In Our Time

In Our Time Study Guide

Ernest Hemingway wrote In Our Time in 1925, and its critical acclaim established him as a literary force. Critics currently argue over whether it should be considered a novel or merely a compilation of short stories and vignettes. In fact it has no defined genre, and ever since its publication, readers have had trouble coming to terms with its form. Still, many do see it as a novel, or as D.H. Lawrence called it, a "fragmentary novel," and Hemingway maintained that the pattern and structure of the book is so tight that deleting or replacing even one word would ruin the unity. The overall meaning of the narrative is created by the positioning of each story and vignette in relationship to others, but these juxtapositions also create its confusing structure. Each concrete image is set against another without the benefit of any real transition. The final version of In Our Time originates from the publication of a collection of chapters titled In Our Time in 1924. These earlier sketches are interspersed between the chapters in the 1925 In Our Time edition.

The short vignettes are primarily concerned with war, crime, politics, and bullfighting, while the chapters are more personalized narratives. The chapters contain a constant thread of violence, but not nearly as prominently as in the vignettes, which also concern the characters' responses to violence. The chapters tend to concern themselves more with the problem of relationships, either romantic relationships between couples or family relationships--usually between father and son. Hemingway claims that he wrote the short vignettes of the 1924 edition in order to place them between the longer chapters of In Our Time, but many critics claim that at the time he wrote them in 1923 the idea for In Our Time (1925) was not yet conceived. The short vignettes are explosive in their explicit violence, while the chapters are softer and slower in their narration and imagery. By alternating the two forms he magnifies the impact of each, and he thus achieves a powerful collection.

Hemingway started seriously writing upon his return home to Oak Park from World War I. His stories all contained young heroes, and he submitted them to the Saturday Evening Post. In the years 1919-1922 Hemingway wrote with the goal of making a living from fiction writing. When he embarked for Paris he had a divided literary identity, though: he was journalist, poet, and fiction writer. In Paris, modernist literature had an impact on him, but he was still primarily a journalist, and his writing style was still in flux.

He returned to Paris from Toronto in 1924, and over the next year he discovered the form that would turn into In Our Time. Working as a journalist in Toronto, he read Joyce's Dubliners, which profoundly affected him. Upon his return he wrote nine stories in seven months, and these eventually became the core of In Our Time.

His experience as a journalist in Kansas City and Toronto certainly played a role in the construction of In Our Time, particularly its concise and very precise writing style, a style that Hemingway would adopt for most of his career. Even so, as mentioned above, the book depends upon the juxtaposition of one image against another, each becoming more powerful by the omission of all transitions.