The Short Stories Of Ernest Hemingway: Book Review

As a story-teller, Hemingway believed in leaving a lot unsaid. He was the proponent of the ‘iceberg theory.’

Much like an iceberg, he said a good storyteller only exposes one small part of his story while the mega portion remains submerged. “The dignity of the iceberg is due only to one-eight of it being under water, ” he had said about this process of writing.

ernest hemingway 1
Cover of the Book

Incidentally, Segmund Freud used the same metaphor for human personality; conscious mind, the visible iceberg afloat above and the rest comprising of the sub-conscious and the unconscious under water.

Here in these stories we get to feel the impact of this powerful technique of story telling.

The character of men as it withstands or succumbs to the grind of circumstances was one of the prominent themes of all of his writings.

The protagonists of his novels and stories were men who kept their core intact and conscience clean by facing the adversities of life headlong without being averse to the use of manipulative strategies in securing their righteous gains.

This is why, Lieutenant Frederic Henry of the ‘Farewell to Arms,’ Robert Jordan, from ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls,’ Richard Cantwell from ‘Across the River and into the Trees,’ and among others Thomas Hudson of the posthumously published ‘Islands into the Stream,’ sound so similar when in the signature style of the author they speak to themselves.

This present collection of 26 short stories is divided into three parts

The book starts with a foreword from author’s  son Patrick Hemingway and an introduction by his grandson, Sean Hemingway, followed by an essay on the “The Art of the Short Story,” by Ernest Hemingway himself, which is full of camaraderie and zestfulness.

There were differences in Hemingway as an author of novels and as a writer of short stories. In a letter to his editor, Maxwell Perkins, he talked about his preference to the latter. “Somehow I don’t care about writing a novel and I like to write short stories and I like to work at the bull fight book so I guess I’m a bad prospect for a publisher anyway,” he wrote.

Ernest Hemingway 2
Back cover of the Book

The essay of Hemingway and the included early drafts of almost each of the included stories provide the readers with a remarkable insight into the author’s process of writing. This short essay which Mary Hemingway had found condescending and smug, and had asked Hemingway to substantially edit and he had refused, was written in 1959 as an introduction for students of literature.

In the conversationally styled essay, Hemingway talks about his method of reaching perfection in a story by omission, “If you leave out important things or events that you know about, the story is strengthened. If you leave or skip something because you do not know it, the story will be worthless…. The test of any story is how very good the stuff is that you, not your editors, omit.” He cites the example of “Big Two-Hearted River,” a story about war without any mention of the war.

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

The inclusion of early drafts of the published stories, mostly from the Ernest Hemingway Collection at the John F Kennedy Library and Museum, Boston further enriches the readers’ understanding of the writing process of the author.

In the essay, he also speaks about the importance of invention. The protagonist of “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” was based out of author’s rejection of an offer from a rich lady of resources to finance his project to revisit Africa to write.

“So I get down to Key West and I start to think what would happen to a character like me whose defects I know, if I had accepted that offer. So I start to invent and make myself a guy who would do what I invent,” he says in the essay about this story.

This emphasis on the importance of invention can also be read in the third early draft of “Big Two-Hearted River,” where through Nick Adams, the protagonist of his two dozen short stories and vignettes written in the 1920s and 1930s, Hemingway speaks about James Joyce‘s Ulysses, “The only writing that was any good was what you made up, what you imagined, that made everything come true…..That was the weakness of Joyce. The main one except Jesuits. Daedalus in Ulysses was Joyce himself so he was terrible. Joyce was so damn romantic and intellectual about him. He’d made Bloom up. Bloom was wonderful. He’s made Mrs. Bloom up. She was greatest in the world,” he wrote.

james joyce
James Joyce

The Stories

Reading the stories of this collection, leaves one stunned by the sheer range of settings, circumstances, states of life the characters are to be found in and quirks of their personalities.

It goes on to show how boisterous and adventurous a life the author himself had led to able to write with such profundity and profuseness.


                                                   The Judgement of Manitou


judgement of manitou.jpg

The two short stories of the first part of this collection are the earliest stories of Hemingway. ‘The Judgement of Manitou’ was written when the author was sixteen years old.

The story involving two bear hunters is about excessive revenge and poetic justice. The gory ending of the story gives a glimpse of Hemingway’s caliber. The line towards the end, “Two ravens left off picking at the shapeless something that had once been Dick Haywood, and flapped lazily into a neighboring spruce,” is probably the earliest example of the Hemingway’s terse and sudden way of expressing even the most horrendous and the tragic.

