Much has been written about Ernest Hemingway; the best of it was written by the man himself, through his fictional works which were largely based on his absurdly adventurous life. If ever there was a life that was lived, it belonged to Ernest Hemingway.
Based on his fictional work alone, he ranks as my second favorite writer of all time (standing only an imperceptible sliver behind Ray Bradbury). As an individual, a man who fought fearlessly in wars and was awarded a bronze star, who survived an explosion and shrapnel in his leg, who lived to tell about two plane crashes, one of which he escaped by headbutting his way out, who exuded strength and loved women (he married 4 of them), who slew lion and boar and rhinoceros and swordfish alike, who partook in bombing raids and once hurled a grenade into a Nazi bunker while attached as a war correspondent, who was endlessly possessed by adventure – Hemingway easily ranks first among all, and represents perhaps my closest flirtation with idolatry.
Where could a man like Hemingway find his place if he were born today? When I think of modern men (let’s not yet venture into the world of modern male writers), I see lives without purpose; aimless, rudderless lives lethargically seduced by the sirens of sedentary existence.
But it’s worse than that, even. Men have lost any semblance of identity. Identity is today viewed not as something that must be sought and fought for over a man’s life, as it once was, but as an unnecessary burden. An identity can now be won by spending 7 years earning a humanities degree. A man who wishes to come into his masculinity is not admired today; he is vilified, seen as an evil thing, like a troll under a bridge or a hideous beast from 20,000 leagues that is gazed upon not in awe, but in disgusted wonder that such a thing could even exist in the enlightened world.
Hemingway, by today’s standards, is viewed as a “chauvinist”, a “misogynist”, as “hyper-masculine”, even as an “anti-semite”. All of these phrases I have seen or heard attributed to the man. If he lived today, he would be run out of every literary circle on God’s blue earth. He certainly would not have been deemed, “The most important writer since Shakespeare,” as he was in his own time. His image would have precluded him from such a title. His complete disdain for the effete, for the feminized nature of our modern men, would have tanked any hope of a career in writing; no less a career in writing about manly things, like hard fought wars, and hard fought love, and death in the afternoon, beneath the snows of Kilimanjaro. The Pulitzer Prize, and the Nobel Prize for Literature, which he won in his own time would not be reserved for him today.
Hemingway once wrote of a character that was meant to symbolize his own father, “He was married to a woman with whom he had no more in common than a coyote has with a white female poodle…he was no wolf, my father… he was sentimental, and like most sentimental people, he was cruel…”
Raised by a dominant mother, and a father who was assigned the house chores, drove young Hemingway to sometimes place his father’s head in the sights of his shotgun. He never did pull the trigger. But this perhaps helped carve out the form of Hemingway that is now seen as a caricature of masculinity; a hard drinker, a philanderer, a fisherman, a hunter, a warrior, a poet. During his own life, perhaps this was why Hemingway took measures to hide his sentimentality, and instead released it upon the pages of his magnificent literature, where it can still be viewed today like an arch testament to the conflicting nature of man, a time capsule containing the vestiges of a traditional masculinity that has since been relegated to the far corners of the world, and run out of decent civilization.
In the end, driven into madness and paranoia, Hemingway took his well-lived life with a shotgun. Luckily, he is survived by his fascinating work (and his fascinating lineage).
Recommended Reading: For Whom The Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway