Writing Style of Papa Hemingway

Papa Hemingway was serious about his writing

From the wiki page

The New York Times wrote in 1926 of Hemingway’s first novel: “No amount of analysis can convey the quality of The Sun Also Rises. It is a truly gripping story, told in a lean, hard, athletic narrative prose that puts more literary English to shame”.[132] The Sun Also Rises is written in the spare, tightly written prose for which Hemingway is famous, a style which has influenced countless crime and pulp fiction novels.[133] It is a style which some critics consider Hemingway’s greatest contribution to literature.[134][135] The Nobel Prize committee acknowledged Hemingway’s style. In 1954, when he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature the award was for “his mastery of the art of narrative, most recently demonstrated in The Old Man and the Sea, and for the influence that he has exerted on contemporary style”.[136]

Hemingway began as a writer of short stories, and as Baker explains, he learned how to “get the most from the least, how to prune language, how to multiply intensities, and how to tell nothing but the truth in a way that allowed for telling more than the truth.[138] The style is known as the Iceberg Theory because in Hemingway’s writing the hard facts float above water; the supporting structure, complete with symbolism, operates out-of-sight. [138] Jackson Benson believes Hemingway used autobiographical details to work as framing devices to write about life in general—not only about his life. For example, Benson postulates that Hemingway used his experiences and drew them out further with “what if” scenarios: “what if I were wounded in such a way that I could not sleep at night? What if I were wounded and made crazy, what would happen if I were sent back to the front?”[139]

The concept of the iceberg theory is sometimes referred to as the “theory of omission.” Hemingway believed the writer could describe one thing (such as Nick Adams fishing in “The Big Two-Hearted River”) though an entirely different thing occurs below the surface (Nick Adams concentrating on fishing so to the extent that he doesn’t have to think about anything else).[140]

The simplicity of the prose is deceptive. Zoe Trodd believes Hemingway crafted skeletal sentences in response to Henry James‘ observation that WWI had “used up words”. In his writing Hemingway offered an almost photographic reality that was often “multi-focal”.

His iceberg theory of omission was the foundation on which he built. The syntax, which lacks subordinating conjunctions, creates static sentences. He used a photographic “snapshot” style to create a collage of images.

Short sentences build one on another; events build to create a sense of the whole. Multiple strands exist in one story; an “embedded text” bridges to a different angle. He also used other cinematic techniques of “cutting” quickly from one scene to the next; or of “splicing” a scene into another. Intentional omissions allow the reader to fill the gap, as though responding to instructions from the author, and create three dimensional prose.[141]

Hemingway uses polysyndeton to convey both a timeless immediacy and a Biblical grandeur. Hemingway’s polysyndetonic sentence—or, in later works, his use of subordinate clauses—uses conjunctions to juxtapose startling visions and images; the critic Jackson Benson compares them to haikus.[135][142] Many of Hemingway’s acolytes misinterpreted his lead and frowned upon all expression of emotion; Saul Bellow satirized this style as “Do you have emotions? Strangle them.”[143]

However, Hemingway’s intent was not to eliminate emotion but to portray it more scientifically. Hemingway thought it would be easy, and pointless, to describe emotions; he sculpted his bright and finely chiseled collages of images in order to grasp “the real thing, the sequence of motion and fact which made the emotion and which would be as valid in a year or in ten years or, with luck and if you stated it purely enough, always”.[144] This use of an image as an objective correlative is characteristic of Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, James Joyce, and of course Proust.[note 6] Hemingway’s letters refer to Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past several times over the years, and indicate he might have read the massive book at least twice.[145] His writing was likely also influenced by the Japanese poetic canon.[146]

A Portrait, Cuba Key West


The Iceberg Theory

The Iceberg Theory is a writing theory by American writer Ernest Hemingway, as follows:

If a writer of a prose knows enough about what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them.

The dignity of movement of the iceberg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water.

The writer who omits things because he does not know them only makes hollow places in his writing.

A writer who appreciates the seriousness of writing so little that he is anxious to make people see he is formally educated, cultured, or well-bred, is merely a popinjay. And this too, remember: a serious writer is not to be confounded with a solemn writer. A serious writer may be a hawk or a buzzard or even a popinjay, but a solemn writer is always a bloody owl.

Ernest Hemingway, Death in the Afternoon

In other words, a story can communicate by subtext.

From an interpretation,

The author’s short story must omit items that are obvious or are already stated by metaphors, similes, or some other figures of speech. The author should do this to the point where the reader must think, understand, and really delve into the character and the words that are used to understand the entire story. In this way the words on the page are merely 1/8 of the story itself, it is the other 7/8 that the story truly lives in.



What is a Polysyndeton?

Polysyndeton is the use of several conjunctions in close succession, especially where some might be omitted (as in “he ran and jumped and laughed for joy”). It is a stylistic scheme used to achieve a variety of effects: it can increase the rhythm of prose, speed or slow its pace, convey solemnity or even ecstasy and childlike exuberance.

Modern usage

Writers of modern times have also used the scheme:

  • “I said, ‘Who killed him?’ and he said ‘I don’t know who killed him, but he’s dead all right,’ and it was dark and there was water standing in the street and no lights or windows broke and boats all up in the town and trees blown down and everything all blown and I got a skiff and went out and found my boat where I had her inside Mango Key and she was right only she was full of water.” Ernest Hemingway, After the Storm
  • “[The train] came boring out of the east like some ribald satellite of the coming sun howling and bellowing in the distance and the long light of the headlamp running though the tangled mesquite brakes and creating out of the night the endless fenceline down the dead straight right of way and sucking it back again wire and post mile on mile into the darkness after where the boilersmoke disbanded slowly along the faint new horizon and the sound came lagging and he stood still holding his hat in his hands in the passing ground shudder watching it till it was gone.” Cormac McCarthy, All the Pretty Horses

Rhetorical use

Polysyndeton is a useful rhetorical device, as exemplified in film:

  • “And the German will not be able to help themselves from imagining the cruelty their brothers endured at our hands, and our boot heals, and the edge of our knives. And the Germans, will be sickened by us. And the Germans, will talk about us. And the Germans, will fear us. And when the Germans close their eyes at night, and their subconscious tortures them for the evil they’ve done, it will be with thoughts of us, that it tortures them with.” Lieutenant Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt), Inglourious Basterds
  • “But all you have to do is knock on any door and say, ‘If you let me in, I’ll live the way you want me to live, and I’ll think the way you want me to think,’ and all the blinds’ll go up and all the windows will open, and you’ll never be lonely, ever again.” Henry Drummond (Spencer Tracy), Inherit the Wind

The Nobel Prize wasn't for nothing

6 thoughts on “Writing Style of Papa Hemingway

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