                                                   Untitled Milan Story

The second story, called Untitled Milan Story  is about a wounded soldier recuperating in an American hospital in Milan, Italy.

Here we find one of the earliest usages of the iceberg theory. The soldier who had lost his legs and his left arm in action grabs a bottle of bi-chloride and hides it under covers while the nurse is away obliquely refers to his intention to commit suicide.

                                                       Up In Michigan


Up in Michigan

The first story of the second part of the collection, “Up in Michigan,” is about the loss of virginity of a young girl and the attendant fears she experiences.

Here, Hemingway sensitively deals with the female psyche. The essential female frailty crumbling under brute masculinity is captured in the lines, “Don’t Jim,” Liz said. Jim slid the hand further up. “You mustn’t, Jim. You mustn’t.” Neither Jim nor Jim’s big hands paid any attention to her………”She was cold and miserable and everything felt gone.” Because of its sensitive subject matter, the story was called inaccrochable, a term for paintings which can not be hung or sold because of their sexual content, by Gertrude Stein, an early mentor of the author.

There are five different early drafts and notes about the story included in this collection. In one of the drafts the characters names are different, from Liz and Jim to Mary and Fred.

                                                             A Very Short Story


A very short story

‘A Very Short Story,’ published in 1925 was based on Hemingway’s  first love experience with Agnes von Kurowsky, a Red Cross nurse who was seven years older to him. The story is remarkable in its intensely rushed ending.

In the three early drafts of the story included in this collection, the first one has first person narration while there is a different ending to each of them.

                                                            Indian Camp


Indian camp
Source of the Image:

The fifth story of the collection, ‘Indian Camp’ was published in 1924 and deals with issues of life and death and race.

A white, country doctor calls upon a camp of Natives where a woman is struggling through labor pains. He performs a surgery which he later gloatingly calls the stuff for medical journal. “Doing a caesarian with a jack-knife and sewing it up with nine-foot tapered gut leaders,” the doctor says in his exultation. However, his joy is marred by the suicide of the woman’s husband who couldn’t withstand the ignominy of a white doctor opening up his wife.

Here again Hemingway writes upon gruesome details with a straight forward, journalistic balance of words. “His hand came away wet. …..The Indian lay with his face toward the wall. His throat had been cut from ear to ear. The blood had flowed down into a pool where his body sagged the bunk. His head rested on his left arm. The open razor lay, edge up, on the blanket.” There are three early drafts of the story included, the first-one has an eight page start which was deleted from the final text.

                                                               Cat In The Rain



The sixth story, ‘Cat in the Rain,’ is about a young American couple staying in an Italian hotel.

The post-matrimonial ennui is dealt in an underhanded poignant way by the author in this story, again an illustration of the iceberg style of writing.

The young wife turns coquettish by the attention she receives from the old hotel owner while her husband fails to notice her uneasiness.

Hemingway tactfully captures the flippant inclinations of the woman by describing in plain sentences the wife’s attraction towards the old hotel owner. “She liked the deadly serious way he received any complaints. She liked his dignity. She liked the way he wanted to serve her. She liked the way he felt about being a hotel-keeper. She liked his old, heavy face and big hands.” This slight infatuation brings a regression to a child-like obstinacy in the woman, “And I want to eat at a table with my own silver and I want candles. And I want it to be spring and I want to brush my hair out in front of a mirror and  I want a kitty and I want some new clothes.,” she says to her husband.

The first of the two early drafts included in this collection has a different beginning with a brief description of the young son of the hotel owner who has a simmering hostility towards all the guests of the hotel.


                                                         The Three Day Blow

The three day blow

The seventh story, ‘The Three Day Blow,’ narrates the protagonist Nick’s listlessness and awkwardness he himself is quite unaware of after his break up with a girl named Marjorie while he spends his days at a cottage with his friend Bill and his father living a simple rigorous life.

The story comes to the fact of Nick’s break up and his state of bewildered, suppressed anguish through his casual conversation with Bill. The therapeutic effect of this friendly chat is brought out in the closing lines when Nick, who is often referred by the nickname, Wemedge, starts to feel optimistic again and thinks about going into town on Saturday night as he leaves the cottage with Bill to go out shooting.

