Ernest Hemingway: Life & Biography

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Birth and Early Years

     Ernest Miller Hemingway, one of the best known and most influential of modern American writers was born in Oak Park, Illinois, in 1899. His father Dr. Clarence Edmunds Hemingway, a physician, was fond of hunting and fishing and introduced Hemingway to the outdoor life and he grew up in Oak Park, hunting in the woods, rowing and fishing in the lake and sleeping in a tent. He was educated in a local school and graduated from Oak Park High School in 1917. He was, however, usually more closely associated with Michigan rather than Oak Park as he spent many summers of his boyhood there and eventually set his stories there.

      Hemingway had already begun to write while he was still in high school but he wanted to work in the army as war had broken out in Europe. He was however rejected because of some defect in his eyes. He then went to Kansas, where he became a reporter for the Kansas City “Star” whose work gave him valuable experience for his later writings.

Joins the War

      Hemingway was always fascinated by the war and after being rejected for his eye defect he again tried and this time managed to get into the World War I as an ambulance driver for the American Red Cross and was stationed in the Italian front. But he found the work dull and unexciting as he got canteen duty which involved going to the trenches to deliver mail and edible goods to the soldier. Here, Hemingway was severely wounded when a mortar shell exploded nearby. Before he was evacuated he helped to rescue a badly wounded Italian soldier and was returning to help others when his left knee was damaged by a machine gun bullet.

A Medal for Bravery and Falling in Love

      Hemingway was then awarded the second highest Italian Military decoration for his bravery But his wounds left both physical and psychological scars. Because of his near-death experience, he was afraid of sleeping in the dark. He developed a fear that his soul would go out and never return.

      While he was recuperating from his wounds in the Red Cross hospital in Milan he fell in love with an American nurse Agnes H. Von Kurowsky. However, Hemingway’s love remained unfulfilled. Agnes was much older than he and after Hemingway returned to American Michigan, she wrote to him that she was getting married to a Major (she didn’t later). This shocked Hemingway and he actually got sick, remained in seclusion for sometime: This emotional wound also left a severe scar on him.

A Reporter Again

      In Michigan Hemingway took up writing again. He soon became a reporter for The Toronto Star and went as a foreign correspondent for the paper to Europe. He settled in Paris and came into contact with some of the greatest literary writers of the day—Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, James Joyce etc. and was encouraged and advised to become a creative writer. However, in the beginning, he was unable to sell his literary works.

      But he went relentlessly. He first attracted attention when his early stories, collected under the title In Our Time was first published in 1924 from Paris and then in 1925 from America with some more short stories added to it. The stoical attitudes of mind portrayed in these stories attracted the attention of the critics, as did Hemingway’s technique which was soon to become famous. He published his first novel The Sun Also Rises in 1926, which is a disillusioned account of the “Lost Generation” and deals with the aimless wanderings of a group of expatriates in Europe after the First World War. Though his reputation was established by these works, he attained worldwide fame and critical acclaim after the publication of his next novel, A Farewell toArtns in 1929, based on his personal experiences during the war and accounting the story of an American lieutenant in the Italian army who is forced to desert the army, became an instant bestseller all over the world.

The Spanish Civil War and the Second World War

      With his success, Hemingway became an established writer. He began traveling extensively. He went hunting in Africa and the Far East; fishing in numerous oceans and seas. He was intensely taken with all kinds of outdoor activities, especially bull-fighting. He spent several years in Spain add observed the game. He also covered the Spanish civil war going to the extent of actively participating in it. He joined the Republicans and fought to save the country from the Fascists. He was a popular figure there amongst them and came to be known by several names, most popular being “Papa”.

      When the second world war broke out Hemingway had been living in Cuba and because be was in the pursuit of adventure he converted his cruiser to a submarine chaser to hunt down Nazi U-boats. He even patrolled the Atlantic coast of the United States. In 1944, Hemingway became a correspondent with the Royal Force of Britain. He flew as a member of mission trying to spot the flying bombs launching sites, and to destroy them. Towards the end of the war in 1944 he was again among the troops who were involved in Normandy Beach.

Books Based on his Various Experiences

      Hemingway’s work of art are mostly based on his personal experiences. From his experiences in Spain and his knowledge of bull-fighting came the novel Death in the Afternoon published in 1932. This was followed by Green Hills of Africa published three years later in 1932. It gives an account of big-game hunting from his days in Africa. His experiences during the Great Depression of America in the 1930’s resulted in the novel To Have and Have Not (1937) and this shows his interest in social problems. This interest which began here is further taken forward in his interest in the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). And as a result of his long association with the Republicans came his longest and first major work since 1929, For whom the Bell Tolls (1940). In this novel, which accounts the story of an American Volunteer in Spain and three days of his experience in the civil war. Hemingway puts forward his idea of freedom. He says that the loss of liberty anywhere reduces liberty everywhere.

A Critical Failure

      During the second world war, Hemingway did not publish any book. After the war therefore he retired to Cuba to write. Then in 1950, Hemingway published Across The River and Into the Trees. Coming after a ten year of silence, this book was about an aging army Colonel in Venice and his young Mistress. This book aroused a lot of negative response and some critics ever went on to say that Hemingway’s literary career was over.

Nobel Prize

      However, shortly after in 1952, Hemingway brought out The Old Man and the Sea as a short novel but was critically acclaimed and considered a masterpiece. This was a novel he had been trying to write all his life. This story about an old fisherman, struggling against the unrelenting force of nature won him the Pulitzer Prize in 1953 and was also largely responsible for the Nobel Prize for literature which was awarded to Hemingway in 1954. Hemingway was however unable to go to Sweden to receive the award. He had been badly injured in a plane crash while hunting big game in Africa. He therefore sent a letter to the Academy in which he declared that the writer’s life was a lonely one and that if he shed his loneliness his work would deteriorate. In Cuba, Hemingway continued writing but no major work came out during his last years. He was growing old and when Fidel Castro took over Cuba, he and his fourth wife Mary came back to America. They lived in Idaho. Hemingway’s wounds were troubling him and he got seriously ill and spent a lot of time in hospitals. His creative abilities were on the decline. One morning in July 1961, he slipped on the stairs of his home and not wishing to prolong his suffering killed himself with a gun. It was as though Hemingway wanted to live life on his own terms and when he couldn’t he lost his zest for life.


      Hemingway’s works are greatly admired the world over. Part of his fame rests on the active life which he followed and which he portrayed so vividly in his novels. Apart from taking part in or witnessing most of the major and minor wars of his time, he was for a long period, well known to be a sportsman. He was a colorful personality, widely traveled and himself made good material for journalists.

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