A Lover of Life, Obsessed with Death “Never confuse movement with action,” one of Ernest Hemingway’s most profound thoughts, was quoted once by Marlene Dietrich. She went on to say, “In those five words, he gave me a whole philosophy” (Bookshelf ‘98 NP). As one of the most brilliant and influential writers of his time, Ernest Hemingway touched the lives of many, including Ms. Dietrich, through his writing, logic, and disposition. Throughout his life he turned what was experience, and sometimes pain to him, into beautiful, life changing prose. Perhaps the most celebrated of the World War I “Lost Generation”, whether as the young “Champ,” or the middle-aged “Papa,” Ernest Hemingway became a legend in his own lifetime.Born in quiet Oak Park, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, on July 21, 1899, Ernest Miller Hemingway’s life began. His parents were Dr. and Mrs. Clarence E. Hemingway, whom were high school sweethearts that never outgrew their love for one another. Dr. Hemingway, a God-fearing man was stern at times, but loved his children and was a kind and generous father (Buckley 99). On the other hand, Ernest’s mother, Grace Hall Hemingway, was an entirely different story. She hated anything that interrupted her beautiful dream world including changing diapers, doing housework, and the like. Dr. Hemingway did much of the “wife’s” jobs himself. Additionally, Grace Hall had the habit of dressing Ernest as a girl. “Raising them as twins, Grace imposed both boyish and girlish costumes and hairstyles on Ernest and his older sister, Marcelline. At the family cottage on Walloon Lake, Michigan, in the summer of 1901, they were dressed as ‘lads’ or ‘chaps’ as she called them” (Buckley NP). A practice that most would find odd, dressing Ernest as a girl fit perfectly into Grace’s world. She wrote “summer girl” in her scrapbook alongside a photograph of her son Ernest, in a dress, a month before his second birthday (Lynn NP). “Grace Hall called her baby her ‘Dutch Dollie’ and; just as little girls love to dress up their dolls, Grace Hall loved to dress up Ernest, ‘in pink gingham dresses and white battenburg lace hoods.’ It was soon apparent, however, that Ernest wanted to be Ernest rather than a doll. ‘He grows indignant when I call him Dutch Dollie.’ Grace Hall describes a boy who stamps his foot and says he does ‘not’ want to be a ‘Dutch Dollie’ because he is Pawnee Bill and ‘Bang’ he shoots his mother” (Buckley 103). From there on out, Ernest began to withdraw from his strange mother and she never forgave him for it. Quite possibly, Hemingway’s obsession with being as manly as conceivable resulted directly from the odd and mentally damaging relationship with his mother.The years passed on and soon Ernest was in high school. “Ernest was immensely involved in high school, playing football, decorating for the latest dance, or writing for the weekly school paper. He loved action and always kept himself busy” (Buckley 104). However, his interests were elsewhere, which would soon be apparent to Hemingway as well as his family. “Hemingway once remarked that the best training for a writer is an unhappy boyhood. He himself, however, appears to have been reasonably happy a good part of the time. But, he seems to have been on occasion deeply dissatisfied with his home life and with Oak Park, and no sooner did he graduate from high school than he was off for Kansas City, never really to return home” (Boyhood 259). He acquired a job from the Kansas City Star as a reporter and remained happy for a time, only to gain a desire to join the war effort. Eager to join, and declined by the infantry due to a bum eye (resulting from a boxing match), Hemingway volunteered for the American Red Cross and was struck by mortar fire while passing out chocolates to Italian soldiers on the front lines (Lynn NP). He was sent to a Red Cross hospital in Milan, Italy in 1918. There he met what he thought at the time was to be the love of his life, Agnes von Kurowsky. “A callow 19-year old wounded by shrapnel and machine gun fire, after six days in a field canteen, he was ripe for adventure and romance, his American nurse, vivacious at 26, made the perfect crush. ‘She was tall and slender, with chestnut colored hair, blue-gray eyes and a very cheerful disposition,’ remembers Henry Villard, ‘Everybody fell for Agnes, but Hemingway fell the hardest’” (Ernie and Aggie 123). “Red Cross nurses were not supposed to date patients, but Aggie and the kid (as she so fondly called him) managed love notes, dinners, and possibly more, though Hemingway scholars still debate the extent of their physical involvement. ‘He was talking last night of what might be if he was 26-28,’ Agnes wrote in her diary. ‘In some ways….I wish that he was. He is adorable, and we are congenial in every way.’ To his parents back in Oak Park, Hemingway wrote, ‘I am in love again’” (Ernie and Aggie 123). They continued on that way for months, but the kid’s wounds soon healed and he soon found out that the whole affair would be over in the blink of an eye. “At war’s end, Hemingway went home to the States, where he hoped she would join him and marry him. The pair exchanged love letters for several months, but in March 1919, Agnes, who was finishing up a series of Red Cross postings in Italy and had taken up with an Italian nobleman, dashed her young soldiers hopes. ‘I am still very fond of you,’ she wrote Hemingway, ‘but it is more as a mother than a sweetheart’”(Ernie and Aggie 123). “Hemingway was so devastated that he took to his bed at his parents’ home for days, telling a friend, ‘I am just smashed by it….I forgot all about religion and everything else because I had Ag to worship.’ The pair never saw each other again, ‘but they never forgot each other,’ says Villard. Hemingway made his love immortal in A Farewell to Arms (exacting perhaps a kind of literary revenge by making Agnes’ alter ego die in childbirth)” (Ernie and Aggie 123). “She never liked her characterization as Catherine Barkley in the story, ‘I was not,’ Agnes insisted, ‘that kind of girl’” (Ernie and Aggie 123). The resulting heartbreak on Hemingway’s behalf would not soon vanish, in fact, some Hemingway researchers believe that the wounds never healed.If in fact this is true, then Hemingway hid the pain through a succession of marriages and love affairs. Just two years after leaving Agnes in Milan, Hemingway married Elizabeth Hadley Richardson on September 3, 1921. Due to a small inheritance on her part, the newlyweds moved to Paris where their son John was born soon after (Lynn NP). The couple remained together for about five years, then things began to fall apart. Hemingway met Pauline Pfeiffer in late 1926, and when the divorce between Hadley and him was final, they were married in 1927. Pauline bore him two more sons, Patrick in 1929, and Gregory in 1932 (Lynn NP). Even though it was one of the happiest of Hemingway’s relationships, Pauline and he eventually split as well. Hemingway continued to have brief affairs and then married again in 1940 to Martha Gellhorn. The marriage turned out to be the most brief, ending in 1944, and resulting in Hemingway’s fourth and final marriage to Mary Welsh that would last until his death in 1961 (Lynn NP). Amongst his various marriages, Hemingway additionally traveled worldwide on hunting expeditions, vacations, and the like. He was always busy doing something, but made time for his writing.Hemingway wrote dozens of short stories and novels throughout his career. Some of his best short stories include “The Old Man and the Sea,” “The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” and “Fifty Grand.” Out of his novels, the best and possibly most acclaimed encompass The Sun Also Rises, A Farewell to Arms, and For Whom the Bell Tolls. Ernest Hemingway’s unbelievable characterization of his recognized “hero” found in so many of his stories, and loved by so many, became immortalized by the awarding of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954, his proudest achievement (Bookshelf NP). “But the most vivid and complex character Hemingway created was himself. The greatest terror the world held for him was a blank sheet of paper in his typewriter or so he wished the world to believe. All his life he was gripped by a compulsion to demonstrate the magnitude of his cojones. He hunted lions in Africa, fished for marlin in the Caribbean, scouted for Nazi subs with his yacht, aided the French resistance in WWII, drank enough to fell a field army, and in Key West, his only longtime U.S. haunt, he was wont to invite patrons of Sloppy Joes to box with ‘Papa’ (as he liked to be called)” (Parshall 68). “In 1955, Ernest was at the pinnacle of his fame, probably the most celebrated author on the planet. He was besieged by admirers wherever he went, and the relentless adulation had by now driven him into retreat at his estate, on the outskirts of Havana. He had become one of the world’s most reclusive and inaccessible celebrities” (Morris 38). He continued to become more and more secluded from society and ordinary life, even from his wife, Mary. His latest years, around 1959 and 1960, found him in Ketchum, Idaho. Death was not only near but also inevitable, and he knew it. Suffering severe bouts of depression and paranoia and no longer able to sustain the art that had given his life meaning, Hemingway committed suicide on July 2, 1961 (Bookshelf NP). He died a coward’s death by his own hand, his brains and blood staining the foyer of a lodge on the slopes of the Rockies one fine Sunday morning (Parshall 67).
During his lifetime Ernest Hemingway was probably America’s most famous writer. His style, his hero (that is to say, the protagonists of many of his works, who so resemble each other that we have come to speak of them in the singular), his manner and attitudes have been very widely recognized – not just in the English-speaking world but wherever books are widely read (Unger 247). It is a remarkably unintellectual style. Events are described strictly in the sequence in which they occurred; no mind reorders or analyzes them, and perceptions come to the reader unmixed with comment from the author. The impression, therefore is of intense objectivity; the writer provides nothing but stimuli. Since violence and pain are so often the subject matter, it follows that a characteristic effect is one of irony or understatement. The vision is narrow, and sharply focused (Unger 265).Two of Hemingway’s most recognized accomplishments include A Farewell to Arms and The Sun Also Rises. A Farewell to Arms retells the affair between von Kurowsky and Hemingway through characterization. With The Sun Also Rises, Hemingway exemplifies once again his code hero in attempting to reconstruct a new definition of manhood and to create a new set of values – a new sense of truth and honor in his character, and himself. The simple, squeaky clean