The Stories of Hemingway

Author Ernest Hemingway (1899–1961)


Ernest Hemingway, who ranks with William Faulkner as one of the indisputable giants of twentieth century American fiction, wrote more than fifty short stories. Together they constitute probably the greatest, certainly the most widely known and influential, work in the genre during that period, and a dozen or so, including "The Snows of Kilimanjaro," "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber," "In Another Country," "A Way You’ll Never Be," "The Killers," "A Clean Well-Lighted Place," and "Big Two-Hearted River," are unsurpassed and unsurpassable today or at any time. Perhaps most at home in the short-story form, which in his case constitutes an unusually large portion of a major writer’s work, Hemingway used it for artistic purposes and achievements of the highest order.

Hemingway’s first short-story publication of note was IN OUR TIME, a collection containing fourteen stories bounded and interspersed by brief interchapters on violence coldly observed at bullfights, in World War I, and especially in the Graeco-Turkish War, which Hemingway had recently viewed as a war correspondent. Eight of the stories have Nick Adams for their protagonist—a character Hemingway employed frequently, not only here but also in numerous later stories—and are arranged chronologically, tracing Nick’s development from childhood to maturity. Because stories about Nick begin and end the collection, and since the other six stories are placed so that the events in them correspond temporally to stages in Nick’s growth, IN OUR TIME has a narrative unity similar to that of an episodic novel. As a quasi novel, the book belongs in a category with James Joyce’s DUBLINERS and Sherwood Anderson’s WINESBURG, OHIO. It belongs there not merely because of its narrative organization but also because, like them, it is thematically unified around a concern with what Joyce called paralysis, the spiritual plight of modern man; only where Joyce and Anderson chose a specific geographical place, Hemingway, more ambitiously, chose "our time," a vague but readily available temporal location, as the setting for that theme.

Though collected again in multiples of fourteen in MEN WITHOUT WOMEN (1927) and WINNER TAKE NOTHING (1933), and then finally gathered in a largely complete edition in THE FIFTH COLUMN AND THE FIRST FORTY-NINE STORIES (1938), a collection containing the first three collections plus seven other stories, Hemingway’s stories after IN OUR TIME are not bound together chronologically and narratively. Thematically and stylistically, they are, however, as collections or separate stories, continuations of IN OUR TIME; all his stories, indeed his entire work, nonfiction as well as long and short fiction, are confined to a narrow range which is surveyed repeatedly and thoroughly. That narrowness is evident everywhere in his work, and so in his subject, which Hemingway defined in the introduction to MEN AT WAR (1942), a collection of war stories and accounts he edited, where he wrote:

When you go to war as a boy you have a great illusion of immortality. Other people get killed; not you. It can happen to other people; but not to you. Then when you are badly wounded the first time you lose that illusion and you know it can happen to you. After being severely wounded two weeks before my nineteenth birthday I had a bad time until I figured it out that nothing could happen to me that had not happened to all men before me. Whatever I had to do men had always done. If they had done it then I could do it too and the best thing was not to worry about it.

The wound, that affliction through which man becomes aware of his mortality, of his finite limitations, or, in traditional Christian parlance, of his fallen state and spiritual futility, is the definitive encounter with reality upon which all Hemingway’s short stories, and other fiction as well, are closely focused.

IN OUR TIME initiates Hemingway’s inquiry into this authentic and authenticating moment. In the first story, "Indian Camp," Nick is present when his father, a doctor, performs a Caesarian operation on an Indian woman who has suffered long, agonizing labor pains. Nick, unable to watch the operation after his first curiosity passed, rejects its relevance for himself, and instead, after the delivery, while crossing a lake in which he trails his hand, feels sure that he himself will never die. Since IN OUR TIME is about love, not war, Nick’s war wound is briefly and dryly treated in an interchapter. The more important wounds for him and in the book as a whole are the wounds of love, the pain of its effects and loss. Yet despite his being subjected to the consequences it leads to for the Indian husband, who, finding his wife’s suffering intolerable, cuts his own throat, and Ad Francis, who goes insane when public pressure forces his wife to leave him, and his own disillusioning affairs with Marge in "An End of Something" and Luz in "A Very Short Story," Nick marries and gets his wife pregnant. When George, a friend with whom he is skiing in "Cross Country Snow," remarks on the hardship of life in general, Nick says it is not exactly that, though he cannot explain why. He only confesses that that is simply the way life is. In the last story of the collection, "Big Two-Hearted River," Nick moves through and beyond the burnt-out land to the river, completing a cycle wherein he progresses from innocence through experience via his wounds to self-renewal, from timelessness into time and mortality and back to timelessness again. Somewhat paradoxically, in the end, he chooses the high ground over the deep, dark, tragic water of the swamp, but in so doing, he rejects death, the impersonal, self-obliterating power in the universe. His war and love wounds have thrown him radically back upon himself, have defined his conditions as an individual human being, and he accepts those as necessary and even good. His bad times over, he has chosen to live within his human limitations and so has stopped worrying. Like a good soldier, he has learned to hold his imagination at bay and to live completely in the present as the meaningful essence of experience.

