Hemingways Literature

Hemingway's Literature


It is very essential to know about the most important facts of Hemingway's biography, because almost all his stories have autobiographical aspects.

His main attitudes in his works are: the attitudes of tight-lipped and stoical disillusionment in a world of senseless and sudden violence, the absence of faith but the cultivation of composure (Gelassenheit), the code of understatement, wry(schief,verzerrt) sardonic(zynisch), wit (Verstand) and a slightly self-pitying 'toughness' (leichte selbstbemitleidende Härte) .

Ernest Miller Hemingway was born on July 21st, 1899, in Oak Park, near Chicago. He lived there with his father, MD Clarence E. Hemingway and his mother Grace Hemingway.

His father was a special person, above all because of one fact: he had the ability to move his eyes faster and to see over bigger distances more clearly than other human beings. Because of this fact he was a very nervous person, who was very sensitive and faster agitated(aufgeregt) than any other human being. From his childhood on and during his whole life his heritage(Erbe) had a great impact on Ernest. So he got from his father the unmistakable inclination(Neigung) to sentimentality and above all to his frightening, almost tragic loneliness, which drove Clarence Hemingway to commit suicide.

His mother Grace had the same bold(mutige) energy and aesthetic sensitiveness as Ernest.

Every summer Hemingway's family drove up to Walloon Lake in North Michigan and stayed there until autumn. There far away from any form of civilisation, his very close relation to nature, which you can find in all of his books, began to develop.

Ernest visited Oak Park High school, a very respected school. There he was a pupil who achieved sporting performances just as well as studying seriously.

In 1915 he began to write seriously, at first only for his own and then he detected(bemerkte) his abilities and developed them. Ernest started to write for a school magazine, sometimes he even wrote three articles in one issue.

In this time, at the age of 17, he wrote some short stories being inspired by Jack London. For most of these stories he digested(verwendete) the memory of his days in North Michigan.

After he had passed the final exam, he didn't go to University as he had planned, but he became a reporter for the 'Kansas City Star', which even nowadays is one of the best newspapers in the United States. There Hemingway learned to obey the famous 110 style-rules:

"The best rules I have ever learned for the craft(Fertigkeit) of writing. I have never forgotten them. Everyone who has got a little talent, who feels and writes honestly about the things he wants to express, inevitably has to write good things, if he keeps to these rules." (Ernest Hemingway)

At the Star the reporters were forced to write simple and explanatory(erklärend) sentences. Some of the style-rules said: Build short sentences! Write a short introduction! Use powerful English! And so did Hemingway as his literature proofs.

When the first World War started Ernest wanted to take part but because of his glasses he only could do service at the 'Red Cross Ambulance Corps'. He became a driver of an ambulance at the Piave front in Italy where he suffered his famous traumatic wound. He spent three months in a hospital in Milan, was awarded with a medal and had an unsuccessful love-affair.

Hemingway's youth ended in 1921 when he, as a foreign correspondent of the 'Toronto Star', and his young wife Hadley boarded a ship to Europe. They settled down in Paris. There Hemingway got into the circle of Gertrude Stein and Ezra Pound, both having a pessimistic literary basic attitude. Gertrude Stein coined(prägte) the expression 'lost generation' for the generation of the first World War. Hemingway was a very active member of the Parisian-American literary scene and in these days he had the most creative and hectic years.

More and more the author Ernest Hemingway got the upper hand over the journalist Ernest Hemingway. His first book 'The sun also rises', published in 1926, was a great success.

Because of his books he got rich and seemed outwardly satisfied, but inwardly Hemingway was full of restlessness and love of adventure. Because of this, in 1933, he and his wife started a four months' trip through Africa. But after one month this safari was interrupted by a disease of Ernest. He was brought to hospital in Nairobi where he first saw the snows of Kilimanjaro. The memory of this made him write 'The Snows of Kilimanjaro'.

During the Spanish Civil War Hemingway returned to his role as a reporter becoming war correspondent in Spain. There he met the whole cruelty(Grausamkeit) of a war. His impressions of this war he digested in the novel 'For Whom The Bell Tolls'.

In 1954 Hemingway received the Nobel Prize of literature.

On July 2nd at 7 a.m., Ernest Hemingway went downstairs in his house in Ketchum to take his favourite gun, which was specially made for him. He put the two barrels into his mouth and pulled the trigger.

