In the pantheon of great American writers, Ernest Hemingway is probably the only one whose life was more exciting than his writing.
Hemingway saw World War I as an enlisted ambulance driver. He covered the Spanish Civil War, the European theater in World War II, the Normandy Landings and the Liberation of Paris, earning a Bronze Star for his journalism. And he still wrote novels and won a Nobel Prize. Ernest Hemingway lived a thrilling life. And yet it ended in his own gun’s sights.
Despite his writing’s minimalism, a grandiosity permeates both it and its author. Hemingway was a man’s man: a legendary hunter, familiar with war. He was also an alcoholic, and destroyed many of his marriages. This grandiosity is apparent in A Farewell to Arms and For Whom the Bell Tolls war thrills and The Sun Also Rises bullfighting scenes. All three books feature American, hyper-masculine protagonists whose experiences mirror many of Hemingway’s. These men are hurt and lonely and are constantly forced to survive. Yet consistently, the lonely man is the most capable one.
Hemingway reflected on loneliness in his Nobel Prize acceptance letter, saying, “Writing, at its best, is a lonely life… He grows in public stature as he sheds his loneliness and often his work deteriorates. For he does his work alone…” Implying his best work was done at his loneliest and most unknown, Hemingway unintentionally argues his great success was evidence of—and apparently destructive to—his great skill. Struggling to write in his older age, this purposeful loneliness must have contributed to the writer’s end. Hemingway described his style as the Iceberg Theory: that minimal writing is the most visible element, while the work’s symbolism and structure are hidden away. Ironically, Hemingway’s grandiosity was too evident; his forlornness was submerged.