Ernest Hemingway makes me upset. Throughout his life, he was a pretentious, inconsistent, egotistical jerk. Just ask F. Scott Fitzgerald, him and old Ernest duked it out for years. Putting aside my bias toward him, I have to admit… He was frighteningly important for the world of literature.
Prior to looking analyzing his writings, I thought he was far too simple of a writer to be even considered with the likes of Frost, Twain, and Fitzgerald. Then I read “The Old Man and the Sea.” Whilst reading that story I realized something. It isn’t the elaborate idioms of Fitzgerald or the thought provoking words of Frost; it’s the simplicity of Hemingway that makes him great. The way he is able to identify human nature (see “The Snows of Kilimanjaro”) through simple word choice and easy to read writing is remarkable (see “The Sun Also Rises.”).
Now to talk about prose. Hemingway was the king of writing without metrical structure. Compare that to his other contemporaries, who use paragraph long sentences and ten dollar vocabulary to “wow” their readers. Hemingway wrote simply, he wrote straight to the point, and that’s what makes him important. His ability to convey emotions like love, loss, pain, and lust in a way that makes it relatable to the common man or woman is remarkable. All one has to do is read “The Snows of Kilimanjaro”, which I did find to be horribly boring, but at the same time powerful. It paints the main character, Harry, as a broken, sexist man. He is so simply written it’s almost elegant. Throughout the story you’re able to dig deeper into his character and see what he is really like, and why he is like that, without the confusion that Twain would intertwine in it. Towards the end of the story, you almost pity Harry, but you still know he is a bad person. It’s impressive how Hemingway is able to make you feel this way.
Most of old Ernest’s “protagonists” are men who have been “tormented” by women. Now this does come off as sexist, and sure, maybe he was a little sexist. This does not, and should not, detract from the poise that Hemingway keeps in his writing. Good works of fiction are often, in a sense, autobiographical. They are a loose reflection of what the author is like. For example, Khaled Hosseini, the author of “A Thousand Splendid Suns”, writes through two characters, both female. Even though they are both female, Hosseini has stated multiple times that both of these characters reflect his feelings toward the setting he was born into, Afghanistan.
Hemingway is painfully important to the world of literature, and no matter how much I despise him I have to admit that. In the words written in his best work, “The old man has still got it!”