Category Archives: Ernest Hemingway

Thoughts: To Have and Have Not

To Have and Have NotTo Have and Have Not by Ernest Hemingway
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

No matter how a man alone ain’t got no bloody fucking chance.

Don’t stare at it too long. Hemingway can write a little better than this crude assembly of improper grammar, this frayed string of incomprehensible nonsense. I know this, despite certain times of doubt while reading his works. But in To Have and Have Not, all the contemptible characteristics of Hemingway’s style work together seamlessly and, more importantly, with profound effect. I nearly glimpsed the genius which the literary world ascribes to Hemingway. But instead I feel like I shook hands with a man, a unique man, who knows something which no one else cares to know, and would rather hold secretly and serenely within his soul than save the world by preaching it. And this shared moment comes during one of the most violent books in his catalog!

Hemingway begins immediately by writing to his audience in the first-person perspective as if we have all grown up between Cuba and the Keys and know the guys who loiter around Freddy’s place. He does not write to us. He speaks to us, as best as Harry Morgan can. Then in the following chapters, he shifts into the third-person, describing Harry’s episodes without any idea that we just listened to Harry himself out in the black waters of the Gulf, bobbing lazily between lighthouses casting lines of yellow light through the shimmering white luminescence of the moon. And we know Harry as Some Harry, just like they do. I admit, towards the end, it seems as though Hemingway lost control a bit and fell back into his stream of redundancy and run-on sentences. But I have to believe that he intentionally drops the chains which had kept his pen proper. We read to know people, and the experiences of these characters, expressed often by these characters, cannot hide behind the rules of the craft. Hemingway, as the writer, becomes an absent tour guide but still guides the tour somehow.

As the title would suggest, Hemingway portrays images of those who have and those who have not. Near the end, those who have not might realize the riches they possess in family and friends while the trust-fund junky blows a hole in his head because he might have to live on just over $200 a month. Those who have might realize the joys of family time on a luxurious yacht drifting in the moonlit heat while those who have not face off at gun point for a bag of money stowed away below deck. All in all, the pursuit of wealth pits one caged animal against another, clawing at the cash green bars while their fellow man does the same in his cage, warning the other to stay away.

Honest work drives honest men to make dangerous deals because it cannot support a family. Revolutionaries compromise their decency in order to collapse the cage which imprisons the common class. Soldiers wail on each other because they have no place else to go. All these animals rage against their cages and only serve to hurt themselves. Those who have not must either decompose within their cage or rage with the full might of the human spirit. And yet the more they rage the more their spirit seeps from their hearts and minds. They relent to immoral demands and sacrifice their integrity in order to support their families or free a land they love. And as their spirit dwindles, they find no solace in each other, no rekindling of their humanity in another’s embrace. These cages isolate people. The bars bring focus to their own plight and implant an alarming apathy for the lives of other animals. Alone in these cages, they degenerate and cannot survive because of the harm they inflict on themselves through weaponized relations. They rage uncontrollably, yearning for a life outside of the cage only to realize that they can never escape. And if they could, they would only bleed to death in freedom. When each person views the world as their opponent, they set out alone and meet a worthy adversary equally intent on a fight.

And now, Oh Marie…what now? Does the cycle of collapse begin again in you? Do you resign yourself to the cage, dumbstruck by the clicking lock, waiting for the flames in your eyes to char your skin and singe your hair? Though the world vacuums the life from your soul, the charm from your smile and the bounce from your body, you will go on. You have truly lost your riches but you will go on…somehow.

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Posted by on April 25, 2013 in Ernest Hemingway


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Thoughts: Death In The Afternoon

Death in the AfternoonDeath in the Afternoon by Ernest Hemingway
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The great thing is to last and get your work done and see and hear and learn and understand; and write when there is something that you know; and not before; and not too damned much after. Let those who want to save the world if you can get to see it clear and as a whole. Then any part you make will represent the whole if it’s made truly. The thing to do is work and learn and make it.

I bought this book because I cannot imagine any self-respecting literature enthusiast who does not own Hemingway’s major works. Admitedly, however, I did not know what to expect from the book. I had a vague notion that Hemingway discusses bullfighting – onto page one.

The title itself seems to suck all fear and sentiment from the notion of death. It implies a certain casual approach to the concept – or its crafty entrance onto a lively scene. Keep reading.

Immediately, Hemingway prefaces the book by dictating, in no uncertain terms, his trademark intentions as a writer – to write honestly of what exists as truth, mercilessly; the central ethos of his style. He insists that the writer must serve as a simple conduit between an event and those who read about it so the event can dictate its own inspiration to emotion, not the writer. He need not add any stimental embellishments lest the reader alternate his focus between their emotions and the writer’s emotions and displace themselves from the stirring in their own soul, or censor any aspect of an event and deny the reader the full emotive experience. Hemingway obviously possesses a deep insight into the essence of bullfighting and has coupled that insight with a sturdy writing philosophy. Preach on.

