Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961), American novelist and short-story writer, whose style is characterized by crispness, laconic dialogue, and emotional understatement. Hemingway's writings and his personal life exerted a profound influence on many American writers, both during his lifetime and since his death. Many of his works are regarded as classics of American literature.
Ernest Miller Hemingway was born in Oak Park, Illinois, and attended public schools in the area. After graduating from high school in 1917 he became a reporter for the Kansas City Star, but he left his job within a few months to serve as a volunteer ambulance driver in Italy during World War I (1914-1918). He later transferred to the Italian infantry and was severely wounded.
After the war Hemingway served as a correspondent for the Toronto Star and then settled in Paris. While there, he was encouraged in creative work by the American expatriate writers Ezra Pound and Gertrude Stein. After 1927 Hemingway spent long periods of time in Key West, Florida, and in Spain and Africa. During the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), he returned to Spain as a newspaper correspondent. In World War II (1939-1945) he again was a correspondent and later was a reporter for the United States First Army; although he was not a soldier, he participated in several battles. After the war Hemingway settled near Havana, Cuba, and in 1958 he moved to Ketchum, Idaho.
Hemingway drew heavily on his experiences as an avid fisherman, hunter, and bullfighting enthusiast in much of his writing. His adventurous life brought him close to death several times: in the Spanish Civil War when shells burst inside his hotel room; in World War II when he was struck by a taxi during a blackout; and in 1954 when his airplane crashed in Africa.
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One of the foremost authors of the era between the two world wars, Hemingway’s early works depict the lives of two types of people. One type consists of men and women who have lost faith in moral values and live with cynical disregard for anything but their own emotional needs. The other type is men of simple character and primitive emotions, such as boxers and bullfighters, who wage courageous and usually futile battles against the circumstances of their lives.
Hemingway’s earliest works include the collections of short stories Three Stories and Ten Poems (1923), his first work; In Our Time (1924), tales reflecting his experiences as a youth in the northern Michigan woods; Men Without Women (1927), a volume that included “The Killers,” remarkable for its description of impending doom; and Winner Take Nothing (1933), stories characterizing people in unfortunate circumstances in Europe.
The Sun Also Rises (1926), the novel that established Hemingway's reputation, is the story of a group of morally irresponsible Americans and Britons living in France and Spain, members of the so-called lost generation of the post-World War I period. Hemingway's second important novel, A Farewell to Arms (1929), is the story of a love affair in wartime Italy between an American officer in the Italian ambulance service and a British nurse. The novel was followed by two nonfiction works, Death in the Afternoon (1932), prose pieces mainly about bullfighting; and Green Hills of Africa (1935), accounts of big-game hunting.
Hemingway's economical writing style often seems simple and almost childlike, but his method is calculated and used to complex effect. Hemingway typically provided detached descriptions of action, using simple nouns and verbs to capture scenes precisely. By doing so, he avoided describing his characters' emotions and thoughts directly. Instead he provided the reader with the raw material of an experience, eliminating the authorial viewpoint and having the text reproduce the actual experience as closely as possible.
Hemingway was also deeply concerned with authenticity in writing. He believed that a writer could treat a subject honestly only if the writer had participated in or observed the subject closely. Without such knowledge, the reader would sense the author's lack of expertise. In addition, Hemingway believed that an author writing about a familiar subject is able to eliminate superfluous detail without sacrificing the voice of authority.
Hemingway's stylistic influence on American writers has been enormous. The success of his plain style in expressing basic yet deeply felt emotions contributed to the decline of the elaborate prose that characterized American writing in the early 20th century. Legions of American writers have cited Hemingway as a major influence on their own work.
In his early work Hemingway used themes of helplessness and defeat, but in the late 1930s his writing began to reflect concerns about social problems. His novel To Have and Have Not (1937) and his play The Fifth Column, published in The Fifth Column and the First Forty-nine Stories (1938), strongly condemned economic and political injustice. Two of his best short stories, “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber” and “The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” were part of the story collection. In the classic novel For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940), which is set during the Spanish Civil War, Hemingway expresses the view that the loss of liberty anywhere in the world is a threat to liberty everywhere.
During the following decade Hemingway's only literary efforts were Men at War: The Best War Stories of All Time (1942), which he edited, and the novel Across the River and into the Trees (1950). In 1952 Hemingway published The Old Man and the Sea, a powerful, short novel about an aged Cuban fisherman and his battle to land a giant marlin. The work won the 1953 Pulitzer Prize in fiction. In 1954 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature. The last work published during Hemingway’s lifetime was Collected Poems (1960).
Hemingway committed suicide in Ketchum, Idaho, in 1961. His posthumously published works include A Moveable Feast (1964), an account of his early years in Paris; Byline: Ernest Hemingway (1967), a collection of selected newspaper articles and dispatches; Ernest Hemingway, Cub Reporter: Kansas City Star Stories (1970); Islands in the Stream (1970), a sea novel; the unfinished novel The Garden of Eden (1986); and True at First Light (1999), a book edited by Hemingway's son Patrick from a draft manuscript.