Ernest Miller Hemingway was born on July 21, 1899, in Oak
Park, Illinois. His father was the owner of a prosperous real
estate business. His father, Dr. Hemingway, imparted to Ernest the
importance of appearances, especially in public. Dr. Hemingway
invented surgical forceps for which he would not accept money. He
believed that one should not profit from something important for
the good of mankind. Ernest's father, a man of high ideals, was
very strict and censored the books he allowed his children to read.
He forbad Ernest's sister from studying ballet for it was
coeducational, and dancing together led to "hell and damnation".
Grace Hall Hemingway, Ernest's mother, considered herself pure
and proper. She was a dreamer who was upset at anything which
disturbed her perception of the world as beautiful. She hated
dirty diapers, upset stomachs, and cleaning house; they were not
fit for a lady. She taught her children to always act with
decorum. She adored the singing of the birds and the smell of
flowers. Her children were expected to behave properly and to
please her, always.
Mrs. Hemingway treated Ernest, when he was a small boy, as if
he were a female baby doll and she dressed him accordingly. This
arrangement was alright until Ernest got to the age when he wanted
to be a "gun-toting Pawnee Bill". He began, at that time, to pull
away from his mother, and never forgave her for his humiliation.
The town of Oak Park, where Ernest grew up, was very old
fashioned and quite religious. The townspeople forbad the word
"virgin" from appearing in school books, and the word "breast" was
questioned, though it appeared in the Bible.
Ernest loved to fish, canoe and explore the woods. When he
couldn't get outside, he escaped to his room and read books. He
loved to tell stories to his classmates, often insisting that a
friend listen to one of his stories. In spite of his mother's
desire, he played on the football team at Oak Park High School.
As a student, Ernest was a perfectionist about his grammar and
studied English with a fervor. He contributed articles to the
weekly school newspaper. It seems that the principal did not
approve of Ernest's writings and he complained, often, about the
content of Ernest's articles.
Ernest was clear about his writing; he wanted people to "see
and feel" and he wanted to enjoy himself while writing. Ernest
loved having fun. If nothing was happening, mischievous Ernest
made something happen. He would sometimes use forbidden words just
to create a ruckus. Ernest, though wild and crazy, was a warm,
caring individual. He loved the sea, mountains and the stars and
hated anyone who he saw as a phoney.
During World War I, Ernest, rejected from service because of a
bad left eye, was an ambulance driver, in Italy, for the Red
Cross. Very much like the hero of A Farewell to Arms, Ernest is
shot in his knee and recuperates in a hospital, tended by a caring
nurse named Agnes. Like Frederick Henry, in the book, he fell in
love with the nurse and was given a medal for his heroism.
Ernest returned home after the war, rejected by the nurse with
whom he fell in love. He would party late into the night and
invite, to his house, people his parents disapproved of. Ernest's
mother rejected him and he felt that he had to move from home.
He moved in with a friend living in Chicago and he wrote
articles for The Toronto Star. In Chicago he met and then married
Hadley Richardson. She believed that he should spend all his time
in writing, and bought him a typewriter for his birthday. They
decided that the best place for a writer to live was Paris, where
he could devote himself to his writing. He said, at the time, that
the most difficult thing to write about was being a man. They
could not live on income from his stories and so Ernest, again,
wrote for The Toronto Star.
Ernest took Hadley to Italy to show her where he had been
during the war. He was devastated, everything had changed,
everything was destroyed.
Hadley became pregnant and was sick all the time. She and
Ernest decided to move to Canada. He had, by then written three
stories and ten poems. Hadley gave birth to a boy who they named
John Hadley Nicano Hemingway. Even though he had his family Ernest
was unhappy and decided to return to Paris. It was in Paris that
Ernest got word that a publisher wanted to print his book, In Our
Time, but with some changes. The publisher felt that the sex was
to blatant, but Ernest refused to change one word.
Around 1925, Ernest started writing a novel about a young man
in World War I, but had to stop after a few pages, and proceeded to
write another novel, instead. This novel was based on his
experiences while living in Pamplona, Spain. He planned on
calling this book Fiesta, but changed the name to The Sun Also
Rises, a saying from the Bible. This book, as in his other books,
shows Hemingway obsessed with death.
In 1927, Ernest found himself unhappy with his wife and son.
They decided to divorce and he married Pauline, a woman he had been
involved with while he was married to Hadley. A year later, Ernest
was able to complete his war novel which he called A Farewell to
Arms. The novel was about the pain of war, of finding love in this
time of pain. It portrayed the battles, the retreats, the fears,
the gore and the terrible waste of war.
