Ernest Miller Hemingway was born in Oak Park, Illinois, on July 21, 1899. From a young man interested in sport and drink, Hemingway grew into and old man who was interested in sport and drink. Al1ong the way he became one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century. Throughout his life, he had many influences. Among them were; his wounding in Italy, his time in Paris as an expatriate, and his love of sport and excitement. These things helped shape Hemingway’s life, and, as will soon be shown, Hemingway’s art imitated his life very often.
After graduating from High School, Hemingway soon went to work for the Kansas City Star, which was, at that time, one of the leading newspapers in the United States. During his time as a cub reporter there, Hemingway was encouraged to “use short sentences? ?Use short first paragraphs. Use vigorous English. Be positive, not negative. (Guide 7)” According to Waldhorn, “Hemingway learned to transmute journalistic rules to literary principle.” Soon, however, World War I broke out and Hemingway felt the need to go to war. He enlisted as a Red Cross volunteer and was stationed at the front in northern Italy. He soon saw the action he was looking for. One day while handing out chocolate to the wounded in the trenches, a mortar shell exploded over Hemingway’s head and he went down, riddled with shrapnel. Soon two stretcher bearers came to bring him away, but they were spotted by a machine gunner and the the two men were shot up, as was Hemingway. By the time he made it to safety Hemingway had received 227 individual wounds. Not only that, but he had also gotten a reputation.
Hemingway was the first to be wounded on the Italian front. Although it was never proven, it became well known that Hemingway actually carried the wounded man back to the red cross tent after being injured by the shrapnel and bullets. True or not, Hemingway received the highest medal given by the Italian government for his wounding and his bravery. Upon his return to the states after recuperating, Hemingway addressed the student body of his former high school. “When the thing exploded it seemed as if I was moving off somewhere in a sort of red din. I said to myself ?Gee! Stein, you’re dead’ and then I began to feel myself pulling back to earth. Then I woke up. (Bruccoli 4)” Despite his seeming pride at the wounding, Hemingway never again was able to sleep without a light on. He would say later on; “Any experience of war is invaluable to a writer. But it is destructive if he has too much. (Guide 8)” Many believe that this wound was a major part of his writing. Among these was a critic, Philip Young (Bruccoli 114). Hemingway himself did not subscribe to this view. “On the question you raised, the effects of wounds vary greatly. Simple wounds which do not break bone are of little account. They sometimes give confidence. Wounds which do extensive bone and nerve damage are not good for writers, nor anybody else. (Bruccoli 115)”Despite various differing viewpoints on the subject, Hemingway’s early affinity for war novels like For Whom the Bell Tolls, A Farewell to Arms, and The Sun Also Rises, as well as a number of early short stories, display a keen understanding of the loss involved in war
Another important chapter in young Hemingway’s life was the time that he spent in Paris working solely as a writer. After WWI, Hemingway went to work for the Toronto Star. He soon became a foreign correspondent living in Paris. Before long however, he separated himself completely from journalistic work and lived partly on his wife, Hadley’s, inheritance and partly on money he received from Journals publishing his early work. Hemingway was introduced to the society of such writers as James Joyce, Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, Ford Madox Ford, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and many others. He was ushered into this society by a writer who served as an early mentor; Sherwood Anderson. Hemingway met Anderson in Chicago after the war, around the same time that he met his first wife, Hadley. The doors that Anderson opened for Hemingway in Paris were invaluable. Introduced to Gertrude Stein, Hemingway became a favorite of the eccentric writer and art collector, and a regular at her residence. “[Gertrude Stein’s] salon in rue de Fleurus was the artistic hub of expatriates like Ezra Pound, James Joyce, and Ford Madox Ford. (Criticisms 8)” Hemingway’s early work was read by Stein and she supposedly told him to cut it down and search for “one true sentence.” At the time Stein herself was experimenting with repetition and rhythms in her writing. Later on, there was some posthumous dispute about Stein’s influence on Hemingway. Hemingway, as an older writer after Stein’s death, said of her; “Miss Stein wrote at some length and with considerable inaccuracy about her influence on my work. It was necessary for her to do this after she had learned to write dialogue from a book called The Sun Also Rises.(Bruccoli 117)” Later on in the interview however, the aging writer softened his position on Ms. Stein when he said; “Here it is simpler to thank Gertrude for everything I learned from her about the abstract relationship of words, say how fond I was of her?(Bruccoli 118).” How much really Hemingway took away from his time in the company of these great writers is hard to say. He certainly ascribed to Pound’s philosophy of “make it new”, and most definitely took Stein’s advice to distrust adjectives and keep sentences short and true, but later on, an aging Hemingway would say that writing was a necessarily lonely occupation.
Lastly, on a more abstract note, it was Hemingway’s Epicurean lifestyle that greatly affected his work. Hemingway’s life was a rolling chase of all things adventurous (Burwell xvii). As a young boy he boxed and hunted. After High School he went to war. After the war he went to Paris to take part in the dynamic expatriate community that existed there between the world wars. He fought in the Spanish Civil War. During World War II he outfitted his fishing boat, The Pilar, with guns and patrolled the waters around the Florida Keys. While living in Spain he became an avid fan of bullfighting and associated regularly with matadors. He was a frequent big-game hunter, and a dedicated sport fisherman. In the mean time he found time for four marriages and countless affairs. His life shines through his novels. For every activity listed above, there is a literary equivalent in Hemingway’s work. It seems that Hemingway says it best when he says; “The good parts of a book may be only something a writer is lucky enough to overhear or it may be the wreck of his whole damn life?and one is as good as the other (Bookshelf 98).”
Deciphering the influences of one’s own life is a difficult task. With that in mind, trying to decide the major influences on someone else’s life is nearly impossible. In the case of Hemingway, I feel that the best way to learn him is to read his novels and his short stories. The next best way to understand him is by studying his life. It would be arrogant to assume that I could state unequivocally the three most important sources of inspiration and development for Hemingway, but based on the information stated above, it seems clear that the wartime experience, the time in Paris, and the Epicurean lifestyle were three very important components to the composing of Ernest Miller Hemingway’s self.