Ernest Miller Hemingway was born on July 21, 1899, in Oak Park, Illinois. His father was the owner of a prosperous real estate business. His father, Dr. Hemingway, imparted to Ernest the importance of appearances, especially in public. Dr. Hemingway invented surgical forceps for which he would not accept money. He believed that one should not profit from something important for the good of mankind. Ernest’s father, a man of high ideals, was very strict and censored the books he allowed his children to read. He forbad Ernest’s sister from studying ballet for it was coeducational, and dancing together led to hell and damnation.
Grace Hall Hemingway, Ernest’s mother, considered herself pure and proper. She was a dreamer who was upset at anything which disturbed her perception of the world as beautiful. She hated dirty diapers, upset stomachs, and cleaning house; they were not fit for a lady. She taught her children to always act with decorum. She adored the singing of the birds and the smell of flowers. Her children were expected to behave properly and to please her, always. Mrs. Hemingway treated Ernest, when he was a small boy, as if he were a female baby doll and she dressed him accordingly.
This arrangement was alright until Ernest got to the age when he wanted to be a gun-toting Pawnee Bill. He began, at that time, to pull away from his mother, and never forgave her for his humiliation. The town of Oak Park, where Ernest grew up, was very old fashioned and quite religious. The townspeople forbad the word virgin from appearing in school books, and the word breast was questioned, though it appeared in the Bible. Ernest loved to fish, canoe and explore the woods. When he couldn’t get outside, he escaped to his room and read books.
He loved to tell stories to his classmates, often insisting that a friend listen to one of his stories. In spite of his mother’s desire, he played on the football team at Oak Park High School. As a student, Ernest was a perfectionist about his grammar and studied English with a fervor. He contributed articles to the weekly school newspaper. It seems that the principal did not approve of Ernest’s writings and he complained, often, about the content of Ernest’s articles. Ernest was clear about his writing; he wanted people to see and feel and he wanted to enjoy himself while writing.
Ernest loved having fun. If nothing was happening, mischievous Ernest made something happen. He would sometimes use forbidden words just to create a ruckus. Ernest, though wild and crazy, was a warm, caring individual. He loved the sea, mountains and the stars and hated anyone who he saw as a phoney. During World War I, Ernest, rejected from service because of a bad left eye, was an ambulance driver, in Italy, for the Red Cross. Very much like the hero of A Farewell to Arms, Ernest is shot in his knee and recuperates in a hospital, tended by a caring nurse named Agnes.
Like Frederick Henry, in the book, he fell in love with the nurse and was given a medal for his heroism. Ernest returned home after the war, rejected by the nurse with whom he fell in love. He would party late into the night and invite, to his house, people his parents disapproved of. Ernest’s mother rejected him and he felt that he had to move from home. He moved in with a friend living in Chicago and he wrote articles for The Toronto Star. In Chicago he met and then married Hadley Richardson. She believed that he should spend all his time in writing, and bought him a typewriter for his birthday.
They decided that the best place for a writer to live was Paris, where he could devote himself to his writing. He said, at the time, that the most difficult thing to write about was being a man. They could not live on income from his stories and so Ernest, again, wrote for The Toronto Star. Ernest took Hadley to Italy to show her where he had been during the war. He was devastated, everything had changed, everything was destroyed. Hadley became pregnant and was sick all the time. She and Ernest decided to move to Canada. He had, by then written three stories and ten poems.
Hadley gave birth to a boy who they named John Hadley Nicano Hemingway. Even though he had his family Ernest was unhappy and decided to return to Paris. It was in Paris that Ernest got word that a publisher wanted to print his book, In Our Time, but with some changes. The publisher felt that the sex was to blatant, but Ernest refused to change one word. Around 1925, Ernest started writing a novel about a young man in World War I, but had to stop after a few pages, and proceeded to write another novel, instead. This novel was based on his experiences while living in Pamplona, Spain.
He planned on calling this book Fiesta, but changed the name to The Sun Also Rises, a saying from the Bible. This book, as in his other books, shows Hemingway obsessed with death. In 1927, Ernest found himself unhappy with his wife and son. They decided to divorce and he married Pauline, a woman he had been involved with while he was married to Hadley. A year later, Ernest was able to complete his war novel which he called A Farewell to Arms. The novel was about the pain of war, of finding love in this time of pain. It portrayed the battles, the retreats, the fears, the gore and the terrible waste of war.
This novel was well-received by his publisher, Max Perkins,but Ernest had to substitute dashes for the dirty language. Ernest used his life when he wrote; using everything he did and everything that ever happened to him. He nevertheless remained a private person; wanting his stories to be read but wanting to be left alone. He once said, Don’t look at me. Look at my words. A common theme throughout Hemingway’s stories is that no matter how hard we fight to live, we end up defeated, but we are here and we must go on. At age 31 he wrote Death in the Afternoon, about bullfighting in his beloved Spain.
Ernest was a restless man; he traveled all over the United States, Europe, Cuba and Africa. At the age of 37 Ernest met the woman who would be his third wife; Martha Gellhorn, a writer like himself. He went to Spain, he said, to become an antiwar correspondent, and found that war was like a club where everyone was playing the same game, and he was never lonely. Martha went to Spain as a war correspondent and they lived together. He knew that he was hurting Pauline, but like his need to travel and have new experiences, he could not stop himself from getting involved with women.
In 1940 he wrote For Whom the Bell Tolls and dedicated it to Martha, whom he married at the end of that year. He found himself traveling between Havana, Cuba and Ketchum, Idaho, which he did for the rest of his life. During World War II, Ernest became a secret agent for the United States. He suggested that he use his boat, the Pillar, to surprise German submarines and attack them with hidden machine guns. It was at this time that Ernest, always a drinker, started drinking most of his days away.
He would host wild, fancy parties and did not write at all during the next three years. At war’s end, Ernest went to England and met an American foreign correspondent named Mary Welsh. He divorced Martha and married Mary in Havana, in 1946. Ernest was a man of extremes; living either in luxury or happy to do without material things. Ernest, always haunted by memories of his mother, would not go to her funeral when she died in 1951. He admitted that he hated his mother’s guts. Ernest wrote The Old Man and the Sea in only two months.
He was on top of the world, the book was printed by Life Magazine and thousands of copies were sold in the United States. This novel and A Farewell to Arms were both made into movies. In 1953 he went on a safari with Mary, and he was in heaven hunting big game. Though Ernest had a serious accident, and later became ill, he could never admit that he had any weaknesses; nothing would stop him, certainly not pain. In 1954 he won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Toward the end, Ernest started to travel again, but almost the way that someone does who knows that he will soon die.
He suddenly started becoming paranoid and to forget things. He became obsessed with sin; his upbringing was showing, but still was inconsistent in his behavior. He never got over feeling like a bad person, as his father, mother and grandfather had taught him. In the last year of his life, he lived inside of his dreams, similar to his mother, who he hated with all his heart. He was suicidal and had electric shock treatments for his depression and strange behavior. On a Sunday morning, July 2, 1961, Ernest Miller Hemingway killed himself with a shotgun.