The Impact of War on Hemingway’s Creative World.

          Hemingway is a prestigious writer of America. He has produced a plethora of writing. Born on July 21, 1899, in Oak Park, Illinois, he committed suicide on July 2, 1961, in Ketchum, Idaho. In 1954, he won the Nobel Prize for Literature. He is greatly preoccupied with death and violence. Violence, death and suffering loom large in his works and they assume many forms. In several of his stories and novels Hemingway made the theme of war, killing and violence of his own, and became the chronicler of the disintegrating modern civilization. In fact, his entire outlook on life was conditioned by war. The prose style of The Sun Also Rises made Hemingway famous. It was written in the spare, tight prose. The Old Man and the Sea has been praised for its striking style. It is the apex of Hemingway’s work as a model of tightly controlled style. Hemingway's legacy to American literature is his style: writers who came after him emulated it or avoided it.

          Key Words: War, battlefield, disillusion, style.

          In the realm of literature, Ernest Hemingway is one of the most famous of modern American writers. The reasons for his extraordinary popularity are somewhat difficult to define. He was a living legend. His works have left an indelible mark on the literary production of the world. It is he who produced a plethora of writing. In the opinion of E.S. Oliver, Ernest Hemingway captured the imagination of a generation of readers and writers in America more completely than has any other literary figure of the twentieth century. He is the bronze god of the whole contemporary literary experience in America. His stories and novels came nearer to changing the course of story telling and giving a new cadence to the language than has the work of any of his contemporaries.

           In 1952 The Old Man and the Sea was published. It was a short novel about an extraordinary battle between a tired old Cuban fisherman and a giant marlin. It was immediately hailed as a masterpiece and was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1953. A year later, Hemingway won the Nobel Prize for Literature. The prize committee cited the power of his style and his mastery of narration.

          ‘Ernest Miller Hemingway was born on July 21, 1899, in Oak Park, Illinois, just outside Chicago.’1 ‘His father was a well known physician and amateur sportsman. His mother had talent both in music and in painting.’2 In 1917 he graduated from Oak Park High School. It has been said that he was lonely in high school but there is no reliable evidence in support of this view. He started his career as a writer in a newspaper office in Kansas City at the age of seventeen. After the United States entered the First World War, he joined a volunteer ambulance unit in the Italian army. Serving at the front, he was wounded, was decorated by the Italian Government, and spent considerable time in hospitals. After his return to the United States, he became a reporter for Canadian and American newspapers and was soon sent back to Europe to cover such events as the Greek Revolution.

          In Paris, he associated with Ford, Ezra Pound and Gertrude Stein and became famous while still in his twenties. Hemingway’s first really important publication was the slim Three Stories and Ten Poems which came out in Paris in 1923. From 1928 to 1938 he lived at Key West, Florida where he earned a great reputation as a sportsman. He was variously involved in both the Spanish Civil War and in World War II. With his fourth wife, Mary, he lived a semi-patriarchal life in Cuba, till the last years of his life. He committed suicide on July 2, 1961, in Ketchum, Idaho.

          The popularity of Hemingway's work is based on the themes. Love, war, wilderness and loss are the major themes of his work. Hemingway liked to portray soldiers, hunters, bullfighters and sportsmen. At times he portrayed primitive people whose courage and honesty are set against the brutal ways of modern society, and who in this confrontation lose hope and faith. He is greatly pre-occupied with death and violence. In fact, the author ‘lived in one of the most violent phases in human history.’3 During the second world war, Hemingway had personal experiences of violence and death. That’s why violence, death and suffering loom large in his works and they assume many forms. In several of his stories and novels Hemingway made the theme of war, killing and violence of his own, and became the chronicler of the disintegrating modern civilization. In fact, his entire outlook on life was conditioned by war. ‘In war badly wounded Hemingway had felt its presence to close that nothing else afterwards could ever seem as real. He must push nearer and nearer to whatever truth its proximate held.’4 His vision is tragic, no doubt, but by no means pessimistic.

