Ernest Hemingway has been my favorite author since high school. I don’t believe his work is appreciated in our education system today in quite the same way. There is a huge emphasis in modern American schools on literature less deep and more closely akin to self-help books and political ideology. However, there is much to be said about the classics. Hemingway himself told us that “All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn. Unfortunately, even that classic is banned in many schools today. It is easy to look back a hundred years with twenty-first century eyes and condemn brilliant human thought. Those who do not read the classics miss a great deal of the human experience.
To Have and Have Not
To Have and Have Not was Ernest Hemingway’s third novel, and was published in 1937. While the critics of the era considered the book a dismal failure, it happens to be one of my favorites. To me, it is a powerful commentary on the devastating effect of the Great Depression on the people of Key West, Florida. Rich tourists, who much like today flocked to the Keys every winter, remained oblivious to the plight of the poverty-stricken populace of the island. More financially successful than the book was the Warner Brothers Hollywood film production starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. The novel, however, is a must read for Hemingway fans.
For Whom the Bell Tolls
Hemingway’s fourth novel is my favorite book of all time. It is set during the Spanish Civil War, and focuses on a Hemingway Hero named Robert Jordan, an American teacher who volunteers to fight for the Loyalist cause in Spain. This book has had a profound impact upon me. The author’s famous attitude of grace under pressure has affected many of my actions during turbulent times in my life. The Hemingway hero follows a distinct code, one which embodies Papa’s ideal existence. He recognizes that life is stressful, chaotic, and painful, yet he lives daily with honor, courage, and endurance. Like Hemingway, I believe that death is inevitable, so I disregard it. It is how we live our lives that matters. Robert Jordan exemplifies adherence to the code of a hero in For Whom the Bell Tolls, and inspires us to live honorably. While Ernest himself had some personal issues to deal with, looking past his life and extracting the wisdom of his main characters helps to make life worth living.
Across the River and Into the Trees
Along with To Have and Have Not, the critics of the ‘50s bashed Hemingway for his sixth novel, Across the River and Into the Trees. It remains one of my favorites, and in the latter part of the twentieth century, the critics did respond to the book more favorably. The novel published in 1950 by Charles Scribner’s Sons had been previously presented in a serialized version by Cosmopolitan. This book traces the psychological dilemma faced by yet another Hemingway hero. Following four heart attacks, he must come to grips with his own impending death. Like all Papa’s lead characters, he does so with dignity, and grace under pressure. Did Hemingway lose his touch in 1950? Certainly not, and he proved it a couple of years later with the release of the Nobel Prize winner, The Old Man and the Sea.
The Snows of Kilimanjaro
As far as short stories go, Hemingway’s The Snows of Kilimanjaro remains one of my favorites. The tale centers around a main character named Harry, who receives a cut on his leg while on a hunting safari in East Africa with his wife, Helen. It seems our protagonist neglects to disinfect the minor wound, which leads to gangrene. As Harry lies ill while awaiting a plane from Nairobi, Kenya to transport him to a hospital, he begins a series of flashbacks on his life. Anything more and I will spoil the story. I can say, however, that every time I read Snows, I come away with different feelings about my own life. It is well worth the read. It was made into a movie production in 1952 starring Gregory Peck, Susan Hayward, and Ava Gardner.
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