The thoughts of the suicide of his father probably contributed to his decision as much as the perpetual desire to have power over life and death.

Until today it isn't totally clear if it has been an accident or suicide, but everyone supposes that it was suicide.

On the gravestone of a citizen of Ketchum, who died in a hunting accident is something written, that could just as well have been written on the grave of Ernest Hemingway: "He returned to the hills he loved and he will be a part of them forever."

The Snows of Kilimanjaro:

This book contains 18 very different 'short stories':

The snows of Kilimanjaro:

This is the story of a person called Harry who is on a safari through Africa with his wife. He injures himself and his wound becomes infected, but the cars of the expedition team run out of gas and so they are stuck in the desert waiting for a plane to rescue them. Harry feels that he must die and insults(beleidigen) his wife to tell her his true feelings. His wife Helen is very rich and he tells her that only her damned money was his amour. He complains that the rich society has dulled(beschränkt) his ability to write and work. Despite the insulting his wife again confesses her love for him and tries to comfort him that soon the plane will come and rescue him. But Harry knows that he has to die, he feels tired and begins to reflect upon his former life, his numerous relations with women and his time in the war being sorry that he doesn't have the time to write about so many things he wanted to write. He falls asleep and dreams of the plane coming to rescue him and during the flight he sees the snow lying on the top of Kilimanjaro. As he dies he knows that this is the place he is going to.

This story is based on the experience of the author during a safari in Africa. In these days he felt sick with dysentery(Ruhr), a disease most of the people died of in former days because there were no antibiotics. On the flight to hospital Hemingway saw the snow-covered top of the Kilimanjaro for the first time. The author digested his memory of this to the story 'The snows Kilimanjaro'. Hemingway's alter ego Harry, the main character of the story has made all experiences of the author - the war, numerous relationships with women,

Harry's suffer is that he isn't sure if he married his wife only because of the money. His second suffer is that he has stopped to write about the real goods of life.

The two main actions are the quarrel between Harry and his husband and the flash-backs which are coined by the experiences of the author, above all in Europe. These flash-backs have their tragic meanings because of the fact, that Harry realises that there were so many worth-writing events in all these years and he neglected to write about them.

Hemingway describes very authentically the life-threatening situation in which Harry begins to reflect upon his former life and the things he has forgotten to do or he wanted to do in the future.

At the end of the story Hemingway uses a very beautiful picture for heaven - the impressing view of the snow-covered top of Kilimanjaro.

Up in Michigan:

This is story of Jim Gilmore who comes to Horton's Bay to become blacksmith and Liz Coates who falls in love with him. But Liz is too shy to confess her feelings. After a party Jim is drunken and asks Liz to go for a walk with him. So they walk to the harbour and Jim wants to make love with her, but during the sexual intercourse Jim falls asleep.

This short story deals with the relationship between a man, Jim and a woman Liz. It shows a very pessimistic view of life because Liz is very disappointed by her desire for Jim who falls asleep when they make love. It could also be an allusion(Bezugnahme) to the author's unsuccessful love-affair during the First World War and it could reflect the negative basic attitude of the 'lost generation', which is coined by Gertrude Stein who had a great influence on the author. In this story the experience of being tested is presented like in many other stories by Hemingway.

Indian Camp:

Nick, his father who is a doctor and his uncle George go to an Indian camp to help an Indian woman to get her baby. But there are complications during the birth and his father has to make a Caesarean using a normal knife. He does the operation successfully but as they want to leave they find the father of the baby who has cut his throat because he couldn't stand the crying and the pain of his wife. The doctor apologises to his son for taking him to the camp.

The doctor and the doctor's wife:

Nick's father gets in a quarrel with an Indian worker who says that the wood they have to prepare for his father has been stolen. Nick's father gets so angry that he leaves them going home. He takes out his shotgun and goes for a walk with Nick.

Both short stories 'Indian camp' and 'The doctor and the doctor's wife' are very autobiographical and digest the experiences of the author of his childhood when he spent his summer in Walloon Lake in the nature near an Indian camp.

In 'Indian camp' Nick, the alter ego of Hemingway, is observing how a new life is born and how his father, the doctor, is helping the new life to get into the world. But the happy event of the birth is overshadowed by the tragic suicide of his father who couldn't cope with the pain and danger of the birth. The suicide alludes to the suicide of Hemingway's father who also committed suicide.

