A brief look at Hemingway based on his works.
”There is no lonelier man in death, except the suicide, than that man who has lived many years with a good wife and then outlived her. If two people love each other there can be no happy end to it.”
Fatigued by a tumultuous psychological life, Ernest Hemingway exposed who he was through his works; stories laden by themes of death, violence, and the reality of a darker humanity. Having served in various capacities on the fronts of five wars, he expressed his feelings of machismo with underlying hints of more vulnerable emotions. Hemingway used his experiences in the wars as background in his stories, and the theme he explored was that of mortality. As a young paramedic in World War I, he confronted situations that would be romanticized back in the United States. As citizens cheered on the boys for the sake of democracy, Hemingway failed to share in the fascination of war.
Released in 1926, The Sun Also Rises displayed a side of war unknown to those in the States. Hemingway presented raw imagery; stories of soldiers releasing frustration from the fear of battle. In his book, soldiers drank to excess, chased girls, and failed to represent the morals of the time; ethics replaced by hedonism. The setting of the story contains no new growth, no offer of hope. Instead, Hemingway penned action and intent in the face of death and a new social paradigm under the pressure of terror. The Sun Also Rises became popular with those who had fought as boys and come home as broken men, individuals who lived under different cultural norms who now identified as the “Lost Generation” as they could find themselves in the actions and thoughts of the characters.
His next book, A Farewell to Arms, explores the theme of beauty during war, the fleeting hope love can endure the ugliness around it. Hemingway concluded nothing could rise victorious over death; that feelings, emotions, and friendships were trivial distractions. A Farewell to Arms was Hemingway’s process of understanding a greater truth to life, that his demise would be inevitable. The impact of a war ten years prior reflected in A Farewell to Arms and The Sun Also Rises burdened Hemingway, and, unable to escape the ever-present shadow of war and death, he often slept with a nightlight.
As he aged, Hemingway’s reflections on the wars followed a different philosophy. After serving in the war and corresponding as a journalist in four more wars, the idea of war and death oppressed him, and one could argue he became obsessed. A Moveable Feast shows Hemingway as a normal man with a large reputation, immense expectation, and the desire to live to write. He was outspoken against war, against the senseless casualties, but he also grew to rebut humanism, believing that man could grow from his most basic instincts. However, the damage done to Hemingway’s psychology was permanent and deep, and in July of 1961, the bell tolled for Ernest Hemingway as he took his own life.
Throughout his body of work, there can be no doubt Hemingway left his psychological imprints, his fears and his beliefs, and he can be found in those pages. Even his evolution as his politics and beliefs changed can be charted by his writing. Though he hid from the world by presenting a facade of gruff masculinity, he exposed the core of his humanity from his typewriter. He explored other themes, such as the friendship in The Old Man and the Sea, but the theme of his life was always present in his art, his attempt to understand life by understanding death. Hemingway brought to the front of the literary world a more realistic view of the human condition, based on his own experiences directly, and these works changed the way the United States perceived the more abrasive side of human nature.