elephants’ is suited to a psychoanalytic perspective criticism and is the most effective, as it contains hidden, deeper meaning which the author had represented in this piece, by explicating the text to explore themes of choices, plot, setting and imagery, and essentially abortion” (Essay about Heart of Darkness: Psychoanalytic Criticism). This story is certainly set in a different time period, for it was written in 1927; it was written in a time period when abortion was not an accepted operation by society, as well as premarital pregnancy. The couple in this story are not married, and one may assume the couple also desires to keep the abortion a secret, because of it being a premarital pregnancy, and because the operation of abortions are taboo, especially for the time period. One can also assume that the couple wants to keep the pregnancy and the abortion a secret because of their travelling. The story is set in Spain where the couple are waiting to get aboard a train to get the operation. This is perhaps an underrated part of the story, that actually gives the theme more support. The couple are travelling to proceed with this procedure far from home, so that no one around them will ever know about the pregnancy or the procedure at all. They desire to keep this a secret because they want to maintain their reputations; they desire to be socially accepted, and to do that, they go through extreme measures to ensure that they are conformed to what is expected from society. Although this next short story was written for children, “The Good Lion” is another example of how Hemingway uses theme to display the desires of his characters to gain social acceptance. The lion in this story is not like other lions. This lion eats pasta, and other kinds of human food. Other lions threaten to kill the good lion, and in the process, pressure him to conform to what was socially acceptable within his sect of life, among the other lions. Hemingway writes throughout the story “that we love [the good lion] because he was so good” (The Good Lion, Holiday 9). The good lion criticizes the lions that eat raw meat and hunt their prey in the jungles of Africa, but at the end of the story, he conforms to be just like the “bad lions” described in the story. “He is, of course, even worse than the bad lions in the jungle, since they, at least, are not hypocrites” (HEMINGWAY'S HEMINGWAY PARODIES: THE HYPOCRITICAL GRIFFON AND THE DUMB OX). “The Good Lion” displays how peer pressure to conform to society’s expectations effects behavior and may even change one’s identity. Hemingway’s “The Killers” is a different kind of story, yet still one that shares the theme of social acceptance, just perhaps in a different perspective. This short story is about two hitmen seeking to kill an old man named Anderson. The protagonist, and arguably the hero of this story, Nick Adams warns Anderson of his fate, in hopes to save him; surprisingly, Anderson is unphased, and accepts his fate. “"Ole is passive and deterministic; in his refusal to act, he accepts that death is imminent [...]" (The Killers 37). The theme of this story is slightly different than the idea of social acceptance of oneself within society; the theme of this story is the social acceptance of death, and the inability to escape fate, or death. The majority of society as a whole have fears about death and dying, and this story goes against this idea.

 Another one of the many ways that Hemingway executes literary techniques within his short stories is through his common use of symbolism and ambiguity. In Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants”, many believe that the undiscussed topic throughout the story is about abortion, and how the woman feels about it in contrast to the man. The reader can get a sense of the woman’s feelings and how she desires to keep the baby, while the man selfishly pushes the woman to get the procedure done. One may assume the couple in the story are discussing an abortion through their dialogue. The man says, “It’s really an awfully simple procedure […] We’ll be fine afterward. Just like we were before […] That’s the only thing that bothers us. It’s the only thing that’s made us unhappy” (Hills Like White Elephants 203).  This is a very ambiguous, taboo story, “[that becomes] a work of irony spanning generations of determined readers desperate to find meaning within its ambiguous void” (Sequence of “It”: Explicating the Riddle of Ambiguity in Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants”). Hemingway tells the story and creates dialogue between the characters without ever giving away what the story is actually about, leaving many grey areas left for interpretation of the reader. Hemingway does this through providing  metaphors and symbolism, without actually straightforward telling the story. Even the title of the short story, “Hills Like White Elephants” symbolizes pregnancy. However, because of the saturation of symbolism within this story, the plot’s message is not completely clear and has many layers of ambiguity that are meant to be left a mystery for readers to ponder on and interpret for themselves. “The Good Lion”, written by Hemingway, also has some ambiguous meanings. One prominent interpretation could be the conflict between morals of oneself, and the battle between good and evil. As for “The Killers”, written by Hemingway, some suggest that there are deeper interpretations of what this story actually is supposed to be about, such as Hemingway’s experience in World War I. Once again, Hemingway portrays his characters, as well as the story’s plot in a manner that leaves a lot of ambiguity, and room for many different interpretations of the true meaning. “'The Killers.' In particular, dominant realist readings of 'The Killers' as a story of Chicago gangsters and the adolescent Nick Adams's moral education have failed to recognize the text's deep internal contradictions and absurdities, which point toward its secret representation of an entirely different scene of psychic and historical reality. Circumstantial but compelling archival evidence supports a radical re-reading of Hemingway's classic story based not on things left out but on things cryptically inscribed on the surface of the text in the form of the rebus. When deciphered, the text's secret inscriptions locate the 'other' scene of 'The Killers' in Hemingway's experience in World War I, and identify the text as a remarkable experiment in modernist form” (Ham and Eggs and Hermeneutics: Re-reading Hemingway's 'The Killers'). “The Killers” as well, has a rather ambiguous ending leaving readers to wonder what exactly happens next after Nick Adams attempts to save the day, and Anderson refuses. Does Anderson die? Did he change his mind? That’s up for the readers to decide.