Apart from the typicality of healing emotional wounds with brash camaraderie and overtly masculine activities like hunting, the story has intellectual streaks with mention of books like Richard Feverel by George Meredith, Forest Lovers by Maurice Hewlett and Fortitude by Hugh Walpole.

 One may find the portrayal of Marjorie a bit misogynistic and the masculine fortitude a bit excessive as Nick contemplates his relationship with Marjorie and calls is akin to the three-day blow of wind which rips all the leaves off the trees. A slightly different beginning of the story can be read in the early draft included at the end of the story.


                                                             Soldier’s Home


Soldiers home

On the issue of ravages a war can cause to the psyche of a soldier, an unusual take can be read in the eight story of the collection, ‘Soldier’s Home.’ The protagonist, Harold Krebs returns from the First World War to his home town in Oklahoma a little too late in 1919 when all the celebrations and energies facilitating the returning soldiers have already been spent and he soon starts to drift across the town.

The war and the insipid reception meted out to by the town folks who have now become weary of war stories turns Kerbs insensate and detached.

He is drained out of all ambition and zest for life and merely wishes to smoothly pass on from one day to another. The lines, “He did not want any consequences. He did not want any consequences ever again. He wanted to live along without consequences,” capture the depression and maladaptive apathy towards life the protagonist is getting more and more enmeshed into, particularity due to his passivity as whenever he met another soldier, “he fell into the easy pose of the old soldier among other soldiers: that he had been badly, sickeningly frightened all the time. In this way he lost everything.” Short sentences with sharp culminating effects mark the story at important intervals, “Krebs and the corporal look too big for their uniforms. The German girls are not beautiful. The Rhine does not show in the picture.” The horrific transformation of Krebs into a laid-back, ambition less individual portrays the excess of unproductive self-centrism which is  also a malaise among many of the present generation.

                                                          Big Two-Hearted River


big two hearted river
Source of the image: Goodreads

The ninth story, ‘Big Two-Hearted River,’ stands out first of all due to it being picked out as a perfect example of the iceberg theory by the author himself. In the opening essay he says, “A story in this book called “Big Two-Hearted River” is about a boy coming home beat to the wide from the war. Beat to the wide was an earlier and possibly more severe form of beat, since those who had it were unable to comment on this condition and could not suffer that it be mentioned in their presence. So, the war, all mention of the war, anything about the war, is omitted.” The story therefore has a slow languid pace.

It moves with the protagonist Nick Adams who after returning from the war busies himself with fishing, observing every instant of the activity and his surroundings.

The story likewise captures every little act and tiniest of movements. “He wriggled his toes in the water, in his shoes, and got out a cigarette from his breast pocket. He lit it and tossed the match into the fast water below the logs. A tiny trout rose at the match, as it swung around in the fast current. Nick laughed. He would finish the cigarette.” Much like the protagonist, the reader too feels the therapeutic effects of a detailed, descriptive story working its way through the process of fishing.

Among the four early drafts of the story appended at the end, the first one has two of Nick’s friends joining him and the third one has the originally drafted ending which on the suggestion of Gertrude Stein, Hemingway had decided to delete. This ending has strong autobiographical elements. Hemingway lets his thoughts about writing and other authors to be expressed via the protagonist Nick. Clear references to his other short story, ‘My Old Man’ and ‘Indian Camp’ are to be found here. “Like when he wrote ‘My Old Man’ he’d never seen a jockey killed and the next week Georges Parfrement was killed at that very jump,” is in reference to ‘My Old Man’, and “You had to digest life and create your own people. Nick in the stories was never himself. He made him up. Of course he’d never seen an Indian woman having a baby. That was what made it so good,” is in reference to ‘The Indian Camp.’ Hemingway here also speaks about his adulation of Cezanne, the painter. “He wanted to write like Cezanne painted. Cezanne started with all the tricks. Then he broke the whole thing down and built the real thing,” Nick in the early draft of this story thinks to himself.

                                                              The Undefeated


The undefeated

The tenth story of the collection, ‘The Undefeated,’ straddles one of the favorite territories of the author – bull fighting.

An aging bullfighter makes a dash at glory and despite a crushing, debilitating defeat retains his pride and honor.

It is a long story and the terms specifically associated with bull fighting make it an interesting read. It is deeply entrenched in the Spanish locale and despite broad stroke rendition of the setting, the distinctiveness of the context is palpable.