freshness of Hemingway’s work made it not only easy to understand, but also gave it a raw, natural quality. “Hemingway stripped prose to its unionsuit to lay bare life’s futility. He found power in simplicity and poetry in the rhythm of ordinary speech. Mark Twain had begun the naturalistic rebellion against Romanticism four decades earlier, but it was Hemingway who finally cleared the adjective-clotted arteries of mainstream writing. A reviewer once wrote in the Atlantic that Hemingway, “writes as if he had never read anybody’s writing, as if he had fashioned the art of writing himself” (Parshall 68). In fact, Hemingway would have been more than pleased to be compared to Mark Twain, having once said, “All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn. American writing comes from that. There was nothing before, there has been nothing good since” (Bookshelf NP). In addition to the many fans of Hemingway’s work there are probably twice as many critics. “Across more than half of a century the life and work of Ernest Hemingway have been at the center of critical controversy. For that, Hemingway himself was largely responsible” (Lynn 9). He was known to be snide and sometimes incredibly rude, as well a notable cynic. In response to someone’s thoughts on symbolism in “The Old Man and the Sea, Hemingway once said, “There isn’t any symbolism. The sea is the sea. The old man is the old man. The boy is a boy, and the fish is a fish. The shark are shark no better and no worse. All the symbolism that people say is shit. What goes beyond is what you see beyond when you know. A writer should know too much” (Baker 780). He loved to outwit people with remarks such as that one, digging into their inner being and almost outright making fools out of them, and there was not a thing one could do to stop him. He more than likely wrote on different levels as in A Farewell to Arms and The Sun Also Rises, and then said that he did not, to outfox the general public, in order to make them delve deeper into the novel. He was also infamous for going straight to the heart of the matter, saying, “Forget your personal tragedy. We are all bitched from the start and you especially have to be hurt like hell before you can write seriously. But when you get the damned hurt use it – don’t cheat with it” (Bookshelf NP). This comment obviously springs from his feelings that went into writing both A Farewell to Arms and The Sun Also Rises. “However, primary attention should go of course to Hemingway, the writer, not the man – and still less the case history – and there is little doubt that his technical achievement has been great. Indeed, in the view of many people it is his simple, fresh, and clean prose style that is his true claim to renown and permanence” (Unger 262). Hemingway was highly aware of his style as well, remarking that stories result from, Things as they exist and from all things that you know and all those you cannot know, you make something through your invention that is not a representation but a whole new thing truer than anything true and alive, and you make it alive, and if you make it well enough, you give it immortality. That is why you write and for no other reason that you know of, but what about all of the reasons that no one knows (Bookshelf NP).The deep reasoning behind this abstruse thought, although made by Hemingway himself, could possibly be applied to his work as well. Another comment by Hemingway employs the same observation, “All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened and after you are finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you and afterwards it all belongs to you; the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse, and sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was.” It is that precise empathetic position that he is speaking of which emerges in his tales. Perhaps the most important fact of all is that, as egotistical as he sometimes was, Hemingway knew the reality of writing, in which he summed up by saying, “We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master” (Bookshelf NP).”Ernest Hemingway as a man appears to have been complicated to the point of contradictions that have not yet been resolved. He was by turns witty, cheerful, and irascible, generous and selfish, expansive and self-centered as a tornado. This was a hedonist who worked, a stoic who suffered, a lover of life obsessed with death, a life-long student and sportsman, a powerful, damaged man who basked and perspired in the limelight he alternately sought and shunned” (Unger 260-261). He will be forever remembered in the eyes of the American people, as well as people all around the globe, for his incredible writing and stamp on the world. Perhaps the best analogy to Hemingway’s life is as follows: “Below the house in which Ernest died a river runs from the high mountains to the desert in the south; the river runs quickly, jumping over rocks, swirling around dead trees, never stopping. Along the river tall, thin trees draw water up through their roots, and in the valley the grass is green. Deer come down to drink, and trout move steadily against the stream and then suddenly turn and swim to a quiet spot. The river opens wide below the house into a deep pool; no rocks break the surface of the pool, and the cold water seems still, but the current is dangerous; it can pull a man down from the edge of the river and break him on the rocks below” (Buckley 162).