'The doctor and the doctor's wife' is also an autobiographical story in which the author describes his father the doctor.

The end of something:

Nick and his girlfriend Marjorie row out to an island to fish. During the trip they begin to quarrel and Nick confesses that he doesn't love her anymore. Marjorie leaves him and Nick is sad.

In this story Hemingway's alter ego ends a relationship with his girl-friend. The author could have digested his many experiences and his various relationships with women in this story.

The three day blow:

Nick visits his friend Bill who is alone at home. They enjoy themselves talking about baseball, about their favourite literature and their fathers. During their conversation they get drunken of whiskey. Nick also talks about his relationship with Marjorie which has ended. Later they decide to go hunting.

In this story Hemingway once again reflects through his alter ego about literature, sports and his father.

The battler:

Nick goes away from home on a train. As he gets off the train nowhere, he catches sight of a fire. He heads for the fireplace, where an ugly looking man is sitting who was a fighter in former times. The fighter is crazy but Nick starts a conversation with him. Later-on the friend of the fighter, a black man called Bugs, comes. They all eat together ham and scrambled eggs. As Nick wants to cut off a slice of bread with his knife the crazy fighter asks him to hand it to him. Bugs warns him not to hand it to him. But now the fighter gets angry and wants to fight with Nick. But Bugs hits him on the head and he goes down losing his consciousness(Bewußtsein). Excusing for his friend he advises Nick to leave the place before the fighter returns to consciousness.

In this story the author's fascination for fighters and the character of the fighter, which is typical for Hemingway and his tragic fate(Schicksal) (in former times he was successful now he is crazy because of the many punches he had to take) is presented.

Soldier's home:

This is the story of Krebs a soldier who returns home a few years after the end of the First World War. But he doesn't feel good in his home town. Nobody congratulates him and there is no solemn (feierlich) welcome. He can't gain(gain) foothold in his home town after so many years of war after having stayed abroad. So his parents are concerned about his future and want him to get a job to marry a girl and to settle down. Krebs has lost his bearings(Orientierung) and doesn't want to fulfil the plans of his parents.

In 'Soldier's home' the author also tells us about his life. In this story the tragic fate of a very sensitive soldier, who can't live a normal life after the cruelties he has experienced during the war, is described. It could be an allusion to Hemingway digesting his feelings after the war.

The revolutionist:

The story is about a shy Magyar who is travelling through Italy trying to convince his friends of the world revolution. He has suffered under the fascist aggression. Leaving Italy he gets imprisoned in Switzerland.

Mr and Mrs Elliot:

This story is the description of the relationship between Mr and Mrs Elliot. The married couple has one big desire namely to have a baby. They try it very intensively but they have no success. So they start for a journey through Europe. In France Mr Elliot buys a Chateau where the couple settles down. Mrs Elliot invites her best girlfriend to live with her and Mr Elliot starts to write poems and to enjoy excellent white wines. Both are very happy and satisfied with their lives.

In this story Hemingway describes the desire of a couple for having a baby substituting it by other things (such as the relation to a friend or working on literature) when not being able to fulfil this desire.

The cat in the rain:

An American couple is living in a hotel in Italy. It is raining outside and the man is reading a book. His wife is looking out of the window watching the rain. She catches sight of a cat getting wet through the rain drops. She wants to stroke it and hold it in her arms so she goes downstairs and looks for the cat. A chambermaid of the hotel follows her with an umbrella. Not being able to find the cat she returns disappointedly to her room complaining to her husband that she leads an unhappy life. Suddenly somebody knocks at the door. It is the chambermaid holding the wet cat in her arms saying that the hotel keeper had asked her to bring this for the lady.

Cross-country snow:

Nick and his friend George are skiing downhill through a wonderful winter landscape. They have much fun and finally enter an inn. In the inn a pregnant waitress is serving who reminds Nick of his girlfriend Helen who also gets a baby. Nick and Helen will go back to the United States but they don't really want to. George thinks that this will be the last time they will go skiing together but Nick says that they have to go skiing again.

My old man:

This story is the description of a father given by his son. He describes the intense relationship between his father and him: that they go jogging together to keep the weight down or that they attend horse races where his father gets tips of the winners. Once his father himself starts in a horse race and his son watches him excitedly. But during the race his father falls from the horse and dies.

