Ernest Hemingway remains the single most important writer of the 20th Century. In spite of all his detractors (and they are legion), Hemingway changed world literature in a way so total that today we can no longer imagine literature without him. Hemingway’s sentence structure and style ushered in a revolution, slamming the door forever on the 19th Century. Simple, clean, declarative sentences became such a dominant form that today it is the style by which every writer is judged (and mostly deemed wanting). But it was not only Hemingway’s style that altered literature, it was his attitude. Jake Barnes, from The Sun Also Rises, would become the grandfather of an entirely new American genre, the noir, fashioning an attitude, world vision, and style which would be adopted by Dashiell Hammet, Raymond Chandler and James Cain.
Equally important was Hemingway’s genius for literary structure. He is still the finest craftsman, ever. His novels and stories are masterclass textbooks on story design, on the structure and use of symbolism and metaphor, on the intricate layering of motif and theme, on the construction of sentences, paragraphs, chapters. What Hemingway didn’t know about writing is, for the most part, not worth learning.
Even so, Hemingway also remains one of the most regularly misinterpreted writers. The history of Hemingway criticism is a fine example of pathetically lesser intellects trying to explain pure genius. Even the most cursory glance reveals a remarkable willingness to entirely misread Hemingway (or perhaps to form opinions without reading him at all). Often labeled as an immoral and egotistical writer, Hemingway was anything but.
In our own dark and immoral century, it is, I think, to Hemingway we need most to turn. Our greatest writers have always offered guidance, and Hemingway’s work shines like a clean, bold light through the dark.
Ernest Hemingway Books to Read:
A Farewell to Arms, Men Without Women, The Sun Also Rises, Winner Take Nothing, The Old Man and the Sea, The Snows of Kilimanjaro and Other Stories, For Whom the Bell Tolls, In Our Time.
Ernest Hemingway Links: