“There are some things which cannot be learned
quickly, and time, which is all we have, must be paid
heavily for their acquiring. They are the simplest
things, and because it takes a man’s life to know
them, the little now that each man gets from life,
is very costly and the only heritage he has to leave.”
Ernest Hemingway is easily reconized by many scholars and outdoorsman because of his
lifestyle. During his life he left a legacy for some and a disaster for others.
was on top of the world at some point or another, his life wasn’t always as fortunate. He
had problems, like everyone has, but it wasn’t his fault he could not stay satisfied and
couldn’t keep women. Hemingway was not only a writer, but a vetern, fisherman and
Ernest Miller Hemingway was born at eight o’clock in the morning on July 21,
1899 in Oak Park, Illinois (Shaw viii) .
Born in the family home at 439 North Oak Park
Avenue, a house built by his widowed grandfather Ernest Hall, Hemingway was the second
of Dr. Clarence and Grace Hall Hemingway’s six children; he had four sisters and one
brother (McDowell 11). He was named after his maternal grandfather Ernest Hall and his
As a boy he was taught by his father to hunt and fish along the shores and in the
forests surrounding Lake Michigan (Shaw 17). The Hemingways had a summer house at
the northern end of Lake Michigan and the family would spend the summer months there
trying to stay cool. Hemingway would either fish the different streams that ran into the
lake, or would take the row boat out on the bay and do some fishing there. He discovered
early in life the serenity to be found while alone in the forest. It was something he could
always go back to throughout his life, wherever he was. Nature would be the touchstone of
Hemingway received his formal schooling in the Oak Park public school system. In
high school he was mediocre at sports, playing football, swimming, water basketball and
serving as the track team manager (Burgess 15). He enjoyed working on the high school
newspaper called the Trapeze, where he wrote his first articles. Hemingway graduated in
the spring of 1917 and instead of going to college the following fall like his parents
expected, he took a job as a cub reporter for the Kansas City Star (Shaw viii).
At the time of Hemingway’s graduation from High School, World War I was raging
in Europe and despite Woodrow Wilson’s attempts to keep America out of the war, the
United States joined the Allies in the fight against Germany and Austria in April, 1917
(Shaw). When Hemingway turned eighteen he tried to enlist in the army, but was deferred
because of poor vision; he had a bad left eye that he probably inherited from his mother,
who also had poor vision. When he heard the Red Cross was taking volunteers as
ambulance drivers he quickly signed up (Shaw). He was accepted in December of 1917,
left his job at the paper in April of 1918, and sailed for Europe in May.
On July 8, 1918, only a few weeks after arriving, Hemingway was seriously
wounded by fragments from an Austrian mortar shell which had landed just a few feet
away. At the time, Hemingway was distributing chocolate and cigarettes to Italian soldiers
in the trenches near the front lines. The explosion knocked Hemingway unconscious, killed
an Italian soldier and blew the legs off another (Shaw). What happened next has been
debated for some time. Supposivlely over 200 pieces of shrapnel being lodged in
Hemingway’s legs he still managed to carry another wounded soldier back to the first aid
station; along the way he was hit in the legs by several machine gun bullets (Shaw).
Whether he carried the wounded soldier or not, doesn’t diminish Hemingway’s sacrifice.
He was awarded the Italian Silver Medal for Valor with the official Italian citation (Shaw).
Recovering at a hospital in Milan, he started a relationship with his nurse Agnes
von Kurowsky (Burgess 72). He returned to America with a broken heart. Hemingway
took the position, which offered him time to write and a chance to work for the Toronto
Star Weekly. Hemingway wrote for the Star Weekly even after moving to Chicago in the
fall of 1920. While living at a friend’s house he met Hadley Richardson and they quickly
fell in love. The two married in September 1921 (Shaw). Hemingway and his new bride
would go to Paris, France where he had a chance to change literature.
Just as Hemingway was beginning to make a name for himself as a reporter and a
fledgling fiction writer, and just as he and his wife were hitting their stride socially in
Europe, the couple found out that Hadley was pregnant with their first child. With this
news Ernest said “I am to young to be a father” (McDowell 32). Wanting the baby born in
North America where the doctors and hospitals were better, the Hemingways left Paris in
1923 and moved to Toronto, where he wrote for the Toronto Daily Star and waited for
John Hadley Nicanor Hemingway was born on October 10, 1923 (Shaw). By
January of 1924 the young family boarded a ship and headed back to Paris where
Hemingway could and would finish making a name for himself.
In 1926 Hemingway published second novel The Sun Also Rises, which the
publisher had bought sight unseen (Shaw). Hemingway spent three months hunting on the
dark continent, all the while gathering material for his future writing. In 1935 he published
Green Hills of Africa, a pretended non-fiction account of his safari (Shaw).
The Sun Also Rises introduced the world to the “lost generation” and was a critical and
commercial success. Set in Paris and Spain, the book was a story of unresisting love against
a background of bars and bullfighting.
