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.
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.