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Critical Themes in the Writings of Hemingway: Life & Death, Fishing, War, Sex, Bullfighting, and the Mediterranean Region

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Critical Themes in the Writings of Hemingway: Life & Death, Fishing, War, Sex, Bullfighting, and the Mediterranean Region


Hemingway brought a tremendous deal of what is middle class Americanism into literature, without very many people recognizing what he has done. He had nothing short of a writer’s mind; a mind like a vacuum cleaner that swept his life experiences clean, picking up any little thing, technique, or possible subject that might be of use (Astro 3). From the beginning, Hemingway had made a careful and conscientious formula for the art of the novel (Hoffman 142).

This preconceived formula contained certain themes that recur with great frequency and power throughout Hemingway’s writings. Such themes include an obsessive fascination with life and death, an interest in fishing, war, bullfighting, a strange perception of sex and an unusual fixation on the Mediterranean region. In Hemingway’s writings, the symbols are implicit; they follow the laws of reality to such a degree that in themselves they form a whole story (Wilson 2).

Hemingway’s hero’s battles consist of conquering dread, a dread which is connected with earlier experiences, and which appears as a fear of life or death. These two elements, life and death, seem to take two opposite forms, but in reality they are the same. Life ends with death, because death is a constituent part of life, therefore life includes death (Scott 24). If you follow the main lines through Hemingway’s writings, you will very easily discover that everything deals with a sick, mortally wounded man’s fight to overcome the dread arising from his meeting with life (Young 21).

In Hemingway’s world, death begins in childhood, as described with unsurpassed mastery in the short story “Indian Camp.” This story tells of young boy, Nick, who is present while his father, the doctor, performs a cesarean section on an Indian woman, without anesthesia, equipped with only a jackknife and fishing leaders to sew the wound up with. The Indian woman’s husband lies in the upper bunk during the operation, with the woolen blanket drawn up over his head. When they lift up the blanket, he has cut his throat. It is here that Hemingway’s long autobiography begins; this is how it feels to be human. Nick, the hero, has received his wound. He is scared to death, and all of his later experiences are more or less repetitions...


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.... Detroit: Gale, 1973. 142.

Geismar, Maxwell. “Ernest Hemingway: At the Crossroads.” American Moderns: From Rebellion to Conformity. (1958): 54-8. Rpt. in Contemporary Literary Criticism. Ed. Carolyn Riley. Vol. 1. Detroit: Gale, 1973. 142.

Fiedler, Leslie A. “Hemingway.” Love and Death in the American Novel. (1966): 316-17. Rpt. in Contemporary Literary Criticism. Ed. Carolyn Riley. Vol. 1. Detroit: Gale, 1973. 143.

Frohock, W.M. “Ernest Hemingway-The River and the Hawk.” The Novel of Violence in America. (1957): 166-98. Rpt. in Contemporary Literary Criticism. Ed. Carolyn Riley. Vol.1. Detroit: Gale, 1973. 141.

Oliver, Charles M. Ernest Hemingway A to Z. New York: Facts on File, 1999.

Reynolds, Michael S. Hemingway’s First War: The Making of “A Farewell to Arms.” New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1976.

Rovit, Earl. Ernest Hemingway. Boston: Twayne, 1963.

Scott, Nathan A. Jr. Ernest Hemingway: A Critical Essay. Michigan: William B. Eerdman, 1966.

Wilson, M. “Ernest Hemingway.” Lost Generation (1993). 16 Feb. 2001 {http://www.lostgeneration.com/hembio.html}.

Young, Philip. Ernest Hemingway. Great Britain: The Oxford University Press, 1964.


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