Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Ernest Hemingway as a Novelist


Ernest Miller Hemingway was an American author and journalist. His economical and understated style had a strong influence on 20th-century fiction, while his life of adventure and his public image influenced later generations. He was famous for his novels, short stories and essays, with works that include: "The Sun Also Rises" (1926), "A Farewell to Arms" (1929), "For Whom the Bell Tolls" (1940) and "The Old Man and the Sea" (1952). Many of his works are considered classics of American literature.

As a novelist, Hemingway is often assigned a place among the writers of ‘the lost generation’, along with Faulkner, Fitzgerald, John Dos Passos and Sinclair Lewis. These writers, including Ernest Hemingway, tried to show the loss the First World War had caused in the social, moral and psychological spheres of human life. They also reveal the horror, the fear and the futility of human existence.

Hemingway grew up under the influence of his father who encouraged him to develop outdoor interests such as swimming, fishing and hunting. His early boyhood was spent in the northern woods of Michigan among the native Indians, where he learned the primitive aspects of life such as fear, pain, danger and death. He was passionately involved with bullfighting, big game hunting and deep sea fishing, and his writing reflects this. When the Second World War broke out, he took an active part and offered to lead a suicide squadron against the Nazi U Boats. But in the course of the war, he fell ill and was nursed by Mary Walsh, who eventually became his fourth wife and continued to be with him until his death. In 1954, he survived two plane crashes in the African jungle. His adventures and tryst with destiny made him a celebrity all over the English speaking world.

His fortunes took a turn for the worse, when Fidel Castro came to power and ordered the Americans out of Cuba. It proved a great shock to Hemingway and added to his agony over the decline of his creative talents. He fell victim to acute fits of depression and attempted suicide twice. He was hospitalized and treated for his psychological problems. But after a few months of doubts, anxieties and depression, he shot himself on the 2nd of July 1961, bringing to an end one of the most eventful and colorful lives of our times.

An Excellent Story Teller            

A Farewell to Arms shows Hemingway’s talent for story-telling. Although the novel contains two stories—one about war and the other about love—they have successfully been inter-woven and fused. The narrative is so gripping that we read the book breathlessly till the very end. The story has all the ingredients to give it a popular appeal—action, adventure, violence, excitement, suspense.

In fact all of Hemingway’s novels and stories are full of these elements. His short story The Killers abounds in suspense and his novel The Old Man and the Sea is a tale of an unhappy adventure of Santiago.

Themes of His Novels

Written in a simple but unconventional style, with the problems of war, disappointment, violence and death as their themes, his novels present a symbolic interpretation of life.

His preoccupation with violence and death has especially been noted and commented upon by critics as the cult of death, a death wish, an obsession with death and so on. Hemingway himself said that death, violent death, was one of the subjects about which he most wanted to write. One critic goes so far as to say that “in reality Hemingway has only one theme—death”. A Farewell to Arms depicts the violence of war. But apart from that, the dominant emotion behind this story is one of disappointment, suffering, defeat, and despair. The theme of The Old Man and the Sea is that a man is born courageous. He can be destroyed but not defeated.

Hemingway - himself a great sportsman - liked to portray soldiers, hunters, bullfighters whose courage and honesty are set against the brutal ways of modern society.

The Hemingway Hero and The Hemingway Code

Hemingway conceives his protagonists as alienated individuals fighting a losing battle against the odds of life with courage, endurance and will as their only weapons. The Hemingway hero is a lonely individual, wounded either physically or emotionally. He exemplifies a code of courageous behavior in a world of irrational destruction. He offers up and exemplifies certain principles of honor, courage and endurance in a life of tension and pain which make a man a man. He is conscious of the fact that, through no fault of his own, life proves to be a disappointing affair. However, the solution to the problem is not a mood of hopelessness or pessimism because that would be a denial of life.

The Hemingway Hero is not a coward, and his capacity for a stoic endurance of his sad fate means a kind of victory even in defeat.

The finest and best known of these code-heroes is Santiago in The Old Man and the Sea. The chief point about Santiago is that he behaves perfectly—honorably, with great courage and endurance—while losing to the sharks, the giant fish he has caught. This is life; such is the message the code hero always brings; one must lose, of course; what counts is how one behaves while one is being destroyed.

The Use of Symbolism

There is often an element of symbolic writing in Hemingway’s novels. Carlos Baker has pointed out the use of mountains and plains as symbolizing Home and Not-Home respectively in A Farewell to Arms. Even more striking is the use of rain as a symbol of disaster in this novel: it is raining when Henry parts with Catherine in Milan to go back to his duties; it is raining during the Caporetto retreat; it is raining when Henry confronts the Italian military police; it is raining when Catherine dies.

In The Old Man and the Sea, Santiago stands for humanity. His courage and determination make him fight against the odds of life. His struggle indicates that man’s greatness lies in his power to stay. The sea in this novel represents a sacred field where Santiago finds his personal identity. The boy Manolin is the symbol of the old man’s lost youth. Similarly the repeated attacks of sharks; Santiago’s thinking of DiMaggio, the baseball champion and his dreaming of lions—all have symbolic significance.

Autobiographical Elements in His Writings

Hemingway’s interesting life could easily be perceived through his writing. His 62 years were packed with excitement. Living through adventure after adventure, he told stories of his life and love on the Left Bank in Paris, of death and bull-fights he saw in Spain, the fierce beasts he hunted in the African Jungles, the two world wars in which he played a part in Europe, and a giant 1000 pound fish he battled off the coast of Cuba.

When Hemingway was in Italy for World War I, he was an ambulance driver (like Frederic Henry in A Farewell To Arms), fell in love with an older woman who was his nurse there (as Frederic falling in love with his nurse, Catherine Barkley), and his wife had a difficult labor while delivering their son, Patrick (like in the end of the story when Catherine delivers a stillborn baby, then dies). His experiences on the war front form the theme of another best seller ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’. The story of Santiago’s catching and losing a gigantic fish in The Old Man and the Sea is also based on Hemingway’s own experience.

Hemingway's Style

A great deal has been written about Hemingway’s distinctive style. In fact, the two great stylists of twentieth-century American literature are William Faulkner and Ernest Hemingway, and the styles of the two writers are so vastly different that there can be no comparison.

Ernest Hemingway did more to change the style of English prose than any other writer in the twentieth century, and for his efforts he was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1954. Short and solid sentences, delightful dialogues, and a painstaking hunt for an apt word or phrase to express the exact truth, are the distinguishing features of his style. “A writer’s style,” he said, “should be direct and personal, his imagery rich and earthy, and his words simple and vigorous.”

For the most part his prose is colloquial, characterized chiefly by simplicity of diction and sentence structure. The words are normally short and common ones and there is severe economy, and also a curious freshness, in their use. He evokes an emotional awareness in the reader by a highly selective use of suggestive pictorial detail, and has done for prose what Eliot has done for poetry.

To sum up, Hemingway is one of the most promising classic novelists of all time. He eventually gained huge recognition and raked in award after award. His writing is more than just adventurous stories; his novels and short stories, presents human life as a perpetual struggle which ends only in death. Moreover, he helped to set the style for the modern novel. His lean, muscular prose and dramatic plots have, perhaps, been copied more than any other modern author’s and his work has been translated into all the world’s major languages. The influence of his work has continued through the years, not only on American literature but worldwide. His novels have been made into successful films. You have not read American classic until you’ve read an Ernest Hemingway novel.

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