I particularly appreciated Heminway’s distinction between qualifying the moral implications of bullfighting according to feeling and as a unity of circumstances into one tragic, beautiful event. A spectator may sympathize with the horse, bull or matador which would lead to negative or positive feelings about the fight, depending on the outcome. If the matador wins and the spectator desires an example of Man triumphing over nature, he might argue for a certain moral high ground in bullfighting. Yet if a spectator sympathizes with animals, they might see only a dispicable scene of grotesque barbarity. Yet both of these spectators would miss the terrible trajedy, in all its beauty and truth, within the whole event. The bullfight, arguably, represents a dance – the unavoidable snare of Death and the proud defiance of Life – in all its terrible beauty or gallant victory.

When understanding Death as an imminent fate, one might find themselves viewing life through a rather unpleasant nihilistic lens. Such a pessimistic respect for death might ultimately render all of life’s happiness as meaningless, which would explain the moral dread felt by some who witness the bullfight. Who wants to feel that way? In the bullfight, these majestic and terrible beasts exist to die. But, nihilistically speaking, does not man exist for the same reason? Perhaps the bullfight somehow imparts Man’s dread or, perhaps, his inability to accept his own meaninglessness – born to die, a tragic existence now shared with the strongest of beasts who cannot, like Man, stave off the end.

On the other hand, Man has always imagined himself as a grandiose being capable of altering his own fate. Even today, people essentially apply all manners of sciences to disarm and shackle Death. We thrive on defiance and worship those who rise from the dead. Matadors do not rage against nature but spit in the face of charging Death. And yet, amongst all the pomp in the performance lies the art of the dance. The trajedy of the bullfight is not that the bull, or matador, dies but how he dies. Neither creature can control anything more.

One will see the brilliance and majesty of bullfighting when one sanctifies the seemingly contrary and combative executions of truth rather than abhoring the apparent neglect of cozy morals. To restrain one’s actions to align with what one can qualify as the right and true thing, though it may mean the end for something else on the stage, is to devote oneself less to the outcomes of those players and entirely to the vision of real essence. Morality cannot exist purely based on the sustainability of life because death will never cease to exist. Therefore, have confidence in doing the right thing and respect the presence of Death.

Whoa, Hemingway…careful now.

Hemingway talked at length about many of the noteworthy matadors practicing in Spain through the early twentieth century. He talked about one known as Maera. During this short biography of a John Wayne fighter brought up under one of Spain’s immortal masters, I felt a certain emotive quality but struggled to explicitly identify the reasons behind the emotion or to find any moral justification for it. At least Hemingway offered none. I simply felt the dull bliss of human connection between two unrelated people separated by all matter of space and time. Any moral implication or lesson in truth, the desire and subsequent search for them within the story, faded and left me with an indefinable contentment in knowing the true actions and essence of someone without distracting myself with the hopes of being bettered by such an acquaintance. I felt this same emotion propelling me through The Sun Also Rises but couldn’t make sense of it. After reading Death In The Afternoon, a book centering around a “sport” I care nothing about, I somehow feel that I’ve come closer to appreciating and understanding the essence of Hemingway’s ethos.

I only wish Hemingway had performed more laudibly in his craft. Look back to the epigraph at the beginning. Tell me he could not have written such a beautiful idea better.

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Posted by on May 15, 2012 in Ernest Hemingway


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Thoughts: A Moveable Feast

A Moveable FeastA Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

“Hem” – one of those endearing nicknames which is forcefully maintained through generations despite its awkward sound. I have a like-hate relationship with “Hem”. When studying his style, as worthy of study as it is in a way that most musicians may eventually study Nirvana, one can appreciate its strict, dogmatic approach. No adjectives. Show, don’t tell. Staccato dialog. Only use words that readers would use. Within these restrictions, Hemingway can accurately portray anything. His style is no style. It’s looking through a freshly manufactured window which has been blemished by no dust, Windex or crack. But, my God, the wording is cumbersome! Run-ons with little rhythmic punctuation followed by short, concise sentences to slap you back to attention.

Some may see this as a talent. It is. Whether one appreciates this talent is another argument. But what cannot be argued is that Hemingway has a mind built for seeing the world for what it is. The effect of his articulation of choice is another matter. Nothing is taken for granted. Nothing can distract him from seeing a purpose served. I think this works best when he talks about people. The most intriguing and entertaining elements of A Moveable Feast were his experiences with Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Not all the accounts were flattering for his subjects but he was flawless in expressing their fallibility and redemptions.

Surely a writer of the Lost Generation living as an expatriate in Paris among like-minded artisans is something of a holy and festal experience – a moveable feast. But I’m sure the food and wine in all the European cafes, which incessantly permeated “Hem’s” narrative, made it all that much more enjoyable.

