Hemingway’s Way: A Sketch of Something

Paul_Cézanne_108She sat near the tent watching the sundown over the mountains. There was nothing forever and soon nothing more to be seen but the night. Ernest Hemingway developed a writing style that was both simple and perplexingly meditative. His writing has influenced both conscious and sub-conscious awareness through the art of fiction. I say subconscious because there are writers near and far who will proclaim their writing influences indifferent to Hemingway. Tracing writers stylistically is like developing a family tree without proof beyond the writing itself, but if this is accomplished, you will be hard-pressed to find many writers that have not been shaken by the domino effect that Hemingway’s style flowed, into inkwells, lead, printing ink and electronic files. By writing the fiction he did, Hemingway brought an approach to modern writing that can be likened to writer Pierre Jules Théophile Gautier’s (1811-1872) resonating phrase “art for art’s sake.”

Hemingway’s journalistic upbringing was pronounced. I believe as a journalist, striving for a kind of truth becomes embedded in the respective writing ethic. Sadly, fewer ethical proportions currently exist than those once active in journalism. News articles have become embellished and manipulative— even investigative journalism has barely remained above sea level. Regardless, the fact remains that Hemingway’s sharp, concise prose and minimal punctuation was spurred by journalism and kept alive in his fiction parallel his tireless quest for what is true— be it harsh or otherwise: “’No. I haven’t any anesthetic,’ his father said. ‘But her screams are not important. I don’t hear them because they are not important’” (“Indian Camp”).

There is a rhythm that carries Hemingway’s stripped-down diction. It is even repetitive at times, hammering the point like a sculptor’s mallet: “It was nothing that he knew all too well. It was all nothing a nothing and a man was nothing too. It was only that and light was all it needed and a certain cleanness and order” (“A Clean Well-Lighted Place”). Hemingway was distinct with his intentions and desire to create a story without telling one. To Hemingway, the short story was like an iceberg, floating in a sea abreast kayaks. Beneath the kayaks is the sea, but beneath the iceberg is the iceberg.

Word choice was paramount in Hemingway’s work and he used them like brushes of color in a painting. Hemingway was heavily influenced by the painters he rubbed shoulders with in post-war Paris. For example, Paul Cezanne, the post-impressionist praised by Picasso and Matisse as the rigger of a bridge between impressionism and cubism, was inspirational to Hemingway. In Cezanne’s paintings were sharp strokes of minimal colors— every one color important for the depth of the piece. Hemingway mastered this craft with words.

Many readers, and writers alike, often find Hemingway’s writing indigestible. Hemingway would have responded that it is not about the mountains, but that which lies beyond them. The image supersedes the words and the meaning trumps the image. Hemingway the expressionist– one of the first prominent writers to teach follow-on writers to write for writing’s sake.

About Hudson Saffell (36 Articles)
Freelance Writer / Editor
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