In 'My old man' the author describes the intense relationship between a father and his son. But tragically the father is taken from the son through his unexpected death. This might be an allusion to the suicide of Hemingway's father.

Big two - hearted river I:

This is the story of Nick who goes hiking through a burnt landscape. Tired from his long walk, he makes a camp pitching(aufschlagen) his tent. Nick makes a fire where he boils water for his coffee and cooks beans and spaghetti. Then he crawls into his tent to sleep.

Big two-hearted river II:

This is the sequel of part I. The next day Nick gets up in the morning and tries to catch grasshoppers as bait. After having caught some he goes to the river for fishing. There he catches a very big trout(Forelle) which breaks off his fishing rod(Angelrute). Thinking of another way to catch this big fish, he uses a trap in the water. Finally he gets the trout and enjoys his success.

The old man and the sea by Ernest Hemingway:


The old man and the sea is a novella, that is a long short story and is not divided into chapters or numbered sections.

The story is about Santiago, an old Cuban fisherman who hasn't caught a fish for eighty-four days. Because of his bad luck Manolin, a little boy and Santiago's friend who helped him on the boat, isn't allowed to go fishing with him anymore. So he goes out alone and tries to stop his run of bad luck by catching a big fish. Actually Santiago catches a fish, bigger than his boat and because of the great dimensions and strength the fish pulls the boat heading north. Santiago has to bear the whole weight of the fish by a line around his back. The old man endures(erträgt) much pain and has to do with little sleep and food. For three days and two nights he has to bear this situation. In this time Santiago begins to reflect upon his former life, upon the fish which now he calls 'brother' and upon nature. He dreams of lions on the coasts of Africa and is angry that he didn't take the boy Manolin with him whose help he could need now. But the fish also gets exhausted and on the third day Santiago gets the fish close enough to the boat to drive his harpoon into the fish's side. It leaps once with a crash of spray and is dead. Even now there is labour for Santiago who has to lash the fish's body alongside the boat. But the blood of the fish attracts sharks which are attacking the dead fish. The old man fights against them but only the skeleton of the fish arrives at the harbour. Santiago is very sad because there was a close relationship between him and the fish. He lumbers to his shack and falls asleep dreaming his dream of Africa and the lions.



He is old and poor; he reminisces(sich errinnern) and has his dreams, like most old men. He is dignified(würdevoll), patient, modest and physically powerful. He has feelings of tenderness and pity - for example for the boy, for birds, for the fish he catches. He respects the sea and the things of the sea. Santiago is both active and contemplative(besinnlich). Sometimes he is able to stand outside his practical life and see it in larger terms. Santiago shows a kind of pride that is almost theatrical at times, and that we might identify as being characteristically 'Spanish'. He is made individual, but he also embodies(Ausdruck verleihen) different kinds of types:

something of the literary type - the daring(waghalsig) folk-hero slaying a sea-monster

the human type - the old fisherman who has seen much, is closer to nature than other people


The boy Manolin is a type too, not an individual. He is the faithful apprentice(Lehrnende), who looks after the old man, studies his ways and embodies hope for the future.


The main events of the story seem to have been based on a real incident, described by Hemingway in an article about fishing in the Gulf Stream in Esquire for April 1936:

Another time an old man fishing alone in a skiff(Einer) out of Cabanas hooked(haken) a great marlin that, on the heavy handline, pulled the skiff far out to sea. Two days later the old man was picked up by fishermen sixty miles to the eastward, the head and forward part of the marlin lashed alongside. What was left of this fish, less than half, weighed eight hundred pound. The old man had stayed with him a day, a night, a day and another night while the fish swam deep and pulled the boat. When he had come up the old man had pulled the boat up on him and harpooned him. Lashed alongside the sharks had hit him and the old man had fought them out alone in the Gulf Stream in a skiff. He was crying in the boat when the fishermen picked him up, half crazy from his loss, and the sharks were still circling the boat.

It is quite sure that the original old man has been Anselmo Hernandez, a local fisherman who was known to Hemingway.


Many critics discussed this work of Hemingway finding in it detailed Christian allegory, profound examination of the problems of evil and suffering, existentialism, the quest for the Holy Grail and so on. It is no trivial story; but it would be wrong to overload it with such solemn meanings. Hemingway himself wrote:

" A serious writer is not to be confused with a solemn writer. A serious writer may be a hawk or a buzzard, but a solemn writer is always a bloody owl."