          The Sun Also Rises (1926) is Hemingway’s first major novel that set the flags for generation. It is not a war novel in the sense A Farewell to Arms and For Whom the Bell Tolls are because there are no battle scenes, no soldiers and no fire of bullets. In spite of the fact that there are no battle scenes, its background is that of the First World War. In this novel Hemingway concentrates on the artificiality and desperation of the life bred by the First World War. It deals with the Post war disillusion and moral disorder. In its pervasive mood of cynicism and disillusion with established values The Sun Also Rises caught the moods of its time. The Sun Also Rises is the definitive account of the war oppressed sterile society. Its characters suffer acutely because of the war. Hemingway, who also emerged scarred and wounded from the trenches of the Italian field in the First World War, transmuted his biographical experiences both thematically and artistically into the texture of The Sun Also Rises.

          The experiences of World War I became invaluable fodder for his most famous war novel, A Farewell to Arms (1929). Fighting on the Italian front inspired the plot of this novel. In December 1929, it was published. It is a classic among war novels about the First World War. It is the study of an American ambulance officer's disillusionment in the war and his role as a deserter. This novel tells the story of a tragic love affair between an American soldier and an English nurse set against the backdrop of war and collapsing world order. It contains a philosophical expression of the Hemingway code that man is basically helpless in a violent age. It deals with the cruelty and stupidity of war, the greedy materialism and quest for power that cause war, the platitudes and abstractions that glorify war, and the value of enduring whatever must be endured. As the earlier novel reflects the cynicism and disillusionment after the war, A Farewell to Arms depicts the paradox of war itself. There is no hope and no future for Lady Brett Ashley and Jake Barnes; similarly Fredric Henry and Catherine Barkley become the victims of a cruel and hostile age. By fleeing the battlefield Henry makes a separate peace, and escapes with Catherine to Switzerland, but he can’t evade death completely. The end of the novel proves that. The book ends with Catherine’s death in child-birth and Henry’s lonely return to the hotel in the rain which is symbol of disaster and an omen of death in the novel.   This novel, no doubt, ends on a tragic note but has no depressing effect on us.

          Hemingway laboured hard and devoted fifteen months for his popular war novel For Whom the Bell Tolls. The events of the Spanish Civil War gave him material for this novel. Published in 1940, For Whom the Bell Tolls is at once the longest and the most ambitious of Hemingway’s novel dealing with Spain, the Civil War, Fascism and the individual. It is based on Hemingway’s first hand knowledge of Spain and its people. A wonderfully clear narrative, it is written in less lyrical and more dramatic prose than his earlier work. This novel narrates the story of three days in the life of a young American who had aligned himself with the Loyalist cause in Spain. It is a story of courage, of loyalty, of self sacrifice, of love, of the human will to endure. Robert Jordan, an American volunteer, is sent to dynamite a bridge of utmost strategic importance, at present under the Fascist control. It will prevent the Fascist troops from meeting a Loyalist attack. He spends three days and nights in the guerrillas’ cave and falls in love with Maria. Ultimately he gets success in blowing up the bridge, but in the retreat he is wounded as his horse, hit by the Fascist bullets, falls on his leg. At his own signal Pilar takes Maria away from him and leaves him alone to die. Though wounded, he remains at his post till the last breath and thus serves the cause he has cherished and stood for.

          Among his later works, the most outstanding is the short novel, The Old Man and the Sea. It is poem in prose. It is Hemingway’s masterpiece. It deals with the story of an old fisherman's journey, his long and lonely struggle with a fish and the sea, and his victory in defeat. The story of it appears as real. Hemingway himself insisted that the story was about a real man and a real fish.  No doubt, the book is notable for its realistic portrayal but when we read it between the lines, several meanings emerge from the story. It is many-faceted allegory and has been studied on various levels. In this context the following opinion is important:

