Ernest Hemingway: modernist, realist, storyteller

I read The Old Man and the Sea before I read anything else by Ernest Hemingway, and I really fell in love with his style in the same way that I fell in love with Cormac McCarthy’s (we will talk about him at some point in the future). I have typically heard “robust” prose as the descriptor, but I think it goes beyond robust, and hopefully this brief exploration will shed some light on that.


Ernest Hemingway was born in 1899 in Cicero, Illinois; though, Hemingway would learn to fish and hunt in Northern Michigan, which would inform his storytelling interests later in his life. He was a sportswriter in High School, writing for the school newspaper Trapeze and Tabula, and later worked for The Kansas City Star. One could certainly argue that all of this journalism contributed to his realistic approach to writing (perhaps even that “robust” style).

He joined the up to fight in WWI in 1918 and served as an ambulance driver in the Italian Army; and, through the course of duty, earned the Italian Silver Medal of Bravery and a few battle wounds. After the war, he worked at the Toronto Star and eventually moved to Paris with his first wife and worked as a foreign correspondent for the same newspaper ( In Europe, he met Gertrude Stein (who we previously discussed on the blog) and became a member of “The Lost Generation” (a group of disenfranchised artists who knew the world would never be the same after the war).

It was there with Gertrude Stein that Hemingway met a plethora of famous artists, including F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound, Pablo Picasso, and James Joyce. While in the throes of modernist debate, Hemingway published The Sun Also Rises and A Farewell to Arms, which more or less cemented him as an important writer in literature history. Some might argue that the inspiration for these great works were his adventurous spirit and real-life experiences, and I doubt that I would disagree. He also wrote realistic, albeit dramatic, short stories, such as Hills Like White Elephants and The Three Day Blow.

And what of that style? Well, see for yourself:

In the jolt of my head I heard somebody crying. I thought somebody was screaming. I tried to move but I could not move … I pulled and twisted and got my legs loose finally and turned around and touched him. It was Passini and when I touched him he screamed. His legs were toward me and I saw in the dark and the light that they were both smashed above the knee. One leg was gone and the other was held by tendons and part of the trouser and the stump twitched and jerked as though it were not connected.

Ernest Hemingway
“A Farewell to Arms”

Later in life, Hemingway won the Pulitzer with the publication of The Old Man and the Sea, and then eventually the Nobel Prize in Literature for his literary contributions.

On July 2, 1961, after years of adventure, injuries, divorces, wars, and whatever else, Hemingway committed suicide, as he had been suffering from mental health issues that included paranoia and depression. While his life was cut short, he had contributed a great deal to the craft. As writes: “Hemingway left behind an impressive body of work and an iconic style that still influences writers today. His personality and constant pursuit of adventure loomed almost as large as his creative talent.”

Important Works

  • In Our Time (1926)
  • The Sun Also Rises (1927)
  • A Farewell to Arms (1929)
  • To Have and Have Not (1937)
  • For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940)
  • The Old Man and the Sea (1951)

Works Cited