Here the uniqueness of a Spanish cafe is not being delineated by detailed references to the interiors or any direct comments on the specific qualities of the people or the attendants of the cafe, but by a simple narration of the unusual ways of the waiters., “The waiter came back into the room carrying a tray with a big coffee-glass and a liqueur glass on it. In his left hand he held a bottle of brandy. He swung these down to the table and a boy who had followed him poured coffee and milk into the glass from two shiny, spouted pots of long handles.” The story has a detailed account of the bull ring and the sequence of actions preceding and during the fight.

Knowledge of the terms associated with bull-fighting will be helpful in better appreciation of the richness with which the author has filled the lively narration around the fight.

The pace of the story accelerates around critical moments, “Manuel lay as though dead, his head on his arms, and the bull bumped him. Bumped his face in the sand. He felt the horn go into the sand between his folded arms. The bull hit him in the small of the back. His face drove into the sand. The horn drove through one of his sleeves and the bull ripped it off. Manuel was tossed clear and the bull followed the capes.” The story of obstinate perseverance and persistence ends on a tragic yet honorable note. The two early drafts of the story appended at the end have an original ending and a slightly altered ending.

                                                                      Banal Story


banal story

Quite brutally titled, ‘Banal Story’ is written in two parts, the first has snatches of a writer’s wandering thoughts over political and social issues.

References to key figures of arts, politics and society are made. Overall, a picture of a tepid and over-indulgent society, going soft to its core is made out by the writer in a strongly biting tone of irony. “Have tramps code of conduct? Send your mind adventuring. There is romance everywhere……Live the full life of the mind. exhilarated by new ideas, intoxicated by the Romance of the unusual.” The writer seems to be decrying the prevalence of sedentary self-congratulatory intellectualism which is gaining foothold in the country at the expense of physical action.

This sentiment becomes all the more apparent as the story sharply shifts to Spain to the funeral of legendary bull fighter Manuel Garcia Maera, whose excellence is captured in these words, “Bull-fighters were very relieved he was dead, because he did always in the bull-ring things they could only do sometimes.” Here too a legend is passing away and people are largely shown to be eager to get on business as usual. Yet, a deep contrast between the contemporary cultures of the two countries is hinted at; sugary and exaggerated romanticism of America and the rugged hard-biting reality of Spain. One early draft of the story is appended with minor variations.

                                                                    Fifty Grand


fifty grand

Hemingway’s next short story of this collection, ‘Fifty Grand,’ transposes the readers to the adrenaline suffused ring of boxing. Hemingway himself was a serious pugilist and here he uses his experiences within the ring to the hilt.

The story can be described in three parts. The opening has an out of form, boxer, Jack Brennan, training for his next bout at a health farm owned by Danny Hogan. Jack is grouchy and impatient, hardly focused on his training and spends an unusual amount of time sleeping or idling away.

The narration is largely through conversation between the main characters.

In  the second part, Jack shares his anxieties with the narrator and starts to feel rejuvenated of sorts which is another peculiarity of Hemingway stories. An overburdened individual finds someone concerned allowing him to recover and rejoin the scene of action.

These therapeutic episodes of camaraderie are all too frequent in Hemingway’s works which definitely have moorings in his own life experiences. The third part of the story is set within the boxing ring and gets accelerated to a swift pace as the boxers throw punches at each other while the crowd around them gets excited. Hemingway is superb in his description of the action taking place inside the ring. “But every time he gets in there close, Jack has the left hand in his face. It’s just as though it is automatic. Jack just raises the left hand up and it’s in Walcott’s face.” An early draft of the story appended at the end has the original beginning which Hemingway had taken out on advice of Scott Fitzgerald.

                                                                           The Killers


The Killers

‘The Killers,’ the next story of the collection is probably one of the first gangster stories in American literature. Full of slick mob lingo, the movement occurs largely through dialogue and there is hardly any attempt of scene setting or development of character.

Suspense, the critical element of any crime story sets rolling from the first line and keeps an unbroken stead till the very last line.

There are unexpected turn of events and hardly ever any dullness creeps into the narration. The recurrent protagonist, Nick Adams, has a subdued presence here during the first part of the story though later he assumes the central part.

The story about two hired gunmen who take hostages inside a lunch counter in Summit, Illinois to lie in wait for their intended target, a Swede boxer who frequents the joint mostly at dinner time, unfolds in the characteristic Hemingway style where less is said and much more is hinted at.

