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Ernest Hemingway

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English Literature

Perhaps one of the most well-known American writers of the 20th century, Ernest Hemingway crafted a uniquely simple literary voice through novels like A Farewell to Arms (1929), The Old Man and the Sea (1952), and For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940). His distinctive writing style, combined with a focus on the themes of war, masculinity, and love, gave his novels a gravity that had a powerful effect on 20th-century western fiction.

Portrait of Ernest Hemingway, pixabay.

Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961): Facts

Let us first look at Hemingways life.

Early life and military career

Ernest Hemingway was born on 21 July 1899 in Oak Park (formerly Cicero), Illinois, a conservative suburb of Chicago. In his youth, Hemingway also spent time in northern Michigan, where he gained an appreciation for sports, nature, and the outdoors. At the age of seventeen, his career as a writer began in a newspaper office in Kansas City.

In 1918, after the United States joined World War I, Hemingway travelled abroad to volunteer as an ambulance driver in the Italian army. He served on the front lines and was severely injured, for which he received the Italian Silver Medal of Bravery. While being treated for his injury in Milan, he was attended by a Red Cross nurse with whom he fell in love but who did not reciprocate his feelings.

After the war, Hemingway worked as a journalist for various newspapers and journals in the US and Canada before moving to Paris in 1921.

Life in Paris

Hemingway became a foreign correspondent for The Toronto Star in Paris, where he fell into the company of fellow expatriate artists and writers, including F. Scott Fitzgerald, Pablo Picasso, Ezra Pound, and James Joyce, often called The Lost Generation. At this time, Hemingway worked on his non-journalistic writing and began to see it in print. His first literary release, In Our Time, was published in 1924. This collection of stories set the stage for a promising writing career.

It was writer Gertrude Stein who dubbed this group of expatriate artists The Lost Generation. Stein hosted various salons in Paris during the 1920s, fostering important relationships between these artists and creating an interesting space for modernist art to flourish after the war.

Ernest Hemingway: Death

Hemingway returned to the United States after the revolution took hold in Cuba and reflected on his life. He wrote a manuscript entitled A Moveable Feast, which served as a memoir of his time in Paris during the 1920s.

Hemingways long battle with depression came to a head during this period when he was hospitalised twice, and it ended with his suicide on 2 July 1961.

Ernest Hemingway: Books

In 1926, Hemingway first experienced literary success with his debut novel, The Sun Also Rises. The novel, which was inspired by his time with The Lost Generation, follows a group of aimless, disillusioned expatriates in France and Spain.

He wrote various other novels while travelling, but his next major work was A Farewell to Arms, published in 1929. The novel was informed largely by Hemingways experiences as a young soldier in Italy. It follows an American lieutenant serving in the Italian army during WWI who falls in love with an English nurse.

During the 1930s, Hemingway spent much of his time travelling, especially in Spain. His passion for the country and for Spanish bullfighting formed the inspiration for his next major novel, Death in the Afternoon (1932).

Soon after, in 1936, Spain was plunged into civil war. Hemingway continued to travel there as a war correspondent, an experience which informed his next major novel, For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940). At the time of this novels release, Hemingway was at the peak of his literary success, both critically and commercially, and the book garnered a nomination for the Pulitzer Prize. The novel is set during the Spanish Civil War and tells of an American volunteer who becomes attached to an anti-fascist guerrilla unit in the mountains of Spain.

In 1941, the United States entered World War II, during which Hemingway served again as a correspondent, covering major events during the war, including D-Day and the liberation of Paris.

Following the war, Hemingway returned to his home in Cuba, which provided inspiration for his next novel, The Old Man and the Sea (1951). It follows an old Cuban fisherman who has a heroic struggle with a giant marlin. The novel eventually won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1953. Hemingways critical acclaim culminated the next year when he won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Ernest Hemingway: Significance

Ernest Hemingway is important for many reasons, but two of the most important ones include his writing style and his coverage of the theme of war.

Hemingways writing style

Hemingways prose style became widely imitated in its simplicity. Through language, he sought to create a space for objectivity and honesty by doing away with literary embellishment and verbosity. His writing style was particularly distinctive: sentences remained short and simple with few adjectives and adverbs, creating a sense of narrative objectivity.

In The Old Man and the Sea, Hemingway writes, The fish came alive, with his death in him, and rose high out of the water showing all his great length and width and all his power and his beauty. He seemed to hang in the air above the old man in the skiff. Then he fell into the water with a crash that sent spray over the old man and over all of the skiff.

Hemingways style can be seen here in simple sentences without adjectives, relying mostly on repetition and rhythm rather than other complicated metaphorical devices.

Hemingways terse, concentrated sentences allowed little room for ambiguity. In eliminating emotional rhetoric from his language, Hemingway created a writing style that conveyed a harsh reality while still retaining a stoicism that powers the narrative onwards. Monosyllabic sentences served to capture a reality that seemed lost by using long, wordy, and overcomplicated prose.

Stoicism is a philosophy that emphasises clear, rational thought by overcoming emotions to form unbiased, informed opinions and ideas.

Themes of war

War was the setting for many of Hemingways novels, exposing the horrors and hardships of those involved. It was during these times that Hemingway saw it most necessary for one to adhere to a code of dignity, honesty, and honour.

In a world filled with moral complexity, pain, and destruction, Hemingways characters provide a sense of calm courage that he saw as the only mode of survival. The main characters of many of his novels are young men who had become scarred by their experiences in combat but who steel themselves by maintaining strong principles. By using war as a symbol of the harsh realities of the world, Hemingway exposes his contemporary reality as morally ambiguous and destructive.