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Posted by on April 25, 2012 in Ernest Hemingway


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Thoughts: For Whom The Bells Tolls

For Whom the Bell TollsFor Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

For both sides of the Spanish Civil War, between Republicans and Fascists, idealism and beliefs are not enough to negate the remaining hollowness after barbarous acts of war. But the killing commences regardless. Political beliefs are firm, fought for and defended, shaped into glories and justified as honor when death seeps through a band of guerrillas or a military post. Ideals are borders with sentries posted for security. Men and women valuing those ideals more than life become islands separated by seas of discord and perspective.

Simply put, fences are built within one land, a land that was there long before ideals and beliefs split its belly from its groin, seared limbs from heart. And it is to maintain these divisions that we fight. The common ground of humanity, a soldier’s distaste for barbarism, sorrow in death, has never been defended or fought for. The enlightened soldier would have no one to fight.

During heavy rains of embellishments and interpretations, Hemingway is the wiper clearing the reader’s view of a story, of life. Like drinking a glass of water from the faucet you grew up drinking from, tasteless, clean, natural, familiar. The narration is flawless, thorough journalism going to work on places and events while reporting thought processes read in characters’ minds. And these things create the story, reveal truths and pains. Not the writer. Not the writer.

But the split. The divide.

Then the realization that men are not, and cannot be, islands amongst each other. Though we may try, and destroy much in our endeavors to be so, it will not happen. A soldier may live beyond their expiration date to realize the ultimate insignificance of progressing ideas by means of death, of fighting against the natural binding of men. That doing so will eventually engulf oneself in an abyss of baseness that ideals and beliefs won’t be able to dissolve. May we all die before such a disillusionment.

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Posted by on April 25, 2012 in Ernest Hemingway


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Thoughts: A Farewell To Arms

A Farewell To ArmsA Farewell To Arms by Ernest Hemingway
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The setting of this book immediately fell into place for me. Or if it wasn’t Hemingway’s setting it was what I pictured reading his words; like a Tim Burton film shot when color was first introduced in Hollywood. Opaque, simple. Staged. Colorful but inanimate. Not alive. Painted.

Then it rained.

And the contrast. Nature and war. Love and destruction. Not necessarily love and hate and I think that’s important. Because hate shrouds everything in destruction. Is love not a part of everything? Can it out-wit destruction? The question isn’t about hatred, but about death and its refusal to align with any good or bad intention or sentiment.

I didn’t really like Lieutenant Henry. He seemed disjointed from everything. Sitting in cafes after bombardments, inquiring about food when shells were dropping and seemingly contracting from Catherine all he could to give him pleasing distractions from the war. And he ate, and ate, and drank, and drank. But I think he was natural. I don’t think I would necessarily act any different than he did, behaving in a hospital the way he would in a hotel. How else would I mentally extract myself from a war-time existence?

Then the destruction. The death. The rain.

Whether he had faith in victory or defeat, love or infatuation, it rained. Destruction lied waiting for an opportune moment to pounce regardless of Henry’s true sentiments. If the Italians were defeated, people were conquered. If they kept fighting for victory, people died. And if he really loved Catherine or was simply infatuated…

The priest said:

When you love you wish to do things for. You wish to sacrifice for. You wish to serve.

When nothing is immune from destruction, when rain falls on everything, does it really matter?

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Posted by on April 25, 2012 in Ernest Hemingway


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Thoughts: The Sun Also Rises

The Sun Also RisesThe Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A writer must first have a passion for life before developing and wielding a talent for words. This is the nearest I’ve come to crediting a book’s quality to life itself rather than to the writer. Yet Hemingway deserves any lavished praises because I would not have realized this possibility otherwise.

My guess is that all the pompous literary snobs out there bypass this passion for life. They don’t possess it. So they displace their desire for passion onto words. I wonder if they are aware of this when they criticize and belittle work that falls short of their standards; like young, punk bikers donning leather jackets and chaps imitating the cliche rough image and getting in fights with those bikers who revere and respect the road.

I thought of
On The Road
while reading this. Like a reporter, Hemingway allows the heart of expatriation, the Lost Generation, speak for itself. In a way, the book seems to foreshadow the Beat Generation, Grunge, etc. And thank God these sentiments always cycle back around. Or is it cyclical, as Hemingway’s epitaph from Ecclesiastes indicates? What if this “generation” exists in every time? Do we only notice it and label it when it bears pleasing fruit? If there is no one to produce it, does that mean the sentiment of discontent and purposelessness is not there? Ah, to be a writer without any noteworthy experience. Yet these expatriates forged their experience from the fires of passion in life.

Nothing in the plot or characterizations surprised me or astounded me; the Romanesque bull fights, Brett’s rogue relationships, Robert Cohn’s tactless romanticism, the cafe gorging. But Jake’s expression of love for Brett intrigued me. It was truly selfless in its contrast from Cohn’s obsession, Mike’s ownership or Romero’s usefulness. I would have felt sympathy for Jake if he seemed at all burdened by it. To him it must have just been another aspect of life.

I did not care what it was all about. All I wanted to know was how to live in it. Maybe if you found out how to live in it you learned from that what it was all about.

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Posted by on April 25, 2012 in Ernest Hemingway


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