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Earnest Hemingway: Would Be King

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In the period immediately before World War I, there was a revolution in all art forms. The impressionists in France, late in the nineteenth century, had abandoned photographic realism to imply their emotional impressions of a scene. By the time of Picasso and Braqueat the end of the first decade of the twentieth century, painters were analyzing shapes, deconstructing them for component elements, or later, doing away with representationalreality all together. Composers like Igor Stravinski and Charles Ives introduced atonal, dissonant passages into music. Artists did not want to create in the same manner as theirpredecessors; they wanted to extend the range of their art. Beyond the arts, Sigmund Freud demonstrated the existence of the sub-conscious, a theory that would revolutionize the field of psychology. Einstein changed the face of Physics by proposing the theory of relativity and Werner Heisenberg predicted that complete and accurate depictions of phenomena wereimpossible. It was a time of sweeping change; the world if literature was no exception.

In poetry, Ezra Pound was reacting against the metronomic beat of Victorian poetry. His credo was “Make it new.” He insisted that writers use no superfluous word and avoidabstractions at all cost. T.S. Elliot followed Pound’s technique, his voice and the voice of post-war Europe coming through in his masterpiece, The Wasteland. In fiction, James Joyce was insisting on removing the obvious presence of the author. Gertrude Stein was experimenting with sentence structure and word repetitions, trying to immerse her readers in a sense of ongoing present. Sherwood Anderson, like Joyce, wrote stories that did not snap shut at the ending, but developed gradually, aimlessly, their intent being a revelation of character. All these authors defined character less through authorial description and more through what the character said and did. Earnest Hemingway knew and studied with many of the best modernists. Their influence accentuated the spare laconic style he had already developed in high school. The spare unadorned, grammatically simple, declarative sentences, largely devoid of adjective or adverb, also echoed Hemingway’s own philosophy. For Hemingway, loss was inevitable: fate, circumstance, something always brought on the end. Love expired, through death or disenchantment, fame always dwindled, youth and vitality crumbled through the years; life itself was nothing more than a unpredictable feast of the senses. His philosophy is both stoic and existential: one should not complain, one should show grace under pressure (Hays, 41) Also, one should care about one’s craft because it was the individual’s actions which defined the character.

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