Posted by: Nathan | August 13, 2007

Hemingway’s Short Stories

Last fall, I was discussing Hemingway with one of my fellow students, and he said he preferred H’s short stories to his novels because H’s style fits better in smaller works. hemingwaystories.gifAlthough I love H’s novels, I can see what he meant. Hemingway is renowned for his prose style: terse and to-the-point with lots of implication and not much description. His style has always been one of my favorite things about Hemingway, and the collection of tales assembled in The Short Stories is a showcase for how well this style can function.

Like any book of short narratives, I liked some stories better than others. Of course, I expected to find the renowned prose and probably plenty of dying (I was right on both counts), but I had not expected the breadth of life that fills these pages. Hemingway writes of so many disparate places, people, languages and traditions; almost every tale is a new landscape, a different world for the reader to engage. The settings are as diverse as H’s travels: Africa, Switzerland, France, Italy, New Jersey, España, Wyoming, Michigan, Cuba, etc. And with different places come different situations. The characters who live in these stories are the locals—those H met on a train or had a drink with.

Another delightful aspect of The Short Stories is the manner in which H conveys his stories. He sets them out for you almost like a portrait: he lays out the scene(s), you see what he shows you, and he leaves it for you to interpret. This would be very frustrating for those who want definite answers and concreteness in their reading; I find it engaging and wonderful.

In places, the starkness of the prose becomes too much even for me, but usually H walks the line perfectly, especially in his middle and later works. There are a lot of Nick Adams stories in here (perhaps you read one in high school?)*, some of which are better than others. And there are the usual pitfalls of reading Hemingway. The women are sparse and usually not well-developed (there are exceptions). There is always the distance the reader maintains from the stories due to the way H sets out his scenes, so those who enjoy wrenching emotional content won’t find it in this book. There are strong feelings present, but they remain latent.

All told, this is a great book of stories, but what do you expect from Hemingway? I will gladly reread these stories later; there is a lot to find here. I shan’t grade the book as the stories deserve individual ratings. Here are my favorites: “Big Two-Hearted River,” “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber,” “The End of Something,” “Hills Like White Elephants,” “Fifty Grand,” “Today is Friday,” “A Way You’ll Never Be,” “Homage to Switzerland,” and “Wine of Wyoming.”

*From the intro: H mentions that it’s odd reading his stories “that have achieved some notoriety so that school teachers include them in story collections that their pupils have to buy in story courses, and you are always embarrassed to read them and wonder whether you really wrote them or did you maybe hear them somewhere…”

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Responses

  1. I have to admit that I’ve forgotten most of the Hemingway I’ve read (I remember something about a cafe, and later a lady who came up to visit while her cab waited downstairs). What most often comes to mind when I hear the name Hemingway is the 1996 Animaniacs episode “Papers for Pappa”, where the Warners chase Ernest Hemingway around the world when he refuses to sign for his office supply delivery. Maybe his short stories would be better suited to my tastes.

  2. A fine review. One of the nicest things about a short story (the good ones, anyway) is that one doesn’t need to prepare squiself for a two-three week (or month) commitment; all the prose and depth is put together in a more manageable package.

  3. This is a great analysis – I’ve attached a link that expands on the topic and is contributed by tons of folks. There are links to an in-depth Community College of Virginia round up of several student reports:

    A Literary Analysis for Hills Like White Elephants:
    http://www.gummyprint.com/blog/archives/hills-like-white-elephants-literary-analysis/


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