The second part of the story where Nick rushes to alarm the Swede boxer of the lurking danger contrasts in its sullen ominousness with the high-octane action sequence of the first part. About this story, Hemingway had said, “That story probably had more left out of it than anything I ever wrote. …..I left out all of Chicago, which is hard to do in 2951 words.” The early draft of the story appended at the end has a descriptive, alternate beginning with Nick Adams in the lead.

                                                                A Canary For One


canary for one

Written in 1927, ‘A Canary for One’, stands out for its surprise ending where a single line suddenly brings about a whole new understanding to the whole story.

The story begins with a scenic description of the landscape outside a moving train and descriptive pieces are interspersed through the entire sequence of events. “It was very hot in the train and it was very hot in the lit salon compartment. There was no breeze coming through the open window. The American lady pulled the window blind down and there was no more sea, even occasionally. On the other side there was glass, then the corridor, then an open window, and outside the window were dusty trees and an oiled road and flat fields of grapes, with gray-stone hills behind them.” These descriptive pieces probably capture the listless observation of the narrator whose tragedy only unfolds at the very end while the American lady and her eccentricities dominate the story-line but merely as a pivot to bring about the surprise ending. A different ending and narration is provided in the two early drafts appended at the end of the story.

                                                            In Another Country


in another country

‘In Another Country’ written in 1927 is the fifteenth story of the collection and stands as a testimony of the range of human experiences and circumstances Hemingway was aware of and made use of in his stories.

Though, definitely he invented a lot, still the base of his stories always seem to be placed upon factual events. The story has an innocuous yet impressive start, “In the fall the war was always there, but we did not go to it any more.” It is precisely this style of terse, short and declarative sentences which gave Hemingway an unrivaled position in the literary world.

The story is about a group of soldiers who are receiving rehabilitative therapies at a hospital in Milan. The promise of a number of new machines and an overly optimistic doctor administering the treatment seems comically inadequate for the grave damages these soldiers have received not only to their bodies but to their outlook towards life and their future.

Central piece is a character called Major Maggiore who was once a great fencer in football, however, after the war has damaged and shrunk his hands he has acquired a sardonic attitude and continuously belittles those around him. However, even in the face of gravest losses he maintains a stoical exterior and thus becomes a source of resilience for others. A single early draft of the story is also included.

                                                    Hills Like White Elephants


hils like white elephants

‘Hills like White Elephants,’ the sixteenth story of the collection has a cult status. Here the use of iceberg theory can be witnessed in one its most precise applications.

The story starts quaintly with a description of the setting and locale of the valley of Ebro in Spain. Critics and analysts have written countless reviews on this story so suffused it is with symbolism and metaphor.

Many believe every aspect and each object in the story has been placed with a distinct purpose of meaning by Hemingway. The story deals with the sensitive topic of abortion.

A free travelling couple have struck a roadblock of sorts with the girl getting pregnant. Their wanderlust fueled life is on the anvil now. On one hand the girl can agree for the abortion and they can continue their carefree life as before or they can make the hard choice of keeping the child.

Nothing is said out loud.

The story moves largely through dialogues except a few descriptive portions. The reference to abortion can be found in these dialogues. “It’s really an awfully simple operation, Jig,” the man said. “It’s not really an operation at all.”……”I know you wouldn’t mind it, Jig. It’s really not anything. It’s just to let the air in.” The girl didn’t say anything. “I’ll go with you and I’ll stay with you all the time. They just let the air in and then it’s all perfectly natural.” Opinions are sharply divided on the feminist aspect of the story.

Many find it anti-feminist given the submissive way in which the girl is depicted. However, as the story progresses the silent resolve of the girl turns the man somewhat uneasy and though it is left unclear whether or not the girl actually goes through the process of abortion, there is ample amount of hints suggesting she didn’t. An alternate beginning bringing the couple to the station by train is to be found in one of the early drafts included with the story.

                                                              The Sea Change


the sea change

Moving mostly through dialogues and only hinting at the actual subject matter is how the next story, ‘The Sea Change’ unfolds. The seventeenth in the collection, its structure is somewhat similar to ‘Hills like White Elephants,’ though here the hints are more subtle.

This story also deals with a sensitive topic, of homosexual attraction. A young couple is seated in a restaurant. The tone of their dialogue is tensed. Gradually, as the story unfolds we find the girl to be willing to pursue a lesbian relationship with one of her friends.

