Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway

Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway Essay Questions

  1. 1

    The Snows of Kilimanjaro: Does Harry want to live, or would he be happier, given his failure to realize his potential as a writer, to die? Is he resigned to his fate?

    This point is debatable, though the evidence swings in favor of his desire to live. Evidence for this point of view includes the fact that he dreams he is rescued at the end of the story, and that he is brought to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro. This ascent symbolizes his desire to rise above his past failures to reach his goals by utilizing his talent as a writer. In addition, Harry is clearly frightened by death, which becomes a character almost unto itself during the course of the story.

    Evidence for his resignation to his fate includes his repeated self-criticism as far as his failure to write about his experiences. For example, he thinks, “He had destroyed his talent by not using it, by betrayals of himself and what he believed in,” (p. 63). He also thinks, “He had seen the world change; not just the events…He had been in it and he had watched it and it was his duty to write of it; but now he never would” (p. 69). This sort of language also speaks to his resignation to his own death. His dream trip to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro could symbolize not his desire to accomplish anything on earth, but to embark on a journey into an afterlife.

  2. 2

    The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber: Is Francis Macomber’s death an accident? Support with evidence from the text.

    Macomber’s death is an accident because Margot is crying hysterically, because she shot “at the buffalo with the 6.5 Mannlicher as it seemed about to gore Macomber,” and because she is extremely upset at Wilson’s suggestion that she shot him on purpose. In addition, Wilson’s accusations of murder can perhaps be understood in the context of blackmail; he wants to keep Margot quiet about the use of a car to hunt down buffalo by holding the accusation of murder over her head.

    Macomber’s death is not an accident because Margot is visibly disconcerted by his newfound confidence after the buffalo shooting, because Wilson seems to think she shot him on purpose and he was an eyewitness who is unmotivated by the desire to blackmail her, and because her single shot was very precise, well-placed and killed him instantly.

  3. 3

    A Clean, Well-Lighted Place: Scholars have suggested that, though not all of them realize it, all the characters in this story are all facing the “nothingness” or meaninglessness of life as expressed by the middle-aged waiter. Is this true? Are the young waiter and the old man simply too blind or dull to recognize this fact, or is the middle-aged waiter stuck in a private nihilistic hell?

    This question asks about existential nihilism, the philosophy Hemingway cobbles together from existentialism and nihilism and expresses in this story through the musings of the middle-aged waiter. Existential nihilism is based upon the premise that life is meaningless and that individuals must create their own meaning and value systems in order to live an authentic, self-fulfilling life. Hemingway implies, however, that this process is futile and that everyone ultimately will slip into despair.

    The middle-aged waiter is unquestionably a devotee of this philosophy and has apparently created for himself “a clean, well-lighted place” in which to take refuge from the nothingness that surrounds him. But the old man and the young waiter seem, at least on the surface, not to have come round to this view. The young waiter, in fact, seems reasonably happy with his job, his life, and his confidence. The old man has tried to commit suicide, which may indicate a belief that life is meaningless or may indicate despair, sadness, loneliness or a plethora of other emotions that are not mentioned in the story.

    For those who believe in existential nihilism, all the characters are facing nothing; for those who do not, it is only the middle-aged waiter. Indeed, the middle-aged waiter says of his younger counterpart, “we are of two different kinds,” implying that the young waiter has a completely different belief system.

  4. 4

    The Capital of the World: Is this story a simple tragedy, in which a promising young man’s life is cut short before he can achieve his goals, or does Hemingway imply that it is perhaps better for him to die young while he retains his illusions and while he feels that he has something to live and die for?

    In a sense, both readings of the story are correct; it is a tragedy, clearly, but the protagonist, Paco, is arguably better off dying while clinging to his dreams and his religion than living out his life in the profession of bullfighting that will, Hemingway implies, disillusion and possibly destroy him. Hemingway litters the story, and the Pension Luarca, with the human wreckage of the bullfighting profession: the cowardly bullfighter, the sickly bullfighter, the bullfighter whose star has waned, the picador who has lost respect for anyone unlike himself, and the busboy Enrique who learned the hard way that he lacked the courage to be a matador. Paco’s idealism and ability to appreciate the “romance” of his surroundings stand in stark contrast to these grey and tired characters. Depression, disillusionment, and dissipation will be Paco’s fate if he realizes his dream of becoming a matador, Hemingway implies.

  5. 5

    Hills Like White Elephants: Do you think Jig ultimately has the abortion? Describe the evidence for and against.

    Yes: While Jig suspects her relationship with the American may be irrevocably changed simply by her pregnancy, she seems to think the only way to save return the relationship to its former status may be to have the abortion. She says, “If I do [have the abortion] you’ll be happy and things will be like they were and you’ll love me?” This clearly betrays her anxiety that if she doesn’t have it, he will leave her or be perpetually angry with her. If she does have it, he may not.

    In addition, she says she knows many who have had abortions, noting, “And afterward they were all so happy.” Taken at face value, this quotation reads like an argument for the procedure.