This novel was well-received by his publisher, Max Perkins,but
Ernest had to substitute dashes for the "dirty" language. Ernest
used his life when he wrote; using everything he did and everything
that ever happened to him. He nevertheless remained a private
person; wanting his stories to be read but wanting to be left
alone. He once said, "Don't look at me. Look at my words." A
common theme throughout Hemingway's stories is that no matter how
hard we fight to live, we end up defeated, but we are here and we
must go on.
At age 31 he wrote Death in the Afternoon, about bullfighting
in his beloved Spain. Ernest was a restless man; he traveled all
over the United States, Europe, Cuba and Africa. At the age of 37
Ernest met the woman who would be his third wife; Martha Gellhorn,
a writer like himself. He went to Spain, he said, to become an
"antiwar correspondent", and found that war was like a club where
everyone was playing the same game, and he was never lonely.
Martha went to Spain as a war correspondent and they lived
together. He knew that he was hurting Pauline, but like his need
to travel and have new experiences, he could not stop himself from
getting involved with women.
In 1940 he wrote For Whom the Bell Tolls and dedicated it to
Martha, whom he married at the end of that year. He found
himself traveling between Havana, Cuba and Ketchum, Idaho, which he
did for the rest of his life. During World War II, Ernest became a
secret agent for the United States. He suggested that he use his
boat, the "Pillar", to surprise German submarines and attack them
with hidden machine guns. It was at this time that Ernest, always
a drinker, started drinking most of his days away. He would host
wild, fancy parties and did not write at all during the next three
At war's end, Ernest went to England and met an American
foreign correspondent named Mary Welsh. He divorced Martha and
married Mary in Havana, in 1946. Ernest was a man of extremes;
living either in luxury or happy to do without material things.
Ernest, always haunted by memories of his mother, would not go to
her funeral when she died in 1951. He admitted that he hated his
Ernest wrote The Old Man and the Sea in only two months. He
was on top of the world, the book was printed by Life Magazine and
thousands of copies were sold in the United States. This novel and
A Farewell to Arms were both made into movies.
In 1953 he went on a safari with Mary, and he was in heaven
hunting big game. Though Ernest had a serious accident, and later
became ill, he could never admit that he had any weaknesses;
nothing would stop him, certainly not pain. In 1954 he won the
Nobel Prize for Literature. Toward the end, Ernest started to
travel again, but almost the way that someone does who knows that
he will soon die. He suddenly started becoming paranoid and to
forget things. He became obsessed with sin; his upbringing was
showing, but still was inconsistent in his behavior. He never got
over feeling like a bad person, as his father, mother and
grandfather had taught him. In the last year of his life, he lived
inside of his dreams, similar to his mother, who he hated with all
his heart. He was suicidal and had electric shock treatments for
his depression and strange behavior.
On a Sunday morning, July 2, 1961, Ernest Miller Hemingway
killed himself with a shotgun.
Ernest Hemingway takes much of the storyline of his novel, A
Farewell to Arms, from his personal experiences. The main
character of the book, Frederick Henry, often referred to as
Tenete, experiences many of the same situations which Hemingway,
himself, lived. Some of these similarities are exact while some
are less similar, and some events have a completely different
Hemingway, like Henry, enjoyed drinking large amounts of
alcohol. Both of them were involved in World War I, in a medical
capacity, but neither of them were regular army personnel. Like
Hemingway, Henry was shot in his right knee, during a battle.
Both men were Americans, but a difference worth noting was
that Hemingway was a driver for the American Red Cross, while Henry
was a medic for the Italian Army. In real life, Hemingway met his
love, Agnes, a nurse, in the hospital after being shot; Henry met
his love, Catherine Barkley, also a nurse, before he was shot and
hospitalized. In both cases, the relationships with these women
were strengthened while the men were hospitalized. Another
difference is that Hemingway's romance was short-lived, while, the
book seemed to indicate that, Henry's romance, though they never
married, was strong and would have lasted. In A Farewell to Arms,
Catherine and her child died while she was giving birth, this was
not the case with Agnes who left Henry for an Italian Army officer.
It seems to me that the differences between the two men were
only surface differences. They allowed Hemingway to call the novel
a work of fiction. Had he written an autobiography the book would
probably not have been well-received because Hemingway was not, at
that time, a well known author. Although Hemingway denied critics'
views that A Farewell to Arms was symbolic, had he not made any
changes they would not have been as impressed with the war
atmosphere and with the naivete of a young man who experiences war
for the first time. Hemingway, because he was so private, probably
did not want to expose his life to everyone, and so the slight
changes would prove that it was not himself and his own experiences
which he was writing about.
