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Ernest Hemingway- His Early Life 1899-1917


I first read Hemingway in high school. Hemingway was a war veteran, a big game hunter, a deep-sea fisherman, and most important one of the world’s greatest storytellers.

Hemingway always fills me with a great pride and a little sadness. On July 21, 1962, he ended his own life. It was a tragic way to end a journey packed with adventure, travel, awards and more than its share of tragedy.

Ernest Hemingway’s words have touched millions of lives around the world. His tales of adventures allowed his readers to share the excitement in locations they otherwise could not have experienced.

In 1950, the New York Times declared that Ernest Hemingway was the most important writer since the death of Shakespeare. By dedicating his life to the ideal of writing one true sentence, Hemingway revolutionized the face of literature.

Hemingway is the quintessential American writer. Yet, public schools have threatened to ban his books. His macho attitude towards love, death, and war have come under fire by the politically correct.

His life mirrored his writing. His adventures made him an icon of super masculinity. Hemingway was a war hero in Italy, a white hunter in Africa, and an expert deep sea fisherman in Cuba.

Beyond the macho image lay a man touched by tragedy and haunted by death. His genius illuminated the “Lost Generation.” His depression led him into despair and darkness.

“Everyman’s life ends the same way,” wrote Hemingway. “It is only the details of how he lived and how he died that distinguishes one man from another.”

Early Life

Ernest Miller Hemingway was born on July 21, 1899, in Oak Park, Illinois, the oldest son of Clarence “Ed” Hemingway, a physician, and his wife, Grace Hall Hemingway, a music teacher. Ernest’s parents were both strict Christians.

Hemingway Family

Ernest was raised in the Chicago suburb of Oak Park, a place he described as having big lawns and small minds. Like many Victorian children, Ernest was dressed in girl’s clothing as an early age. Until he was six, his mother raised him as a twin to his older sister Marcelline.

baby Ernest

His mother dreamed of being an opera singer. She had a rich voice, and she performed at Madison Square Garden in her youth. Grace couldn’t continue in her career because her eyes were too sensitive to the stage lights.

Grace never let her family forget that she could have been a star. “But I have you, children,” she would say. Settling for life as a music teacher, Grace married Ed Hemingway, a physician in Oak Park, Illinois, just outside of Chicago.

Ed was an avid outdoorsman, and Ernest followed his example. For two months every summer, they would go to a camp in Northern Michigan on a lake. There Ernest was allowed to dress and act like a boy. His father gave him a gun and took him hunting and fishing.

Ed was a rugged man, but it was Grace who had the upper hand. She bullied her husband into developing his hopeless music ability and put him in charge of all their domestic chores.

Hemingway one day wrote of a character like his father, “He was married to a woman with whom he had no more common than a coyote has with a white female poodle. For he was no wolf, my father, he was sentimental. And like all sentimental people, he was cruel.”

Ed was often harsh to his children if they misbehaved. He would often make them pray to God after he whipped them with a razor strap. Sometimes after receiving punishment, Ernest would go out to the shed and take his shotgun and take his dad’s head in his sights.

Sometimes after receiving punishment, Ernest would go out to the shed and take his shotgun and take his dad’s head in his sights.

Yet, Ernest tried to please his parents especially his mother. He would feel a deep guilt over any wrongdoing. Grace remembered Ernest would whip himself, “so, mama won’t have to punish.”

Young Ernest

In high school, Ernest strove to be the center of attention. He would take any dare and laugh it off when he hurt himself. With girls, he was well-liked but very shy.

In high school, Ernest would play football, but he was a poor athlete. So he would make up stories of his heroics on the field. It was in those stories that Hemingway found his true talent.

He began writing for the school newspaper. His short story about a hunter who ends his life in suicide was published in his high school’s literary magazine He also had his first published piece of work in the school newspaper The Trapeze. Hemingway had found a career for life. Ernest attended Oak Park and River Forest High School, graduating in 1917.

Ernest in high school

Ernest decided not to go to college. Instead, he decided to get a job. His uncle was a close friend of the editor of the Kansas City Star. Ernest used his uncle’s contacts to get a job as a cub reporter for the newspaper where he handled the crime beat.

Although he was initially shy about interviewing people about their lives, Hemingway went after reporting with great energy and diligence. The Kansas City Star had its own style book that emphasized short sentences and vigorous English. Hemingway said they were the best rules he ever learned for the business of writing.

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.