While he could do no wrong with his writing career, his personal life had
began to show signs of wear. He divorced his first wife Hadley in 1927 and married
Pauline Pfeiffer later that year (Shaw). In 1928 Hemingway and Pauline left Paris for Key
West, Florida in search of new surroundings to go with their new life together (McDowell
57). They would live there for nearly twelve years, and Hemingway found it a wonderful
place to work and to play, discovering the sport of big game fishing which would become a
life-long passion and a source for much of his later writing (Burgess). That same year
Hemingway received word of his father’s death by suicide (Shaw). Clarence Hemingway
had begun to suffer from a number of physical ailments that would exacerbate an already
fragile mental state. He had developed diabetes, endured painful angina and extreme
headaches. On top of these physical problems he also suffered from a dismal financial
situation after speculative real estate purchases in Florida never panned out. His problems
seemingly unbeatable, Clarence Hemingway shot himself in the head. Ernest immediately
traveled to Oak Park to arrange for his funeral. Pauline was pregnant at the time and on
June 28, 1928 gave birth to Patrick by cesarean section. In 1931 Pauline gave birth to
Gregory, their second son together, and the last of Hemingway’s children (Shaw).
Hemingway had met a young writer named Martha Gellhorn in Key West and the
two would go on to conduct a secret affair for almost four years before Hemingway
divorced Pauline and married Martha (Houston Chronicle). They would eventually marry
in November of 1940, nearly four years after meeting at Sloppy Joe’s bar in Key West in
December 1936(Shaw). After returning from Spain and divorcing Pauline, Hemingway
and Martha moved to a lage house in Vigia, outside Havana, Cuba(Shaw).
While in London Hemingway met Mary Welsh, the opposite of Martha
(McDowell). Mary was caring, adoring, and complimentary while Martha couldn’t care
less, had lost any admiration for her man and was often insulting to him. For Hemingway it
was an easy choice between the two and like in other wars, Hemingway fell in love with a
Hemingway and Mary openly conducted their dating in London and then in France
after the allied invasion at Normandy and the subsequent liberation of Paris. For all intents
and purposes Hemingway’s third marriage was over and his fourth and final marriage to
Mary had begun (Houston Chronicle).
In September of 1952 The Old Man and the Sea appeared in Life magazine, selling
over 5 million copies in a flash (Shaw). The next week Scribners rolled out the first
hardcover edition of 50,000 copies and they too sold out quickly. The book was a huge
success both critically and commercially and for the first time since For Whom The Bell
Tolls in 1940 Hemingway was atop the literary heap…and making a fortune(Shaw).
Though Hemingway had known great success before, he never had the privilege of
receiving any major literary prizes. The Old Man and the Sea changed that, winning the
Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1953(Shaw).
Despite his ailments, Hemingway and Mary traveled on to Venice one last time and
then headed back to Cuba. On October 28, 1954 Hemingway won the Nobel Prize for
Literature, but due to his injuries was unable to attend the ceremonies in Sweden. Instead,
he sent a written acceptance, read to the Nobel Committee by John Cabot, the US
Besides highlighting Hemingway’s increasing problem with writing the clear,
effective prose which made him famous, his physical deterioration had become obvious as
well during that summer of his 60th year. Pictures show Hemingway looking like a man
closer to eighty than one of sixty (Houston Chronicle). At times despondent, at others the
life of the party, the swings in his moods, exacerbated by his heavy drinking of up to a
quart of liquor a day, were taking a toll on those close to him.
In the fall of 1960 Hemingway flew to Rochester, Minnesota and was admitted to
the Mayo Clinic, ostensibly for treatment of high blood pressure but really for help with the
severe depression his wife Mary could no longer handle alone (McDowell). After
Hemingway began talking of suicide his Ketchum doctor agreed with Mary that they
should seek expert help. He registered under the name of his personal doctor George
Saviers and they began a medical program to try and repair his mental state. The Mayo
Clinic’s treatment would ultimately lead to electro shock therapy. According to Jefferey
Meyers Hemingway received “between 11 to 15 shock treatments that instead of helping
him most certainly hastened his demise.” One of the sad side effects of shock therapy is the
loss of memory, and for Hemingway it was a catastrophic loss. Without his memory he
could no longer write, could no longer recall the facts and images he required to create his
art. Writing, which had already become difficult was now nearly impossible.
Hemingway spent the first half of 1961 fighting his depression and paranoia, seeing
enemies at every turn and threatening suicide on several more occasions. On the morning
of July 2, 1961 Hemingway rose early, as he had his entire adult life, selected a shotgun
from a closet in the basement, went upstairs to a spot near the entrance-way of the house
and shot himself in the head (Shaw). It was little more than two weeks until his 62nd
Although Hemingway may have gone short of living his life, many still remember
Malcolm Cowley, “Rain as Disaster”, Twentieth Century Interpretations of A Farewell to
Arms, Jay Gellens, Prentice-Hall, Inc.:1970, pp.54-55 . Wyndham Lewis, “The Dumb Ox
in Love and War”, Twentieth Century Interpretations of A Farewell to Arms, Jay Gellens,
Prentice-Hall, Inc.:1970, p.76 . Edgar Johnson, “Farewell the Separate Peace”, Twentieth
Century Interpretations of A Farewell to Arms, Jay Gellens, Prentice-Hall, Inc.:1970,
pp.112-113 . John Shaw, “The Existential Hero”, Twentieth Century Interpretations of A
Farewell to Arms, Jay Gellens, Prentice-Hall,
Cite this Research Paper on Ernest Hemingway Essay
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