The man resents it. “I’ll kill her,” he said. “Please don’t,” the girl said. She had very fine hands and the man looked at them……”I swear to God I will.” “It won’t make you happy.” Again it is only through hints the suggestion of lesbian attraction is made. “If it was a man-” “Don’t say that. It wouldn’t be a man. You know that. Don’t you trust me?” The actual feelings of the characters are to be interpreted with reference to their bodily movements and gestures and description of physical changes. “Yes,” he said seriously. “Right away.” His voice was not the same, and his mouth was very dry…..It is all largely left to the readers’ understanding to interpret  the story.

Hemingway speaks about this story, “In a story called “The Sea Change,” everything is left out. I had seen the couple in the Bar Basque in St Jean de Luz and I knew the story too well, which is squared root of well, and use any well you like except mine. So I left the story out. But it is all there,. it is not visible but it is there.” Two early drafts of the story are included, the latter with an alternate ending.

                                                     A Natural History of the Dead


natural history of the dead

‘A Natural History of the Dead,’ the eighteenth story brings about a sudden change in the style of narration and it stands quite distinctively away from the previous two stories.

Here the narration is through long sentences, quite unlikely for Hemingway. “A naturalist, to obtain accuracy of observation, may confine himself in his observations to one limited period and I will take as one in which the dead were present in their greatest numbers, a withdrawal having been forced and an advance later made to recover ground lost so that the positions after the battle were the same as before except for the presence of the dead.” The story is replete with such long sentences and is narrated with a tone of subdued rage and dark irony against candy floss humanitarian and/or naturalist views which are completely ignorant of the scale of butchery and merciless acts of violence which routinely take place during wars.

The narrator quite dispassionately lists out one horrendous act after another which he has witnessed during wars.

The tone of the text is academic which seems intentional.

An almost medical description of the decay of dead bodies is given. “The dead grow larger each day until sometimes they become quite too big for their uniforms, filling these until they seem blown tight enough to burst.

The individual members may increase in girth to an unbelievable extent and faces fill as taut and globular as balloons.” The story all of a sudden moves to a live setting where a severely injured soldier with a fractured head becomes the focal point of the story.

A heated exchange of dialogue brings the story line to a feverish pitch and it culminates on a note of absurdity. The story captures the futility of loss of lives during war and also comes down heavily on those who have no actual experience of the horrors of war yet are smug enough to make sweeping statements about this necessary evil.

It is in the last pages we find Hemingway in his usual gusto narrating with swift, short dialogues the build up of tension between an artillery officer and captain doctor. Discarded portions of the story are included as early drafts at the end.


                                                                      After the Storm

after the storm

Published in 1932, ‘After the Storm’ is another marvelous example of Hemingway’s forte as a writer of short story.

As a unique experiment in the use of perspective, here the story is told from the view point of a common sailor who after getting into a petty fight and injuring his opponent with a knife runs out to sea on his small boat, a skiff.

Meanwhile, a storm strikes the coast and in its wake a three masted schooner has sunken which this sailor finds. It is a huge tragedy as hundreds of passengers too have perished with the schooner, yet as we are constrained to witness the whole incident only through the eyes of a self-centered sailor obsessed over getting any possible valuables off that schooner we can only imagine the actual horrific dimensions of the scene. The callous attitude of the sailor is captured quite poignantly. “It made me shaky to think how much she must have on her…..I could hold on for a second to the edge of the port hole and I could see in and there was a woman inside with her hair floating all out. I could see her floating plain and I hit the glass twice with the wrench hard and I heard the noise clink….” The narration is sharp with a momentum which builds up and never slackens. The early draft of the story has an entirely different beginning where the action unfolds through conversation between a group of sailors.


                                                           A Way You’ll Never Be


A way you'll never be

The twentieth story of the collection, ‘A Way You’ll Never Be’ was published in 1933 and depicts the harrowing mental overload often soldiers buckle under during the excesses of wars.

Here, the recurrent protagonist of Hemingway stories, Nick Adams, is shown to have undergone a mental breakdown, yet he persists in doing his part during the war to the best of his ability.

However, as and when his anxieties get out of control he feels an attack of sorts and starts to speak volubly about any relevant or irrelevant topic. This story was written by Hemingway to cheer up his friend Jane Mason, who was suffering from mental health issues.

