Ernest Hemingway – The Man And His Work Ernest Hemingway – The Man and His Work On July 2, 1961, a writer whom many critics call the greatest writer of this century, a man who had a zest for adventure, a winner of the Nobel Prize and the Pulitzer Prize, a man who held esteem everywhere – on that July day, that man put a shotgun to his head and killed himself. That man was Ernest Hemingway. Though he chose to end his life, his heart and soul lives on through his many books and short stories. Hemingway’s work is his voice on how he viewed society, specifically American society and the values it held. No other author of this century has had such a general and lasting influence on the generation which grew up between the world wars as Ernest Hemingway (Lania 5).
The youth that came of age during this time came to adopt the habits, way of life, and essentially the values of Hemingway’s characters. The author , however, was just depicting his characters as he saw the typical American in the 1920’s. In his mind this meant a people filled with melancholy denial. Hemingway became the chief reporter of what became known as the “Lost Generation”. This phrase is attributed to Gertrude Stein, a friend of Hemingway’s, who meant youth, angry with life itself after the war; drowning themselves in alcohol; sleeping away the days and sharing their beds with a new partner each night.
Thus, Hemingway depicts America as a society with a profuse amount of twisted values. A constant theme runs through all of Hemingway’s work. That man can be defeated but not destroyed. Once such novel that depicts this, as well as American values, is A Farewell to Arms. During the course of the story, the two main characters lieutenant Frederick Henry and nurse Catherine Barkley, become the victims of a cruel and hostile age. Their love story, which starts in a field hospital where the lieutenant is being treated for severe leg injuries, ends with Catherine’s death.
She dies in childbirth but it is actually the war that condemns them both to destruction. After the Italian defeat at Caporetto, the lieutenant becomes a deserter. He flees with his now impregnated lover to Switzerland, but they cannot escape the despair and horror of the war. Their attempts to wipe it out by consuming bottle after bottle of alcohol has only ill effects. This novel is a drawn out definition of Stein’s generation. It is the story of a man torn apart by the reality of war and love.
In the beginning of the war Frederick is disappointed at the lack of action. When his first test on the field of battle occurs, however, he sees the truth of war as a friend dies in his arms. At first the reader may think that the lieutenant was insensitive, but his true feelings show in these two lines: “I wiped my hand on my shirt and another floating light came very slowly down and I looked at my leg and was very afraid. Oh, God, I said, get me out of here.” (Hemingway 55) From this point on the war begins to break him down. The lieutenant’s increasing consumption of alcohol lets on that he is trying to avoid thinking about what has happened to him. The wine flows so freely that the porter at the hospital carries out the lieutenant’s trash by the sack load. The drinking causes him to have jaundice as well as happy thoughts ..
the price he pays for the liquor. Hemingway shows American drinking habits in this book which coincide with Stein’s idea. Frederick, like many men and women in the 1920’s, sought to avoid his problems by turning to alcohol to make him feel better about himself and his situation. Along with a drinking problem the bedridden man decides to take his nurse as his lover. Lieutenant Frederick convinces himself he is in love with her and thinks nothing of it when he finds the nurse is with child.
To avert his attention from the war he takes responsibility for Catherine and in the end becomes a deserter only to have his lover die in the end. Sex without marriage plays a major role in the book, as it was a characteristic of America’s youth during that time. All that was considered was feeling good and having fun, not having an emotional attachment to the person that slept with you. A Farewell to Arms is a modest chapter from Hemingway’s own life. Not only does the lieutenant’s fate correspond with his own – from the trenches, through injury, to the hospital – but Catherine’s death was also inspired by personal experience.
Hemingway’s second son, Patrick, was born while writing the first draft of the novel. The delivery was difficult and the mother had to have a Cesarean delivery, like Catherine in the novel. Then, just as Hemingway was starting on his final draft, his father committed suicide. This greatly influenced the author’s views on death. “The fact that the book was a tragic one,” Hemingway wrote, “did not make me unhappy since I believed that life was a tragedy and knew it could only have one end.” Along with the numerous novels he wrote, Ernest Hemingway was also a devoted short story writer. His stories covered every subject from fishing to hunting to death.
One story that continues the man cannot be destroyed theme, is The Macomber Affair, also called The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber. There are three main characters in this story of courage and cowardice: Francis Macomber, his wife Margot, and their English guide Wilson. Macomber is a weakling, completely dominated by Margot. Fundamentally, the marriage is breaking apart, and is only held together by the fact that Margot is reluctant to part with her husband’s wealth. She takes Wilson as her lover and does not even attempt to conceal the affair, for she knows her husband is too weak and cowardly to do anything about it. Hemingway examines again the separation between emotional attachment and sexual acts in this short story.
Margot does not feel anything for the guide but sleeps with him to show Francis her domineering power. Macomber’s weakness causes him to suffer greatly. Twice he makes himself look ridiculous in front of Wilson by running away from a wounded lion on the attack. These episodes cause him to lose even the last bit of his self-respect. However, Macomber makes up for the occurrences when tracking down a buffalo. When a wounded animal decides to attack, Francis fires continuously at it, fearlessly staring death in the face. It is in these few moments that he finds himself at last a happy man.
Finally he has conquered his weakness. His happiness is short lived, for Margot shoots him a few minutes later. She begrudges Macomber the triumph of having proved himself as a man. He must die, as he threatens to escape from her domination. The destructive power of wealth, the senseless greed for money and its harmful effects on relationships and on American life were subjects which occupied Hemingway greatly at the time he wrote this story. In The Macomber Affair he portrayed a marriage which he felt was typical of the corruption found in certain parts of wealthy American society. In these places, marriage was a business devoid of any sincere feeling or passion.