Reflection of Ernest Hemingway’s Background on His Literature Essay

More than a hundred years ago this remarkable man and great writer of the 20th century was born. His life and his creative work were a single whole. Many generations in all countries looked at this world by his eyes and expressed their feelings with his words. Such gift is given only to a few on the earth. Probably, it is difficult to find more outstanding and original personality in the world literature than American writer Ernest Hemingway. A man of brilliant talent, extreme will-power, masculine fascination, kindness and humanism, he left a deep eternal trace in the history of culture.

People throughout the world remember and love him, many times rereading his novels “The Sun Also Rises”, “Farewell to Arms”, “For Whom the Bell Tolls”, parable “The Old Man and the Sea” and other. But Hemingway’s own life on its versatility and dramatic character is highly competitive with any adventure novel. The purpose of this study is to scrutinize how Hemingway’s background affected his creative activity and reflected on his literature. Towards this end we will consider his social origin, education and further course of life in parallel with his works, and make the conclusions.

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He grew up in Oak Park – a “moral outpost from Chicago” (Reynolds, 1996, p. 29). His father was an obstetrician, and mother was a professional musician. Due to her, Ernest got musical training. Out of this background came Hemingway’s compulsion to public performance and his understanding of counterpoint, which he used to advantage in his writing (Paul, 2004). At Oak Park and River Forest High School, Hemingway took the then standard pre-college curriculum. He also wrote humorous pieces for the school newspaper and the literary magazine.

Here he acquired the cultural background he needed for the next step in his life (Reynolds, 1996). The heritage of his father’s Puritanism with its ideals of hard-work, self-control, self-denial, and merciless honesty determined the character profile of many of his heroes whose moral code assumed almost religious dimensions. It was also his mother who encouraged her son’s literary interests. Her theatrical talent inculcated in him a strong desire for fame and success and, in consequence, a compulsive tendency towards heroic self-dramatization (Reynolds, 2000).

Though his father wanted Hemingway to attend medical college as he had, Hemingway went to work for the Kansas City Star instead and received no formal education beyond high school, no further training in the art of writing beyond the newsroom (Paul, 2004). Yet he managed to won both the Pulitzer Prize for fiction and the Nobel Prize for literature (Burgum, 1950). In early 1918 Hemingway signed on as a recruit for the Red Cross ambulance service in Italy and left The Kansas City Star being a trained reporter which enabled him to profit considerably more from his Italian experiences than if he had been able to enlist directly from high school.

He took with him too “a reservoir of material upon which he could draw when he began his serious writing in 1919″ (Paul, 2004, p. 13). His Italian experience led directly to one novel, “A Farewell to Arms”, and to at least ten short stories (Paul, 2004). “A Farewell to Arms” gives the history of those basic emotional reactions which culminated in the maladies of the postwar generation, and marks Hemingway, from the outset of his career, as pre-eminently the novelist of the ‘lost generation’ of the twenties.

This novel transformed his short wartime service and failed love affair into the tale of a soldier without illusions choosing love over war, with fatal consequences. The cynicism that was uppermost in war veterans of Hemingway’s generation produced a new type of American personality, which it was Hemingway’s distinction to translate into fiction. Bitterness had grown in them because the war had disturbed their normal expectations from life at an age when these were most promising. Not knowing precisely who or what was to blame, they had an impulse to blame anybody or anything.

Hemingway’s greatness lies in his characterization of these feelings of ‘the lost generation’ and the suppleness of his style in doing this (Burgum, 1950). Hemingway not only used his own character in his writings but he often used his friends as well. For instance, his friend Harold Loeb served a model for Robert Cohn in “The Sun Also Rises” (Reynolds, 1996), besides he portrayed Agnes von Kurowsky – an American nurse whom he met being in the hospital in Italy – as Catherine Barkley in “A Farewell to Arms” and in several short stories (Paul, 2004).

The characteristics of his style are his economy and mastery of dialogue. At its best, style should enhance or reveal meaning, and Hemingway’s does. He writes simple sentences, but he does not write simply (Boardman, 1992). This talent evidently descends as early as from his journalist experience in the Kansas City Star. He never joined any military organization nor served officially as a combatant in any war, yet he is identified with the subject of war more closely than probably any other writer.

He managed to get wounded during the First World War, bombed in the Spanish Civil War, and to come under fire again during the Second World War at the liberation of Paris, and the Battle of the Bulge. These war experiences determined the range of his literary personages. Like himself, Hemingway’s characters are men and women of action, tempered or broken by violence – suicide, bullfights, war, struggle. All are fierce in their passion, even when that passion is dampened by events (Raeburn, 1984). Hemingway knew exactly why humans are miserable – they have to die.

And he reveals this causality to the reader everywhere without ever telling about it. Hemingway was certain that life is a tragedy – the conclusion from his war experience, and his favorite metaphor for fate is, of course, war (Boardman, 1992). Scholars recognize that Hemingway’s style has become a literary obsession (Portch, 1985). His works have been part of the American literary canon. The lust for life that formed Hemingway as a personality was evident in his fiction: the appetite for good food and wine, the rapture of being outdoors, the adrenaline rush of panic on the battlefield and then the relief of surviving another attack.

His male characters are stoic, laconic men of action. They rarely display emotion, lacking any sense of humor except bitter irony. Hemingway’s works clearly demonstrate that he was a man of large imagination and remarkable passion who put that passion into stories which made him a culture hero to millions of his countrymen as well as people abroad, even those being intellectuals or even readers of books. And for the most part he achieved his fame owing to his rich life experience and personal traits being formed by his social environment.

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