The idea was to make her see herself in comparison to Nick Adams who was much crazier than she would ever be. The story begins with a detached mental assessment of the ravages of war done by Nick as he bicycles his way to a battalion headquarters. “In the grass and the grain, beside the road, and in some places scattered over the road, there was much material: a field kitchen, it must have come over when things were going well; many of the calf-skin covered haversacks, stick-bombs, helmets, rifles, sometimes one butt-up, the bayonet stuck in the dirt……These were new dead and no one had bothered with anything but their pockets. Our own dead, or what he thought of, still, as our own dead were surprisingly few…..While trying to sleep Nick experiences nightmares and visions. An early draft of the story has a lot material which was left out of the final version.

                                                     A Clean Well-Lighted Place


a clean well lighted place

‘A Clean Well-Lighted Place,’ the twenty-first story of the collection takes place in an eponymous cafe where an old, desolate man is getting himself drunk while two waiters one of whom visibly impatient to close the cafe and leave, share anecdotes about the old person’s life.

The dominant theme is all too common loneliness of the old age and existential anxiety which afflicts the rich and poor and the young and old alike. Here too the narration merely hints at the underlying themes and tensions which affect the characters involved in the story.

It is left to the imagination of readers to draw their own conclusions.

The elder waiter is sympathetic to the old man and has a benevolent attitude towards other merry makers too. The true feelings of both the waiters spill out through the dialogue between them. “He stays up because he likes it.” “He’s lonely. I’m not lonely. I have a wife waiting in bed for me.” “He had a wife once too.” “A wife would be no good to him now.” “You can’t tell. He might be better with a wife.” Apart from these three characters the cafe too has a special role to play in the story line, being different from the common bodegas and bars. As the second waiter says, “You do not understand. This is a clean and pleasant cafe. It is well lighted. The light is very good and also, now, there are shadows of the leaves.” An early draft of the story included at the end has a different beginning.

                                       The Gambler, the Nun and the Radio


Source of the image: Pixabay

The next story takes place within the experiential world of Mr. Frazer who is suffering from a case of bad nerves and recuperating in a private room of a hospital in Hailey, Montana.

The title ‘The Gambler, the Nun and the Radio,’ refers to the order in which Mr Frazer comes across these three referent points of the story against whom his own dilemma and pain are exposed and palliated.

Based on personal experiences of Hemingway in a hospital in Billings. Montana, where he was for nearly two months after an automobile accident, this is the twenty-fourth story of the collection.

The first two-third of the narration is concerned with describing the case of a Mexican gambler, Cayetano Ruiz, who has been shot twice in the abdomen and is struggling for his life and a simple-minded enthusiastic nun who is taking care of the patients and is in deep admiration of the resilience shown by the Mexican gambler.

The last one-third portion of the story moves into the inner monologue of Mr Frazer and it is here he finds a mooring of sorts for his thought patterns after being challenged by the communist slogan, ‘religion is the opium of the people.’ The cumulative therapeutic effect of all these elements come together in the last lines of the story. “Religion is the opium of the people. He believed that……Yes, and music is the opium of the people….And now economics is the opium of the people; along with patriotism the opium of the people in Italy and Germany. What about sexual intercourse; was that an opium of the people? Of some of the people. Of some of the best of the people. But drink was a sovereign opium of the people, oh, an excellent opium. Although some prefer the radio, another opium of the people….” There are four different endings of the story as initially thought of by Hemingway and included here as early drafts. The first has the setting as Billings, Montana.

                                                                   Fathers and Sons


fathers and sons

From the personal experiences of Ernest Hemingway bears out another story, ‘Fathers and Sons.’

Based on his own relationship with his father, here the recurrent protagonist Nick Adams is depicted travelling via the country side with his son while reminiscing about his own days with his father spent behind an Indian camp where he gains his early education, learns how to shoot and indulges in occasional coitus with an Indian girl named Trudy.

Hemingway struggled quite significantly in maintaining an emotional distance necessary for authors while writing this story and worked his way through five early drafts before arriving onto the final text. The tone adopted in describing Nick’s view of his father gives indication to this struggle. “Like all men with a faculty that surpasses human requirements, his father was very nervous. Then, too, he was sentimental, and, like most sentimental people, he was both cruel and abused. Also, he had much bad luck, and it was not all of its own. He had died in a trap that he had helped only a little to set, and they had all betrayed him in their various ways before he died. All sentimental people are betrayed so many times.” The essential qualities of father son relationship are in abundance in this story. The themes of leaving a legacy, concerns about responsibility are central here. There are five early drafts of the story included at the end.

