Tag Archives: Hemingway hero

Hemingway at War and In Love- 1917-1924

Hemingway’s life was soon to change with the assassination of an Archduke across the Atlantic. In 1917, the fervor of war called to America’s youth and Hemingway was no exception. The United States Army rejected Hemingway for defective vision. He volunteered for the Red Cross Ambulance Division in Italy.

Hemingway the soldier

Ernest’s first induction to the foreign world was during World War I when he went to Italy. There was a war on. So Ernest didn’t have a chance to absorb all the cultural aspects of what was going on around him. He did make some friendships that were very important later on his life.

In Italy, he experienced his first taste of freedom, drinking and carousing with his fellow drivers. Hemingway soon grew anxious for action. He wrote a friend, “I’m fed up. There is nothing here but scenery and too damn much of that. I’m going to get out of this ambulance section and see if I can’t find out where the war is.”

He was about to get his chance. On the night of July 8th, 1918, the Italians were being bombarded by the Austrians from across the Piave River.

Hemingway was delivering cigarettes and chocolate rations to Italian soldiers when a deadly mortar explosion hit near where he was standing. One man was killed, and Hemingway’s knee and leg were riddled with shrapnel.  He said his life floated out of him like a silk handkerchief being pulled out of a breast pocket.

“I tried to breathe but my breath would not come and I felt myself rush bodily out of myself and out and out and out and all the time bodily in the wind. I went out swiftly, all of myself, and I knew I was dead and that it had all been a mistake to think you just died. Then I floated, and instead of going on I felt myself slide back. I breathed and I was back,” From A Farewell To Arms.

According to legend, Hemingway carried a wounded soldier to safety before he collapsed and lost consciousness. He had only been on the front for six days.

Hemingway’s Wounds and Writing

Hemingway had come close to death and almost had his leg amputated. This experience had a profound impact on his work. His father committed suicide when Hemingway was 29 years-old. Some critics believe that Hemingway’s writing is an attempt to make sense out of the trauma of the wounding. Hemingway was obsessed with death. Death was a theme in much of his work.

Hemingway heroes always struggle with death. A Hemingway hero is often a restless man. Hemingway heroes stay awake at night and sleep during the day. Sleep is an elimination of consciousness. Darkness is the night. The night is like death. A Hemingway hero avoids the dark of night so he doesn’t dream or have to face death in the darkness. Hemingway heroes will leave a light on. Avoiding sleep is avoiding the final sleep of death. This is called the concept of the “nada” or nothingness.

The Hemingway hero alone in the darkness the hero will have to face his demons. The hero wants to escape this by visiting a clean, well-lighted place. Alone, with his nothingness the hero will found that he lived a life unfulfilled. That nothingness is a total denial, a failure to make choices about the trauma that the hero has seen and endured.

Life is emptied of meaning and purpose. The hero’s life, his relationship with God, his relationships with friends and family all don’t matter. All the hero has are monotony, routine and the insomnia of sleepless nights.

Some critics believe that Hemingway’s severe wounding in World War I so traumatized the novelist that his fiction was to a great degree unwitting self-psychoanalysis. Much of Hemingway’s fiction is biography. His writing is both an external and internal passage.

Hemingway falls in love

While recuperating at the Red Cross Hospital in Milan, love found Hemingway. Hemingway was captivated by Agnes Von Kurosky, the volunteer American nurse who inspired his most famous love story.

Hemingway wounded

“She had wonderfully beautiful hair and I would lie sometimes and watch her twisting it up in the light that came in the open door and it shone even in the night as water shines sometimes just before it is really daylight,” from A Farewell To Arms.

The intensity of war heightened his feelings for Agnes, who took a liking to the handsome hero. Hemingway told a friend that it was worth getting wounded so he could meet her. They explored the splendors of Milan together.

Ernest and Agnes

During the months of his recuperation, nineteen-year-old Hemingway became increasing enamored with Agnes. Twenty-seven-year-old Agnes was less sure of her love. Agnes’ letters only hinted at a life together.

Hemingway on crutches

Hemingway took this as a sure sign that she wanted to marry him. He hoped their relationship would continue even though his time in Italy was coming to an end.

On New Year’s Eve, he was discharged from the Red Cross and returned to America. Hemingway returned to Oak Park, a war hero in 1919. He had ample opportunity to work on his storytelling. With little regard for the truth, he told hometown papers that he was actually a soldier in the Italian Army and that he had been personally decorated for bravery by the King of Italy.

Hemingway became a local celebrity. But after experiencing life, love, and death in Italy, he felt stifled in small town Oak Park. His state of mind grew worse in a letter from Agnes.

“I am writing this late at night after a long think by myself and I am afraid this is going to hurt you. I was trying to convince myself that it was a real love affair, because we always seem to disagree and our arguments always wore me out that I finally gave in to you to keep you from doing something desperate. But I am now and always be too old, and that’s the truth, and I can’t get away from the fact that you are just a boy- a kid,” said Agnes in a letter to Ernest.