 Another way that Hemingway executes literary techniques within his short stories is through his commonly defiant characters. Hemingway’s characters are often defiant of what society expects, and portrays the overall message that not everything may be as it seems. This is proven in all three pieces of literature. In “Hills Like White Elephants”, Hemingway’s characters in this short story, are a couple about to go through an abortion. This is not at all what readers from this time period, or even readers reading this piece now would expect. The plot of this story is completely against what society expects out of the story. The dialogue seems lighthearted, making it even more unexpected that the plot of this story was about something so dark, and secretive. In “The Good Lion”, Hemingway once again creates a character that is defiant of what society expects. The good lion, the protagonist in this short story, does not behave like a normal lion. He is a good lion, acts proper, and criticizes other lions for their diets. In “The Killers”, the ending is again, unexpected and the characters are defiant of what society expects. In this story, Hemingway proves this to be true when Anderson, the man that’s fate will soon be murder, behaves calmly and gladly accepts his fate without hesitation, which is not the happy ending that readers expect. Instead first time readers are hoping for an alternative ending, such as the hero, Nick Adams coming to the rescue to save Anderson’s life. Hemingway shows readers that life is not always happy endings.

 There are many different writing techniques in the field of literature, some being more practical, like alliteration, or use of similes, while others are more complex, such as the use of theme, symbolism, and character development. Authors use theme as a literary technique to convey their message, idea, or opinion to spark a belief, point of view or understanding into the minds of their readers. Other types of complex literary techniques include symbolism, in which writers will use an artistic approach using symbols to represent ideas, or in other forms of literary technique, character development, in which writers will create believable characters by giving the character depth and personality. The interesting part about reading literature is that no author writes the same as another. Many of these literary techniques are used in various kinds of writing, however, they are all executed in very different ways. As an example, Ernest Hemingway has a very exclusive way of carrying out his various short stories. Ernest Hemingway’s “The Killers”, “Hills Like White Elephants”, and “The Good Lion” all use theme, symbolism, and character development effectively. The theme in these three pieces of literature similarly display the struggle of social acceptance and social conformity within various cultures. These three pieces of literature also similarly display symbolism, and ambiguity, as well as how Hemingway’s characters are often defiant of what society expects. These patterns are found across all three stories, and is not only used effectively, but is also characteristic to Hemingway’s style of writing. These pieces of literature written by Hemingway have messages coiled up within them, left for the reader to interpret, in a way that is relatable and personal to them. Many of these underlying messages within Hemingway’s writings hit close to home. Some of these include navigating social acceptance, and peer pressure, as well as accepting the fears of life, like the bluntness of the inability to escape death. These pieces of literature, along with others written by Ernest Hemingway are memorable because these issues are relatable and still effect readers today.

Works Cited

  • Booth, Philip. “Hemingway’s ‘The Killers’ and Heroic Fatalism: From Page to Screen (Thrice).” Literature-Film Quarterly, vol. 1, 2007, p. 404., EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&AuthType=ip,shib&db=edsglr&AN=edsgcl.160017085&site=eds-live&scope=site.
  • “Essay about Heart of Darkness: Psychoanalytic Criticism.” Bartleby, www.bartleby.com/essay/Heart-of-Darkness-Psychoanalytic-Criticism-F3CCDCKSVJ.
  • “Ham and Eggs and Hermeneutics: Re-Reading Hemingway’s ‘The Killers.’” Journal of Modern Literature, vol. 40, 2017, pp. 41–59., EBSCOhost, doi:10.2979/jmodelite.40.2.03.
  • Hemingway, Ernest. “Hills Like White Elephants.” The Seagull Book Stories, 4th ed., W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2017, pp. 201–206.
  • Hemingway, Ernest. “The Good Lion.” Holiday, 1951.
  • Hemingway, Ernest. The Killers. www.sfponline.org/Uploads/372/The%20Killers.pdf.
  • Michael, Sherry. “Senescence of ‘It’: Explicating the Riddle of Ambiguity in Hemingway’s, ‘Hills Like White Elephants.’” Philological Review, 2015, pp. 87–89., search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&AuthType=ip,shib&db=hlh&AN=128948154&site=eds-live&scope=site.
  • Widmayer, Jayne. “Hemingway’s Hemingway Parodies: The Hypocritical Griffon and the Dumb Ox.” Studies in Short Fiction, 1981, EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&AuthType=ip,shib&db=a9h&AN=7133368&site=eds-live&scope=site.

 

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