Some have seen it as a symbolic account of the confrontation between Man and the Absolute, in which the Marlin represents the Universe. Others have read it as a Christian allegory, with Santiago as Christ. And more than a few critics have read it as a conscious allegory of Hemingway’s own a career as an artist, in which the pursuit of the marlin equals his pursuit of artistic perfection, and the sharks equal his unsympathetic critics.5

           Indeed, The Old Man and the Sea presents Hemingway’s pursuit of artistic excellence. The author himself becomes the hero of this novel because he really finds himself involved in the game situation. Like Santiago, Hemingway depends on technique and courage, and wishes to be skillfully exact to welcome the luck when it smiles on him once again. In Santiago’s determination to go far into the sea, we see Hemingway’s daring soul seeking new experiences, reaching out towards the unknown. Hemingway’s conception of a good writer is indeed one who stands in majestic isolation and struggles alone in the face of eternity. Throughout the novel Santiago’s loneliness is emphasized. In order to achieve something remarkable he goes far away from the madding crowed, but it does not mean that he should have no dependence on his fellow beings. He can endure much but often in the face of unforeseen calamities, he craves for the company of Manolin.

            The Old Man and the Sea has been written in a vain that separates it from Hemingway’s earlier works. It is a different sort of book. There are no woman-characters, no subplot, and no drinking, no social obligation as such and no tragic despair. The hero is not a soldier or a matador but an old man. He is a skilful and tenacious fisherman. Heroism, endurance and fortitude in the teeth of disaster are the hallmarks of his character. He hooked a giant marlin and after a grueling battle with it he is ultimately successful in killing it. But he has still the far greater ordeal of fighting against the sharks. He faces it bravely and fights like a soldier. It must be noted that the impact of the harrowing experiences of war had not been completely effaced from the mind of Hemingway even in The Old Man and the Sea. When the sharks had started their work of destruction, a umber of questions and regrets arose in Santiago’s mind. These problems and regrets were prompted by the war psychosis of Hemingway who projected himself in Santiago.

           Hemingway's legacy to American literature is his style: writers who came after him emulated it or avoided it. He was appreciated for his mastery of the art of narrative and for the influence that he has exerted on contemporary style.  He left behind an impressive body of work and an iconic style that still influences writers today. His personality and constant pursuit of adventure loomed almost as large as his creative talent. His economical and understated style had a strong influence on 20th-century fiction, while his life of adventure and his public image influenced later generations.

          The prose style of The Sun Also Rises made Hemingway famous. It was written in the spare, tight prose. The Old Man and the Sea has been praised for its striking style. It is the apex of Hemingway’s work as a model of tightly controlled style. It is a characterized by definiteness of detail, precision of effect, unflagging concentration and simplicity. This famous style of Hemingway is singularly known for its colloquial favour, directness, extreme precision and correctness.

          Hemingway’s ideal is a prose without tricks and without cheating. It changed the nature of American writing. Short words, straightforward sentence structures, vivid descriptions, and factual details combine to create an almost transparent medium for his engaging and realistic stories. He avoided complicated syntax. About seventy percent of the sentences are simple sentences, a childlike syntax without subordination. His straightforward prose, his spare dialogue, and his predilection for understatement are particularly effective.

          Hemingway’s legacy is at times seen as being sexist and homophobic. His pursuit of a masculine ideal has been criticized for lacking the complexity of human endeavor. Yet, undoubtedly Hemingway’s writing and life have had a profound impact on literature.


1. Mundra, S.C. Ernest Hemingway: The Impact of War on His Life and Works  (Bareilly: Prakash Book Depot, 1988), p. 21.

2. Tilak, Raghukul. History of American Literature (Bareilly: Prakash Book  Depot, 2003), p. 279.

3. Ibid. p. 305.

4. Cunliffe Marcuss. The Literature of the United States (Harmondsworth:  Pelican Books Ltd., 1967), pp. 284-85.

5. Graham Kenneth. Ernest Hemingway: The Old Man and the Sea (London:  Longman Group Ltd., 1980), p. 44.


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