The story should be seen as a brilliantly simple and precise fiction.

Hemingway once described the intention in writing this story: "I tried to make a real old man, a real boy, a real sea and a real fish and real sharks." (Time, 13 December 1954)

Hemingway's narration focuses on simple things and acts. He describes everything very realistically almost like a photograph, but it is more than a photograph which only can show surfaces whereas the book is able to tell us the "inner truth" of things and events. Hemingway also appeals to our senses, taste for example. He describes the taste of beans and rice, with fried bananas; the taste of hot coffee out of a condensed-milk tin; the sweetness of raw dolphin-flesh; the sweet, coppery taste of man's own blood.

The use of colour is equally excellent. He demonstrates us how colours shift and change in their relationship.

"The clouds over the land now rose like mountains and the coast was only a long green line with the grey-blue hill behind it. The water was a dark blue now, so dark that it was almost purple. As he looked down into it he saw the red sifting of the plankton in the dark water and the strange light the sun made now." (short extract of page 27/28)

The use of colour like the use of taste, is never excessive and is used with economy.

Hemingway also emphasises touch and uses it skilfully in the episode where Santiago first hooks the fish. There is a firm bond of touch between the old man and the fish that is only broken by the death of one. The beginning of this firm relationship is marked in the following text:

"He reached out for the line and held it softly between the thumb and the forefinger of his right hand. He felt no strain nor weight and he held the line lightly. Then it came again. This time it was a tentative pull, not solid nor heavy, and he knew exactly what it was. One hundred fathoms down a marlin was eating the sardines

Eat them, fish. Eat them. Please eat them. How fresh they are and you down there six hundred feet in that cold water in the dark. He felt the line delicately pulling and then a harder pull when a sardine's head must have been more difficult to break from the hook. Then there was nothing.

'Come on,' the old man said aloud. 'Make another turn. Just smell them. Aren't they lovely? Eat them good now and then there is the tuna. Hard and cold and lovely. Don't be shy, fish. Eat them.'"

In this text the amazing tense(Spannung) link between two worlds, the human world of sea-surface and light, and the fish-world of blackness and cold, can be felt. Santiago communicated with the fish and when the sharks eat the fish he feels as if the sharks ate a part of his own body.

Different feelings are also important elements of the story:

We find pity, admiration, a touch of nostalgia, anger, contempt(Verachtung) and many other feelings in this story. Most of the feelings are controlled by the dominant experience of being tested. The reader shares in the sense of certain human powers being stretched to the point of breaking. He fears himself, as he reads. He shares in moments of relief(Erleichterung).

Hemingway's language:

There is one very important, characteristic and famous element in Hemingway's literature - the language.

His training to become a reporter for the 'Kansas City Star' and its famous 110 style-rules had a great impact on Hemingway's language. There he was forced to write simple explanatory sentences.

His language avoids complicated syntax, and where it doesn't use a simple, short sentence it connects the various parts of the sentence in a straightforward, consecutive(aufeinaderfolgend) way, often linked by 'and'. It uses adjectives and abstract nouns sparingly, it focuses with intensity on specific details.

Here is an example of the language of 'The old man and sea':

He rested for what he believed to be two hours. the noon did not rise now until late and he had no way judging the time. Nor was he really resting except comparatively. He was still bearing the pull of the fish across his shoulders but he placed his left hand on the gunwale of the bow(Bug) and confided(anvertrauen) more and more of resistance to the skiff itself.

His style makes us share in the story, it is the link between the reader and the story. In order to build up the world of the figures in his literature more realistically he uses for example Spanish expressions in his novel about the Spanish Civil War.

Hemingway's language is famous for its uncomplicated style. The simple sentences and the repeated rhythms take on a biblical note and hint(Hinweis at the profundities that the surface of the language tries to ignore. It tells us to look with a new directness and clarity at life and it imposes itself as a distinct lens or filter between the reader and what he observes.

In my opinion Hemingway really achieved to make the reader share in the story, to make him experience the action of the book through his style of writing.


Ernest Hemingway: The old man and the sea, Arrow Books

Ernest Hemingway: The snows of Kilimanjaro, Arrow Books

Secondary literature:

A. N. Jeffare/Suheil Bushrui: The old man and the sea, Longman literature guides

Georges-Albert Astre: Hemingway, Rowohlt