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Hemingway Ernest

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I attended a two-day Hemingway conference at the JFK Library in Boston. One of the topics of discussion among the panelists was this question of Hemingway's timelessness both as writer and celebrity. Why has this 20th century American author endured while so many others (Jack London for instance) have disappeared into a black hole of obscurity? One speaker answered the question by saying, "we all write through Hemingway."

Hemingway's style of writing (the grade school-like grammar, austere word choice, the unvarnished descriptions) continues to be emulated today. The old joke about 20th century writers is that they can be divided into two distinct groups: those trying to write like Ernest Hemingway and those trying not to. Hemingway's famous commentaries on the process of writing, his advice to beginners and his criticisms to his contemporaries are simply unparalleled. He is considered by many the most well recognized writer of the 20th century and perhaps the best American writer ever to put pencil to paper. Aside from his innovative style, the themes of his works are very human and enduring. From death to loss to perseverance to courage, Hemingway writes of the subjects that affect us all.

When one starts to read a lot of Hemingway, he or she will begin to notice an element almost always lacking: the happy ending. This is one of the things I truly love about Hemingway. Not only can he describe life "as it is," he is often more adept at describing life "as it is not." Life is not a bed of roses, a carefree world in which lovers walk hand and hand into a setting sunset. No, the sun also rises and if its rays are too hot or too bright or if it stays visible for too long, the roses will wilt and die. Hemingway never shies away from exploring the tragedies of life, of death, of love, of living, of dying, of loving. This I think explains much of his timeless appeal.

Though Hemingway may have represented the ideal writer in the literary sense, he certainly did not lead the life of seclusion and isolation so commonly associated with the professional writer. Hemingway's life was exciting. He presented to the world both a colorful and contradicting personality. He was the outdoorsman. He hunted, he fished, he drank, he brawled, he traveled, and he married. He was a man who truly enjoyed life. He made those around him enjoy life. When he could no longer enjoy his life, when his body failed him, when his gift for writing deserted him, he ended his life. This final act would only add to the timeless Hemingway mystique.

I am reminded of the Public Broadcasting Service, an organization that takes great pride in creating what they themselves call "non disposable television," which is television that a person can come back to again and again. The same thing might be said of Ernest Hemingway's literature. It too is "non disposable." One can reread Hemingway and always find something new and compelling. This does not apply to every author. One of Hemingway's major criticisms against fellow writer William Faulkner was the immense difficulty of rereading him.

What is the history behind the "lost generation"? Where and how did this phrasing originate?

Gertrude Stein had gone to have her Ford fixed. Very impressed by the young and efficient mechanic, she inquired about him to the garage owner. The owner said that he trained all his mechanics himself and that they learned well and fast. Only those aged 22 to 30 could not be taught.

It's important to note that Hemingway himself did not entirely subscribe to the "lost generation" philosophy. See his November 1926 letter to his editor, Maxwell Perkins, reprinted in Ernest Hemingway: Selected Letters 1917-1961 edited by Carlos Baker, page 229.
What are a few characteristics of Hemingway's writing style?
* Stark minimalist nature
* Grade school-like grammar
* Austere word choice
* Unvarnished descriptions
* Short, declarative sentences
* Uses language accessible to the common reader

Hemingway is a master of dialogue. It's not so much that he is recreating precisely how individuals speak, but through his brilliant use of repetition, he is able to make the reader remember what has been said. Hemingway's style of writing was probably most influenced by his early work as a cub reporter for The Kansas City Star. There he was forced to adhere to a stylebook for young reporters, which included the following advice: "Use short sentences. Use short first paragraphs. Use vigorous English, not forgetting to strive for smoothness. Be positive, not negative."