                                     The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber


the short happy life of francis macomber

Hemingway once called ‘The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber,’ as one of his favorite short stories. This is a story about an adulterous wife, a timid husband and a professional hunter who inadvertently becomes the catalyst for the husband’s short lived tryst with a life of courage and manliness.

Hemingway has a lot to say about this story in the opening essay. He goes on to say, “……the lion when he is hit and I am thinking inside of him really, not faked. I can think inside of a lion, really. It’s hard to believe and it is perfectly okay with me if you don’t believe it.” The story has unexpected turns and a surprisingly tragic end. The story is full of machismo and fast paced hunting sequences. Many critics consider this story to be Hemingway’s greatest artistic achievement as a  writer of short stories. Over twenty different titles for the story were considered by Hemingway which are listed out in last of the three early drafts included  at the end of the story.


                                                  The Snows of Kilimanjaro


the snows of kilimanjaro

‘The Snows of Kilimanjaro,’ another dark tale from the literary canon of Hemingway is infused with themes of death, artistic pursuit of purity, need for solicitude and redemption.

A spent author with a strong premonition of death following the spread of gangrene in his leg is doing his best to keep himself together, hoping to die with some of his pride and dignity intact.

Hemingway here has dealt with the worst fears which assail any creative individual. Presence of strong autobiographical elements is testified by Hemingway’s commentary on the story, “So I get down to Key West and I start to think what would happen to a character like me whose defects I know, If I had accepted that offer. So I start to invent and I make myself a guy who would do what I invent. I know about the dying part because I had been through all that……I throw everything I had been saving into the story and spend it all. …..So I make up the man and the woman as well as I can and I put all the true stuff in and with all the load, the most load any short story ever carried, it still takes off and it flies..” So, this story doesn’t form part of the iceberg style of writing because here all the author has to say is written down. The story has two timelines; one where Harry is dying and other he remembering his past antics and incidents he wished he had a chance to turn into stories. The depiction of death is chilly and Harry faces it with dignity. ……”Because just then, death had come and rested its head on the foot of the cot and he could smell its breath. “Never believe any of that about a scythe and a skull,” he told her. “It can be two bicycle policeman as easily, or be a bird. Or it can have a wide snout like a hyena. ” The dark humor of Harry in throes of death is awe inspiring and so are the final lines of the story. One of three early drafts included at the end has a different title, ‘The Happy Ending.’

                                                     The Butterfly and the Tank


the butterfly and the tank 2
The story in the Esquire magazine


The twenty-sixth and the last story of the collection, ‘Butterfly and the Tank’, has a refreshing usage of the iceberg theory. The story told exclusively from the perspective of the narrator, therefore constraining the readers to a single point of view even when the setting is of Spanish Civil War and the plot deals with gruesome violence and tragedy.

It is left to the the readers to construe up an image of the city of Madrid as it may have existed during the time the story takes place. Hemingway only provides hints, “It was the second winter of shelling in the siege of Madrid and everything was short including tobacco and people’s temper….” It needs careful reading to connect these lines with the events taking place later in the story, as when a German takes cigarettes from the narrator. “I really minded and he knew it. But he wanted the cigarettes s badly that it did not matter.” And the mindless killing in the bar too can be seen connected with the opening line where a reference to the short temper of people is made.

The story captures the staggering diffusion of responsibility and corruption of authority which take place during times of violence. The story is also known for the accolade it received from legendary American author, John Steinbeck who gave a pause to his own work on ‘Grapes of Wrath’ to congratulate Hemingway on this story calling it the ‘the very few of  the finest short stories of all time.’ The narration is devoid of all sentimentality and merely captures the events as they occur, reflecting the exhaustion of normal reactions and dulling of sensibilities during excesses of war. “I said I had been in Spain for a long time and that they used to have a phenomenal number of shootings in the old days around Valencia under the monarchy, ….and if I saw a comic shooting in Chicote’s during the war I could write about it…” A young man was murdered for a minor offence and simply because of his complete civilian status and the turn of events the tragedy of his death too turns into something comical. Of the three early drafts of the story appended in the end, the last one explains the title and how Hemingway learned about the story.

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