Ernest Hemingway, one of the most influential writers of the 20th century, is renowned for his novels like For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Old Man and the Sea. In addition to his remarkable literary achievements, he excelled as a journalist and war correspondent. Hemingway’s unique writing style, characterized by its simplicity and conciseness, left a lasting impact on a whole generation of writers.
Hemingway was born on July 21, 1899, in Oak Park, Illinois. In high school, he co-edited the school newspaper, competed in football and swimming, and enjoyed impromptu boxing matches with friends. He also played the cello in the school orchestra.
There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.
At 18, Hemingway witnessed the turmoil of World War I spreading through Europe. Although his poor eyesight prevented him from enlisting in the military, Hemingway found another way to contribute. He volunteered as an ambulance driver for the Red Cross in Italy. Just a month after his arrival, a mortar shell struck both legs, and he was hit by machine-gun fire while carrying a wounded Italian soldier to safety. This incident earned him the label of “the first American casualty of the war,” and he was honored with the Italian Silver Medal for Valor.
Hemingway in uniform. Milan, 1918.
After World War I, eager to pursue a career as a fiction writer, Hemingway started sending his short stories to magazines, yet faced continuous rejection. Undeterred, he moved to Paris to fully immerse himself in the writing world. In Paris, he became an integral part of what Gertrude Stein would famously term “The Lost Generation.” Under Stein’s guidance, he forged connections with esteemed writers and artists of his time, including F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound, Pablo Picasso, and James Joyce.
When Hemingway wasn’t writing, he actively sought out adventure, engaging in big-game hunting in Africa, bullfighting in Spain, and deep-sea fishing in Florida.
Reporting on the Spanish Civil War in 1937, he gathered material for his acclaimed novel, For Whom the Bell Tolls, which received a Pulitzer Prize nomination. The book follows the journey of Robert Jordan, an American volunteer in a guerrilla band behind enemy lines. Hemingway skillfully depicts the cruelty and inhumanity spawned by the war.
Hemingway, working on his book For Whom the Bell Tolls. The Sun Valley Lodge, Idaho, 1939.
During World War II, Hemingway actively served as a correspondent. His role allowed him to witness significant war events, including the momentous D-Day landing and the Battle of the Bulge.
At 52, Hemingway penned The Old Man and the Sea, a work that would go on to become one of his most renowned books and earn him the long-awaited Pulitzer Prize. The story revolves around an aging Cuban fisherman who engages in a monumental battle with a colossal marlin.
There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.
Hemingway’s characters vividly reflect his own values and perspective on life. In novels like The Sun Also Rises, A Farewell to Arms, and For Whom the Bell Tolls, the protagonists are young men who possess strength and self-assurance, yet bear deep emotional wounds from their wartime experiences. Hemingway saw war as a potent symbol of a complex world, filled with moral complexities and unavoidable suffering.
To navigate and triumph in such a world, Hemingway believed one must uphold principles of honor, courage, endurance, and dignity, collectively known as “the Hemingway code.” Demonstrating grace under pressure while facing life’s challenges is a form of victory, a prominent theme in The Old Man and the Sea.
My aim is to put down on paper what I see and what I feel in the best and simplest way.
Hemingway’s prose style was widely imitated in the 20th century. He aimed to be objective and honest by using short, simple, straightforward sentences to describe actions without emotional commentary and unnecessary details. By relying mostly on nouns and verbs, and employing repetition and rhythm, Hemingway’s prose was concise, concrete, and unemotional, yet capable of conveying profound irony through understatement.
In 1954, he achieved the pinnacle of his literary success by winning the Nobel Prize in Literature. However, despite his achievements, Hemingway’s physical and mental well-being began to decline. He battled with depression and sought treatment for several ailments, including high blood pressure and liver disease.
On the morning of July 2, 1961, at the age of 61, Hemingway took his own life at his residence in Ketchum, Idaho.
Words of wisdom
“That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” —Friedrich Nietzsche
“You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of. You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life.” —Albert Camus
“Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth.” —Henry David Thoreau
“Never attempt to win by force what can be won by deception.” —Niccolò Machiavelli