Hemingway's Style
When he joined the staff of the Toronto Star Weekly in January, 1920, Hemingway was given a style sheet by his boss, C.G. "Pete" Wellington. Among the extensive list of dos and don'ts on the list were instructions to "Use short sentences. Use short first paragraphs. Use vigorous English." Hemingway would later praise these precepts as "the best rules I ever learned for the business of writing." Throughout his career, Hemingway adhered to these minimalist rules as the core of his reportorial prose style. This direct style was reinforced and refined into a working aesthetic through the lessons that Hemingway learned from the works and the advice of Imagist poets T.S. Eliot, Gertrude Stein, and Ezra Pound. The cardinal tenet of the modernist approach was the total elimination of all extraneous verbiage and authorial intrusion in favor of the presentation of sharply focused images that stood on their own accord. The selected images were literal in the sense that they could be pictured in the reader's mind and they also had a symbolic function in association with other carefully chosen images in the text. As a still unknown writer in the early 1920s, Hemingway used exercises that forced him toward direct expression. He developed a discipline of writing about one thousand words a day and then paring back this draft copy to around three hundred words.

Hemingway's approach to fiction is broadly characterized as "realism," and this orientation is most apparent in his descriptive prose. The language of Hemingway's fiction is strikingly simple and concrete. It is comprised of monosyllabic words in arranged in short sentences. Hemingway's style is devoid of similes, metaphors and other figurative devices. He typically employs a naturalistic narrative perspective: the reader "sees" from the same restricted angle as the narrator. When a Hemingway's narrator does include some information that could not be gathered directly from the experience immediately at hand, these are couched as plain matters of fact. In his novels, Hemingway creates entire scenes solely through the dialogue that takes place among his characters.

But while Hemingway is always direct, this must not blind us to the subtleties of his work. In his bull-fighting book, Death in the Afternoon, Hemingway articulated what has come to be called his "iceberg principle" of fiction. In good writing, as in true bull-fighting, only a small portion of the total meaning appears on the surface while the bulk remains submerged but its existence can be inferred what is literally visible. These inferences revolve around symbolic associations that arise from and are mediated through the consciousness of the main character. Underneath the layer of objective narrative there lies a vast territory of subjective experience that exists within the mind of the main character(s) and, at the same time, independently of the narrator's full awareness.
As figures engaged in the plot and as interpreters of their experiences, Hemingway's narrator/characters make choices and act upon them, and their decisions have a moral dimension to them. As such, they have the capacity to be heroes. But unlike the heroes of classical Greek tragedy, Hemingway's characters face a modern world in which traditional codes of conduct are no longer relevant. The sheer brutality and futility of World War I had exploded Romantic illusions about patriotic ideals and further undermined the power of religious beliefs. In the wasteland of modern life, the individual was confronted with the need to construct his own heroic code and then live by it. For Hemingway and his "code heroes," the measure of a code's validity lies in action: it cannot be judged apart from the creator's living the code out. Personal integrity arises from sticking with one's own code of conduct. The ultimate test occurs when the code hero is confronted with the prospect of death. Akin to a genuine bullfighter, Hemingway's heroes are to be judged by the grace that they exhibit while under stress.

Moving through Hemingway's four major novels in chronological order, we find that a broad progression occurs in his four code heroes. In The Sun Also Rises, Jake Barnes feels the need for an heroic code, alternatively rejects and borrows from the codes expressed or enacted by other characters, but fails to live up to any code whatsoever. The tandem decisions of Frederic and Catherine in A Farewell to Arms to cast the war aside is heroic, as is their effort to develop a code on the basis of their love for each other. But when Catherine dies, Frederic is bereft of both his life's love and all guide to action. Robert Jordan, the American who volunteers to fight the fascists in Spain in For Whom the Bell Tolls is the purest example of Hemingway's code hero. Even though his life is lost in a doomed cause, Jordan exhibits genuine integrity. In Santiago, the aged Cuban fisherman of The Old Man and the Sea, we find a final variation on the code hero. Santiago chooses to go beyond the limits to land the giant marlin, risking his life in the process. He survives the self-inflicted ordeal, losing his prize but not his integrity


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