    No: Jig believes her relationship is irrevocably altered anyway and she is reluctant to have the abortion. She says, fatalistically, in response to the American’s assertion that they can have the whole world, “No, we can’t. It isn’t ours anymore.” This is a sign she senses her pregnancy has changed the relationship and that no abortion will return it to the way it was.

    Her line about “afterward they were so happy” is most likely sarcastic, judging by the American’s reception of it.

    In addition, at the end, Jig says “I feel fine…There’s nothing wrong with me,” as if she has decided not to have the operation and feels she is fine just as she is.

  6. 6

    The Killers: Is Nick’s decision to warn Andreson taken in vain? Does he risk his life for nothing?

    On one hand, yes, Nick risks his life for nothing as Andreson refuses to flee or to take any measures to protect himself from the hit men. In terms of the plot and the likely outcome, Nick’s decision is futile. Indeed, for Nick, the ultimate result of his decision is depression and disillusionment as he contemplates Andreson’s fate and apparently bemoans his passivity.

    One the other hand, Nick proves by his act of courage that he is more of a man than both George and Sam, and he comes of age by deciding to warn Andreson. Nick has shown to George, Sam, Andreson, Mrs. Bell and perhaps most importantly, himself, that he is a man, capable of selflessness and sacrifice, and this knowledge will likely serve him well, not only in Summit, but in later life.

  7. 7

    In Another Country: In what situation would Nick Adams be happier: fighting in the war with a chance to prove his courage in the face of ever-present danger or receiving treatment of dubious effectiveness in the safe environs of the hospital in Milan?

    The case for fighting: Nick regards the three Italian officers with medals to be “hunting-hawks” who proved their bravery in battle and were rewarded for it. He regards himself as “not a hawk” because he received his medal simply for being an American. As such, he can “never be accepted” by them. Returning to the war would afford him the opportunity to become a hawk and take his place among the war’s heroes. He doesn’t seem to be content at the hospital in Milan; it is implied that he believes the treatment he is receiving is not effective and he is suffering from depression, dislocation and isolation, like many of his fellow veterans.

    The case for the hospital: Going back to the war means ever-present danger, of course, and at least remaining in the hospital would ensure he lived until the end of the war to return to America and marry, as he tells the Italian major he hopes to do.

  8. 8

    A Day's Wait: Is the father’s behavior toward his son callous, even leaving aside the fact that he is unaware of Schatz’s mistake about Fahrenheit and Celsius?

    Yes: Schatz has a fever of over 102 degrees, and Schatz’s father is told very clearly by the doctor that if the fever goes over 104, Schatz is in trouble. Also, he says Schatz must not be allowed to develop pneumonia, because then the influenza could prove fatal. Despite these various dangers to his son, who is obviously uncomfortable and behaving rather strangely, the father goes off on a hunting trip, leaving his 9-year-old son alone in his bedroom to beat the flu or succumb to it.

    No: Schatz’s father left only because Schatz said he could, and because he wasn’t listening to the story; the father couldn’t do anything for his son aside from what he had already done, so he might as well have gone hunting.

  9. 9

    Fathers and Sons: “If he wrote it he could get rid of it. He had gotten rid of many things by writing them.” Is this philosophy demonstrated by Hemingway’s own writings? What may or may not be therapeutic about writing about traumatic experiences?

    This philosophy is clearly demonstrated by Hemingway’s own writings. The Hemingway canon is full of tales of traumatic experiences, and many of Hemingway’s protagonists are similar enough to Hemingway himself that one can assume, as many critics have, that Hemingway was at least partly writing about himself. For example, Hemingway’s tales of World War I and the Spanish Civil War are undoubtedly traumatic, and Hemingway himself was involved in both of those conflicts.

    Writing about traumatic experiences may be helpful in terms of putting one’s feelings about the experience down on paper to both memorialize and contain them. Also, the process can help one organize one’s thoughts about people or events and put one’s feelings about these people or events in perspective. Also, the mere act of expression through artistic creation can be therapeutic, as has often been recognized.

    Writing about traumas may be the opposite of therapeutic in that describing disturbing people or events can cause one to relive unpleasant experiences.

  10. 10

    Old Man at the Bridge: Who is the old man talking to when he says, “I was taking care of animals,” and the narrator observes that he is saying it “no longer to me”?

    There are several possibilities here: either the old man is talking to himself, to no one, to a person in his mind’s eye, or to the universe at large. His words, “I was taking care of animals…I was only taking care of animals” sound like an explanation for why he was so late leaving San Carlos and thus why he finds himself barely ahead of the enemy army. Viewed in this light, they seem to be a justification of his behavior; he couldn’t leave earlier because he was taking care of animals. If this interpretation is adopted, he could be talking to himself or to the universe at large.

    Another interpretation of his words is that he is seeking an explanation of why he finds himself about to die simply because he was soft-hearted enough to have been looking after animals until the last possible minute. Why should he be punished, he wonders, with death, simply because he was looking after his animals? Under this interpretation, he is likely talking to the universe at large, to the fates or the other forces he imagines are responsible for placing him in his predicament.

    Yet a third interpretation is that the old man is dazed and simply repeating phrases he has just said to the narrator because they are running through his mind. In this case, the man is talking to no one, to himself or to someone he imagines in his daze.