Grace was troubled by her son’s lack of direction. She kicked Ernest out of the house in an effort in what she considered to be the right path.

Hemingway with cane in Oak Park

“Unless you, my son Ernest, cease your lazy loafing and trading on your handsome face to fool gullible little girls, and neglecting your duties to God and your Savior, Jesus Christ; unless, you come into your manhood there is nothing before but bankruptcy- you have overdrawn,” wrote Grace.

Belittled by his love and his family, a depressed Hemingway still had to face his future. Hemingway wrote to a friend, “My family, God bless them, are wolfing at me to go to college. Frankly, I don’t know where the hell to go.”

Ernest decided to go to Chicago, and with his background as a newspaperman, he wrote articles for the Toronto Star and worked odd jobs.

At a party, he met Hadley Richardson, who was visiting Chicago from St. Louis. Hadley had lived a sheltered life under a protective mother. At 29, many predicted that she would be a spinster.

She gained confidence from the more worldly Hemingway. And unlike Agnes loved him despite their eight-year age difference. Five visits and nine months later they were married in 1921.

Ernest and Hadley

Hemingway was encouraged by author Sherwood Anderson to move to Paris. Anderson gave Hemingway letters of introduction to his literary friends on the Left Bank. Lured by the idea of Paris, Hemingway worked a job as a foreign correspondent for the Toronto Star. In 1922, with Hadley’s trust fund, the couple left for a new life in Europe. Ernest was 23 years old.

A Hemingway Fan

Why am I such a big Hemingway Fan?

That’s a great question. I will try and answer it.

I am a closet Hemingway junkie. His books seem to talk about every part of the human condition- action, sex, lies, deceit, love, lust, bravery and passion. I love them all.

A good book in the hands of an admiring reader is a personal relationship, it’s a love affair. Hemingway gave me ways to think deeply about myself and how I viewed the world, especially war.

In his books, I saw the battlefields of Europe, bullfights in Spain, hunted big game in Africa and fished the palm-fringed paradise of the pristine waters of the Gulf Coast of Cuba. Reading an author you love, you can learn a lot.

Hemingway as an old man

This is what I learned from reading Hemingway.

American Literature

American literature is one of the world’s youngest literary art forms. In many ways, it is an offshoot of English literature, over time it has achieved its own independence and vigor.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, the United States produced only a small number of notable writers. In the 19th century, as the country expanded westward and grew, the number increased greatly. By the early 20th century the number of outstanding writers almost became a flood.

Ernest Hemingway may be America’s most famous writer of fiction. His characters and stories made him the most influential writer English prose in the 20th century.

For nearly 40 years he cast a shadow over the American literary scene. His work was imitated, reworked, or assimilated by almost three generations of writers and fans.

The Distinct Hemingway style

Hemingway introduced me to the richness and purpose of spare language. Saying something in simple and succinct prose rather than in an elaborate or, God forbid, boring style.

Hemingway in his prime was de-furnishing, stripping away the English-American writing language of the early 20th Century. He was leaving things out to pull people in. His style soon became the dominant one. We tend to forget that in his time he was an experimental, avant-garde writer.

Hemingway used that style on the oldest American story of them all: the boy who sets out his grand adventure. He made that subject go with his new style of writing. Hemingway is sometimes described as being simple. You will never run to get a dictionary when reading a Hemingway novel.

Hemingway is far from simple. In his writing, he uses pure colors to describe something. The effects are not simple. His simplicity was used to evoke an emotion.

He loved to take sentences and boil them down to their bare bones. His terse, minimalist style of writing stripped away adjectives and, like his heroes got straight to the point.

His clear, simple sentences strike some readers as “hard-boiled” and “tight-lipped.” The opposite is true. His simplicity camouflages deep, hard-to-control passion. A Hemingway scene in short, sharp, with no adjectives text, is a camera “shot” of what the character is doing, seeing, smelling and most important-feeling. Hemingway would describe a scene so you would feel it as if you were really there.

Hemingway as a writer

Hemingway the Writer

Hemingway’s public image as a war correspondent, big-game hunter, and deep sea fisherman competes with his own image as a writer. He is a master of the short story.

To Hemingway, every other pursuit, including drinking, fighting, chasing women, took second place to write. He was almost superstitious about writing. That by talking about it might inhibit his muse. Putting together ideas on paper can be a demanding task.

There are suggestions and tricks of the trade that we can learn by looking at his working habits and advice he gives to aspiring writers. Like in most professions, those who can’t, teach. Writing is something I teach well, lol. By looking at Hemingway’s career as a writer, we can learn a little about the craft.

Man of Letters

First and foremost Hemingway is a literary man- a writer who loved to read books. Sometimes that’s forgotten in all the talk about safaris, deep sea fishing tales and war stories.

Most folks think of Hemingway as a romantic soldier-of-fortune wandering from the bars to the bedrooms of beautiful ladies to watching bullfights. He was a very serious writer, with a self-discipline approaching severe.

