Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway Background

About Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway

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Many of Hemingway’s short stories appeared in various magazines before being anthologized in his short story collections. The first of these collections, and his first major published work, was Three Stories and Ten Poems (1923); this collection included the story “Up in Michigan.” He published his second short story collection, In Our Time, in 1924, with a revised edition appearing in 1925. Hemingway’s third collection, Men Without Women, appeared in 1927 and included “Hills Like White Elephants,” “A Simple Enquiry,” and Nick Adams stories “In Another Country” and “The Killers.” Hemingway’s fourth collection, published in 1933 and entitled Winner Take Nothing, included “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,” and Nick Adams stories “A Day’s Wait” and “Fathers and Sons.” His next collection, The Fifth Column, and the First Forty-Nine Stories, was published in 1938 and, in addition to re-publishing his earlier works, introduced “The Capital of the World,” “Old Man at the Bridge,” and well-known African stories “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” and “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber.”

“Up in Michigan” is one of the earliest stories Hemingway wrote after arriving in Paris in 1921. The setting of the story and indeed, the content of it recalls Hemingway’s boyhood summer vacations in Michigan. The story is about sexual awakening, and Hemingway biographers have posited that Hemingway experienced his own sexual awakening during one of these summers in Michigan at Little Traverse Bay. The names Jim and Liz, the story’s two main characters, were taken from a married couple Hemingway knew in Michigan, and the physical details of the landscape undoubtedly recall the author’s adolescent enjoyment of the area surrounding Little Traverse Bay.

Hemingway’s semi-autobiographical character Nick Adams appeared in a number of his stories, eventually becoming Hemingway’s fictional alter ego. “In Another Country,” which featured Nick, grew out of Hemingway’s experiences as a Red Cross ambulance driver during World War I and his recuperation from shrapnel wounds in a Milanese hospital. “The Killers” dealt with gangsters from Chicago, where Hemingway lived after the war, and is one of his most memorable Nick Adams tales, inspiring a number of film noir adaptations. “A Simple Enquiry,” which is not a Nick Adams story and is less well known than many of his others, undoubtedly grew out of Hemingway’s experiences speaking with and living amongst Italian servicemen during the war and during his recuperation. “Hills Like White Elephants” was inspired by Hemingway’s early married life as he and his wife Hadley traveled around Europe, notably Spain and France.

Hemingway’s next stories showed a new level of maturity as their author aged. “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” and “The Capital of the World” both feature Spanish waiters and are set in a café and a hotel, respectively. They explore ideas of existential angst, nihilistic despair, and disillusionment, themes that Hemingway had taken up following the war and arguably become an expert at depicting in fiction. Both of these stories recall his novel The Sun Also Rises, which was considered by some to be his greatest success and which cemented him as the spokesperson of “The Lost Generation,” an expatriate literary set he belonged to in Paris for a time.

Hemingway continued and concluded the Nick Adams saga with “A Day’s Wait” and “Fathers and Sons,” both of which portrayed Nick as a father with a young son. Left with deeply ambivalent feelings toward his own late father, Nick does his best to raise his son in the stoic, taciturn, outdoorsy tradition with which he grew up. The parallels between the lives of Hemingway and Nicks in these stories are quite marked; the Nick Adams stories are often said to provide readers with a window into Hemingway’s own life.

“Old Man at the Bridge” was originally composed as a news dispatch during Hemingway’s time as a war correspondent covering the Spanish Civil War. On Easter Sunday in 1938, Hemingway encountered an old man sitting by the Amposta Bridge over the Ebro River just as the Fascist army prepared to overrun the region. Hemingway originally wrote the piece for the North American Newspaper Association, but upon reflection converted it into a short story for submission to a magazine.

Two of Hemingway’s best-known stories are “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” and “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber,” which grew out of Hemingway’s experiences on safari in East Africa in 1934. “The Snows” is highly autobiographical as Hemingway contracted amoebic dysentery during the safari and had to be airlifted to hospital in Nairobi. The famous epigraph to the story concerning the frozen leopard on Mt. Kilimanjaro was taken from an anecdote told Hemingway by his hunting guide during this safari. Many of the people, places and events in Harry the protagonist’s delirious memory sequences, from Paris to the Black Forest, are taken from Hemingway’s own life. “Short Happy Life” deals with Hemingway’s familiar themes of masculinity, courage, and cowardice in an exotic setting and in a highly dramatic way; it has always been one of Hemingway’s most popular stories.