What do working at a newspaper, driving an ambulance in World War I, and traveling throughout the world have in common? These diverse experiences helped to shape Ernest Miller Hemingway into a great American author, an author who would shape and influence the styles of writers since his time.
Growing up in Oak Park, Illinois, Hemingway lived a middle-class childhood with a controlling mother, who he felt bitter toward as he grew older, and a father was also strict, selfish, and domineering. He graduated high school in 1917 and became a reporter for the Kansas City Star. During World War I, he drove an ambulance in Italy, was wounded in both knees by shrapnel from an explosion, and fell in love with an American nurse who took care of him.
After the war, he became a correspondent for the Toronto Star and lived in Paris. His work as a correspondent would continue into two more wars, during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), and for the United States during World War II. After the war, he settled in Havana, Cuba and in 1958, moved to Ketchum, Idaho, where he ended his life with a shotgun blast to the head.
While a writer for the Kansas City Star, Ernest Hemingway learned the skills that he would use throughout his career. The style sheet in the newsroom contained these instructions: “Use short sentences. Use short first paragraphs. Use vigorous English.” He was also influenced by the writings of Mark Twain, Stephen Crane, Ezra Pound, and Gertrude Stein. Hemingway abandoned the too-flowery descriptive writing of the Victorian era, and was said to “…write(s) as if he had never read anybody’s writing, as if he had fashioned the art of writing himself.”
He also created a character that has become known as the “Hemingway Hero.” These heroes will risk their lives for a principle, but will never sacrifice their honor. The “principle” that the Hemingway hero tried to live up to, has been described by Hemingway scholar Phillip Young as the: “Hemingway Code Hero.” This code hero could be a person that the hero tried to be like, or the code hero might be a principle or idea that the hero tried to uphold.
The hero grew out of Hemingway’s belief that the trials a man endures help shape his character. Hemingway’s bold writing style was helpful in creating and describing the characters in his works.
Ernest Hemingway’s creative characters and bold writing style are found in A Farewell to Arms (1929). Many scholars believe that A Farewell to Arms could have been Hemingway’s autobiography if he had been well known enough to have the book be appealing to a large audience. He was a very private man, which might also account for him changing the names of the characters in the book, since he did not want the details of his life (by name) shared with the public.
Still, the similarities between Ernest Hemingway and the main character in A Farewell to Arms, Frederick Henry, are hard to deny. Look at these parallels: both men drank a lot, both served in WWI in a medical capacity, both were shot in the right knee in a battle, Hemingway drove an ambulance for the Red Cross, Henry was a medic for the Italian Army, both fell in love with a nurse and had the relationship grow while hospitalized, and both men’s relationships with the nurses were short lived. Hemingway’s bold writing style in A Farewell to Arms shows up through use of vivid description and symbolism in his writing.
The reader feels like he or she is really there, when Hemingway describes a battlefield, hotel room, or a crowded train. His descriptions of the battles of war are so realistic that some critics have said that he is making an anti-war statement. Symbols from nature like rain and mud are present throughout the book. It is always raining when something bad is happening, such as the death of Henry’s girlfriend during childbirth, or when the army is forced to retreat.
Mud is always in the way of the army, and makes it a lot harder for them to advance or retreat. Through the use of his bold writing style and his ability to create characters, Hemingway told the story of his wartime experiences, and shared his philosophy on the devastation of war.
From his experiences in his youth at the Kansas City Star through his service in World War I, Ernest Hemingway developed a style that made him a highly respected author. The techniques and style that were his have influenced countless writers during the 20th century, and will influence them well into the 21st century.
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