The Hemingway Hero Code

There is a cult of manhood around Hemingway. He constantly wrote about the “virility” and “manhood” of his protagonists. He uses action as a way of not having to confront the complexities of the human soul. His heroes deal with their problems by acting, not thinking.

He addresses the way a man should act with personal courage and integrity in the face of inevitable defeat. His heroes are sometimes defeated. Yet, they return to battle and certain death.

Shaping of the Man

Two episodes of Hemingway’s life take shape in his writing. First, a German mortar shell wounded him in World War I. The explosion and wound both nearly kill him.

First, he suffered for months a painful and terrible wound to his right leg. His wounded leg was almost amputated.

Second, his father committed suicide when he was 28 years old. Hemingway was close to his dad, who taught him how to hunt and fish.

The two themes play out again and again in his work.

Dom’s Theory

I am writing a biography of Hemingway based on the provoking theory that Hemingway’s severe wounding in World War I, and the suicide of his dad, so traumatized the novelist that his fiction was to a significant degree unwitting self-psychoanalysis.

As a wounded veteran who lost a beloved father at a young age, these are themes I relate too. The passivity of your emotions due to the chaos of war and overwhelming loss are things avoided at all costs in Hemingway’s stories. His work, I believe, is about him resolving these two issues. Writing about him is my way of resolving my own issues.

His heroes run out- shooting something or getting into a fight. It’s the ultimate act of evasion. I just read and write about Hemingway, lol. Okay, time to move on and finish this one out- stay curious and work hard!

Hemingway- An Introduction


Ernest Hemingway was one of the top novelists of his day. His unique “hard-boiled” writing style profoundly influenced generations of writers.

Most readers are familiar with Hemingway. He is almost required reading in most high school English classes. His novels feature stoic heroes facing death. He wrote seven novels and six collections of short stories that have sold millions of copies around the world. His fiction incorporated a level of realism, violence, and sex that was previously unknown. Although by today’s standards, it’s relatively tame.

Ernest Hemingway

Like some other successful authors, Hemingway started as a reporter, writing for the Kansas City Star. He left the paper to be an ambulance driver in Italy. On July 8, 1918, just before his nineteenth birthday, he was severely wounded. He endured twelve surgeries to remove hundreds of fragments of a mortar shell in his right leg. His experiences in World War I form the basis of two of his novels The Sun Also Rises and A Farewell To Arms.

Later Hemingway and his first wife Hadley moved to Paris in 1921. Hemingway worked as a foreign correspondent from 1921 to 1924. With the publication of his first novel in 1924, Hemingway became a novelist. He settled in Paris to devote himself to writing.

Hemingway began writing during a time when World War I had just ended and Americans and the world were coping with the aftermath. The Industrial Revolution changed warfare in World War I. Tens of thousands of men were killed in a single day.

WWI was a turning point in history. For the first time technology was used for mass violence on an almost industrial scale. Many veterans, including Hemingway, were changed forever by what they saw and did.

The survivors would later call it the worst catastrophe that the world has ever seen. It gave away a sense of doom that gave birth to “Lost Generation,” the generation that came of age during World War I. The term became popular when Hemingway used it in his novel, The Sun Also Rises.

After World War I, a new sense of social and cultural change gripped America. Hemingway took the gritty, raw approach, creating novels that were brutally honest and direct with readers. Hemingway didn’t mince words when it came to topics like sex, violence, and death. Even though critics were often shocked by what he wrote, the public loved Hemingway’s direct, simple style, short sentences with terse prose. Hemingway was a stylistic break from the flower, descriptive language of American and British novels of the nineteen century.

Hemingway assembled his novels on an old manual Smith Corona typewriter. His novels were short by today’s standards. His simple prose is straightforward in a non-whitewashed style. Hemingway was known for his constant editing and “pruning” of words.

Some of Hemingway’s novels are perceived political incorrectness because he writes about issues like homophobia and racism. His writing is a reflection of the time he lived in. His work highlights the double standard and moral conflict of sex and love prominent in the early 20th century. Frederic Henry in A Farewell To Arms, and Jake Barnes in The Sun Also Rises are both cynical and disillusioned with women. Some criticize Hemingway’s attitude towards women as sadistic and dismissive.

Critics also found fault with Hemingway’s violent, punch-‘em first mentality. His lead men speak in brief sentences and avoid sentiment. They aren’t emotional, and they don’t wallow in self-pity. Most of Hemingway’s heroes are lonely and disillusioned with a restless trigger finger and a need for action.

Hemingway’s heroes foreshadowed the type of tough guy characters played by actors John Wayne and Charles Bronson. The notion of manhood in Hemingway’s novels were defined in the post-World War I era. Many fans see Hemingway’s books as an allegory for life and war.

Hemingway was an author ahead of his time. He had a significant impact on the development of fiction. His terse writing style of simple actions in short, direct sentences paved the way for generations of writers that followed. Other writers after him filled their fiction with sex and violence far beyond anything that Hemingway could have imagined.