Leaving behind an extensive body of work and an indelible impact on 20th-century fiction, Ernest Hemingway cemented his place in the literary canon. His chivalric principles and distinct narrative style created a literary voice that still remains unique. The stripped-down simplicity of his prose contrasts with his profound mediation on complex themes, like war, mortality, and the power of nature, lending a gravity that is authentic and honest.

Ernest Hemingway: Quotes

The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry

(Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms, 1929).

Hemingway considers the harshness of the world, reflecting on mortality. His plain writing style emphasises the gravity of these themes.

Then the fish came alive, with his death in him, and rose high out of the water showing all his great length and width and all his power and his beauty. He seemed to hang in the air above the old man in the skiff. Then he fell into the water with a crash that sent spray over the old man and over all of the skiff (Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea, 1951).

During the climax of The Old Man and the Sea, the Old Man kills the marlin. In this key moment, Hemingway once again considers life and death, especially in the natural world. Nature forms a formidable opponent that seems comparable to forces at war.

If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast (Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast, 1964).

In his posthumously published memoir, Hemingway coins this famous phrase about his time in Paris during the 1920s.

Ernest Hemingway - Key takeaways

  • Ernest Hemingway was born in 1899 in Oak Park (formerly Cicero), Illinois.
  • Hemingway served as an ambulance driver in Italy during WWI, where he had wartime experiences that informed much of his writing.
  • In the 1920s, Hemingway moved to Paris, where he became acquainted with many other contemporary artists, often referred to as The Lost Generation.
  • Hemingway published seven major novels, including key works like The Sun Also Rises (1926), A Farewell to Arms (1929), For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940), and The Old Man and the Sea (1951).
  • Hemingway had a distinct writing style comprised of simple sentences with few literary embellishments and often wrote narratives that involved war or conflict.
  • Ernest Hemingway won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954.

Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway wrote several important 20th-century novels, including The Old Man and the Sea (1951). Hemingway’s distinct writing style and consideration of profound themes made his work widely renowned.

Ernest Hemingway’s writing considered complex themes like war, mortality, and the power of nature while maintaining a simple narrative style. This had an important effect on writers of the 20th century.

Ernest Hemingway was born in Oak Park (formerly Cicero), Illinois, USA.

Ernest Hemingway’s writing was uniquely stripped back, with few adjectives or adverbs. Sentences largely consist of nouns, verbs and conjunctions, without unnecessary embellishments.

Hemingway wrote seven novels in his lifetime, all to great critical acclaim. His novel The Old Man and the Sea (1952) won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1953.

Final Ernest Hemingway Quiz

Question

What is the meaning of 'a farewell to arms'?

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Answer

The meaning of farewell to arms is saying goodbye to weapons, also known as 'arms'.

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What are the main themes of A Farewell to Arms?

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The main themes of A farewell to Arms are love and war.

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When was A Farewell to Arms written?

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Answer

A Farewell to Arms was written and published in 1929

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What is the significance of the title of the novel A Farewell to Arms?

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The title A Farewell to Arms is a reference to the protagonist no longer having a use for weaponry.

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Who is the author of A Farewell to Arms?

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Answer

The author of A Farewell to Arms is Ernest Hemingway

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Question

Who are the two protagonists of A Farewell to Arms?

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Answer

The two protagonists of A Farewell to Arms are Catherine Barkley and Frederic Henry


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The character's thoughts reflect those of which generation?

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The character's thoughts reflect those of the 'lost generation'.

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Who is Catherine Barkley?

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Catherine Barkley is an English nurse who falls in love with Frederic Henry

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Who is Frederic Henry?

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Frederic Henry is an American Lieutenant who drove ambulances.

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When is A Farewell to Arms set?

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A Farewell to Arms is set during World War One

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Where was A Farewell to Arms set?

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Answer

A Farewell to Arms is largely set in Italy, with the novel climaxing in Switzerland.

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When was Ernest Hemingway born?

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July 21st, 1899.

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Where did Ernest Hemingway serve during WWI?

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Answer

Hemingway was a member of an ambulance unit in Italy during WWI.

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Question

What was the name of the group of expatriate artists that lived in Paris during the 1920s?

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Answer

The Lost Generation.

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What was Hemingway's first novel, published in 1926?

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Answer

The Sun Also Rises

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For which novel did Ernest Hemingway win the Pulitzer Prize?

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Answer

Hemingway won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1953 for The Old Man and the Sea (1951).

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In what year did Ernest Hemingway win the Nobel Prize for Literature?

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Answer

1954

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When did Ernest Hemingway die?

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Ernest Hemingway died by suicide in 1961.

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What is notable about Ernest Hemingway's writing style?

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Answer

Hemingway writes using simple sentences without literary embellishments. His sentences rarely include adjectives and adverbs. 

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When was A Farewell to Arms published?

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Answer

1929

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Where is A Farewell to Arms set?

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Answer

Italy

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Question

What is the French phrase for a literary work that relies largely on autobiographical events?

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Answer

Roman à clef

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What are the key themes of A Farewell to Arms?

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Answer

Love and war.

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What role does Frederic Henry serve in the Italian army?

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Answer

He is a lieutenant serving in an ambulance unit

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What is significant about the title A Farewell to Arms?

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Answer

The title is taken from a 16th-century English poem that also considers the key themes of love and war. The title also plays on the word 'arms', which can mean the arms of a lover, or violent ammunition.

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Question

How was A Farewell to Arms first published?

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Answer

The novel was initially published in a serialised form in Scribner's Magazine from May 1929 to October 1929.

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