In later stories, Hemingway expands upon and clarifies phases in this cycle centering around the wound, with death moving into the foreground and love, when present, into the background. Though innocence does occur in its purest form on two later occasions in "The Snows of Kilimanjaro," where the protagonist’s wife, sentimental and preferring illusion to reality, like so many women in Hemingway’s fiction, fails to recognize the reality of death when her husband dies; and in "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber," the hero learns not to worry when he assumes his manhood by a sudden act which liberates him from the fear of death. Hemingway’s imagination after IN OUR TIME is absorbed with the effects resulting from a poignant consciousness of death or a wound received in war. Examples of the former are "A Day’s Wait," in which a nine-year-old boy mistakenly waits all day to die, then has a rough time when he realizes that he will live; or "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place," in which an old man and a lonely waiter experience nothingness, the ultimate truth revealed by the wound about a world of death. "A Way You’ll Never Be," which elaborates upon Nick’s wounding related in an interchapter of IN OUR TIME, and in IN ANOTHER COUNTRY, are Hemingway’s subtlest accounts of Nick’s bad time resulting from his wound, which spreads its poison throughout his consciousness and destroys all his illusions—not only those of love and immortality but those of invulnerability, heroism, patriotism, comradeship, security, technology, and rehabilitation as well. The wound eventually strips away all grounds for certainty or hope and bares the reality of inexorable time and change.

"A writer’s job," Hemingway repeatedly insisted, "is to write simple true sentences, to tell the truth so purely that it would be truer than anything factual, an absolute truth." This aspiration, inherited from Realism and disciplined by his training as a journalist, impelled him to report on the sorrowful loss that lies at the heart of love and death, with precision, economy, and clarity. He sought, above all, like Harold Krebs in "Soldier’s Home" of IN OUR TIME, to avoid the "nausea" that comes from untruth or exaggeration. He realized that this feeling depended upon his never lying, to others but most importantly to himself, about his own inner fears. The complete truth about himself, about his predicament as a man, must be faced honestly and without cowardice. His aesthetic aim, the moral and literary values to which he severely committed himself, his tough, realistic acknowledgment of man’s deficiencies, coupled with a sane skepticism recognizing both the powers and limits of human intelligence and a sense that the highest, distinctive human enjoyment comes from understanding—simply knowing or being conscious—makes Hemingway the twentieth century’s greatest scientific writer. That fact that he wrote in a scientific era makes his short stories, along with the rest of his work, the most accurate and profound statement of the way things are for scientific man.

Writing from the heart of his being, which throbbed in unison with the vital currents of Western culture, Hemingway founded his art upon a thoroughly integrated sense of life, so that despite his apparent mannerisms he has been and remains inimitable. At a time when Realism, committed to the dominion of the senses, matter, and environment, held the literary throne, and Romanticism, ex-royalty, was challenging Realism for the renewed supremacy of a passionate consummation with a self-transcendent ideal, Hemingway created the classic short story. A younger contemporary and friend of such foremost modernists as Ezra Pound, James Joyce, and Pablo Picasso, Hemingway learned his intellectualism and classicism from them but then went even further than they toward realizing them. Where their intellectualism and classicism tended to show itself somewhat gaudily in book learning, his was marked by an association of sensibility so subtle as to be seamless. His apparent anti-intellectualism actually signifies a completely successful pragmatic interfusion of thought into experience or consciousness. Hemingway’s short stories, unlike Realistic ones, which are oppressive with their emphasis on the overwhelming details of the sensory world, and Romantic ones, which sob their cries of bitter, futile melancholy born of frustration, exemplify the active mind in quest of essences being nourished by its power to know and abide by the truth. Avoiding the tragic and extremes, deep, dark waters and the night, the unconscious and romantically ideal, Hemingway wrote stories by and for rational creatures who care about feeling cool and clear inside themselves, who care about a clean, well-lighted place for thought and action within the necessary human limitations. As long as anyone cares for these, the greatness and cogency of Hemingway’s short stories will remain undiminished.

After the Storm (Short Story)

An Alpine Idyll (Short Story)

Big Two-Hearted River (Short Story)

A Canary for One (Short Story)

A Clean, Well-Lighted Place (Short Story)

Hills Like White Elephants (Short Story)

In Another Country (Short Story)

Indian Camp (Short Story)

The Killers (Short Story)

The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber (Short Story)

Soldier’s Home (Short Story)

The Three-Day Blow (Short Story)

The Battler (Short Story)

My Old Man (Short Story)

Author Biography