I believe that Hemingway had Catherine and her child die, not
to look different from his own life, but because he had a sick and
morbid personality. There is great power in being an author, you
can make things happen which do not necessarily occur in real life.
It is obvious that Hemingway felt, as a young child and throughout
his life, powerless, and so he created lives by writing stories.
Hemingway acted out his feelings of inadequacy and powerlessness by
hunting, drinking, spending lots of money and having many
I think that Hemingway was obsessed with death and not too
sane. His obsession shows itself in the morbid death of Miss
Barkley and her child. Hemingway was probably very confused about
religion and sin and somehow felt or feared that people would or
should be punished for enjoying life's pleasures.
Probably, the strongest reason for writing about Catherine
Barkley's death and the death of her child was Hemingway's belief
that death comes to everyone; it was inevitable. Death ends life
before you have a chance to learn and live. He writes, in A
Farewell to Arms, "They threw you in and told you the rules and the
first time they caught you off base they killed you. ... they
killed you in the end. You could count on that. Stay around and
they would kill you."
Hemingway, even in high school, wrote stories which showed
that people should expect the unexpected. His stories offended and
angered the principal of his school. I think that Hemingway liked
shocking and annoying people; he was certainly rebellious. If he
would have written an ending where Miss Barkley and her child had
lived, it would have been too easy and common; Hemingway was
certainly not like everyone else, and he seemed to be proud of that
fact. Even the fact that Hemingway wrote curses and had a lot of
sex in his books shows that he liked to shock people. When his
publisher asked that he change some words and make his books more
acceptable to people, Hemingway refused, then was forced to
I think that the major difference between Hemingway and Henry
was that Henry was a likable and normal person while Hemingway was
strange and very difficult. Hemingway liked doing things his way
and either people had to accept him the way he was or too bad for
them. I think that Hemingway probably did not even like himself
and that was one reason that he couldn't really like other people.
Hemingway seemed to use people only for his own pleasure, and
maybe he wanted to think that he was like Henry who was a nicer
In the book, Twentieth Century Interpretations of A Farewell
to Arms, Malcolm Cowley focuses on the symbolism of rain. He sees
rain, a frequent occurrence in the book, as symbolizing disaster.
He points out that, at the beginning of A Farewell to Arms, Henry
talks about how "things went very badly" and how this is connected
to "At the start of the winter came permanent rain".
Later on in the book we see Miss Barkley afraid of rain. She
says, "Sometimes I see me dead in it", referring to the rain. It
is raining the entire time Miss Barkley is in childbirth and when
both she and her baby die.
Wyndham Lewis, in the same book of critical essays, points out
that Hemingway is obsessed with war, the setting for much of A
Farewell to Arms. He feels that the author sees war as an
alternative to baseball, a sport of kings. He says that the war
years "were a democratic, a levelling, school". For Hemingway,
raised in a strict home environment, war is a release; an
opportunity to show that he is a real man.
The essayist, Edgar Johnson says that for the loner "it is
society as a whole that is rejected, social responsibility, social
concern" abandoned. Lieutenant Henry, like Hemingway, leads a
private life as an isolated individual. He socializes with the
officers, talks with the priest and visits the officer's brothel,
but those relationships are superficial. This avoidance of real
relationships and involvement do not show an insensitive person,
but rather someone who is protecting himself from getting involved
and hurt. It is clear that in all of Hemingway's books and from
his own life that he sees the world as his enemy. Johnson says,
"He will solve the problem of dealing with the world by taking
refuge in individualism and isolated personal relationships and
John Killinger says that it was inevitable that Catherine and
her baby would die. The theme, that a person is trapped in
relationships, is shown in all Hemingway's stories. In A Farewell
to Arms Catherine asks Henry if he feels trapped, now that she is
pregnant. He admits that he does, "maybe a little". This idea,
points out Killinger, is ingrained in Hemingway's thinking and that
he was not too happy about fatherhood. In Cross Country Snow, Nick
regrets that he has to give up skiing in the Alps with a male
friend to return to his wife who is having a baby. In Hemingway's
story Hills Like White Elephants the man wants his sweetheart to
have an abortion so that they can continue as they once lived. In
To Have and Have Not, Richard Gordon took his wife to "that dirty
aborting horror". Catherine's death, in A Farewell to Arms, saves
the author's hero from the hell of a complicated life.
. Malcolm Cowley, "Rain as Disaster", Twentieth Century
Interpretations of A Farewell to Arms, Jay Gellens, Prentice-Hall,
. 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 Killinger, "The Existential Hero", Twentieth Century
Interpretations of A Farewell to Arms, Jay Gellens, Prentice-Hall,