Hemingway and the American Century
Summary: The most important American writer of the 20th century was Ernest Hemingway. As a young, expatriate newspaper columnist in Europe, Hemingway wrote fiction that was characterized by simple declarative sentences and scant use of adjectives and adverbs, a distinct contrast to the flowery verbiage typical of 19th century fiction. Yet, though devoid of adjectives, Hemingway’s stories still conveyed tremendous emotion and intellectual power, and his unique style was quickly recognized, celebrated, and imitated. A generation of young writers emulated Hemingway’s hard-boiled prose, if not the stylistic force and power conveyed in his fiction. He became a national celebrity whose movements about the world were chronicled in major dailies.
The seminar considers Hemingway’s stylistic innovation through reading representative works, allowing students to weigh the importance of his contribution to American letters. Hemingway’s handiwork also reflected the historical period in which it appeared, and consequently, provides a window for discussion of American culture and life in each decade of Hemingway’s life. Hence students will also investigate and discuss the historical context of an emblematic sample of Hemingway’s greatest short stories as a window into each respective period. In the 1920s, a time of sober reflection if not outright disillusionment among American writers and intellectuals, Hemingway wrote The Sun Also Rises, “Big Two-Hearted River,” and “Soldier’s Home,” fiction that neatly captured the prevailing sense of despair and malaise that afflicted the post-World-War-One intelligentsia. During the Depression, Hemingway wrote To Have and Have Not, “Wine of Wyoming,” and other stories and novels that reflected the ethos of the economic crisis. He was savagely criticized by the political left for writing about bullfighting and marlin fishing instead of contributing articles on the ongoing class struggle, criticism that Hemingway rejected, in strong language, yet may also have internalized, based on his work after 1935. His politics amounted to a strong libertarianism, a suspicion of and distaste for government at all levels, and a fierce determination to remain independent as an artist. He savagely criticized the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration and the New Deal for creating a dependency culture, and he disparaged the federal government for criminal incompetence in failing to evacuate WPA workers, most of whom were veterans of the Great War, who were building a railroad to Key West when killed in the historically massive hurricane of 1935. In the 1940s, Hemingway labored as a war correspondent; he had warned of the coming of World War Two in his novel, For Whom the Bell Tolls, published in 1940. He had advocated for the repeal of the Neutrality Acts and for American rearmament. His subsequent experience as a war correspondent, he landed in Europe soon after D-Day, is represented in his short story, “Black Ass at the Cross Roads,” and in the novel Across the River and Into the Trees. With the Cold War as a backdrop in the 1950s, Hemingway wrote his classic short novel The Old Man and the Sea and a number of works that were published posthumously that were experimental in nature, e.g., The Garden of Eden. His later work suggested Hemingway’s continuing willingness to challenge convention in both style and subject.
Dan Monroe is Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of History and Political Science at Millikin University. Monroe received a PhD in History from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1998, where he worked with Robert W. Johannsen. Monroe was the John C. Griswold Distinguished Professor of History at Millikin from 2008-2010, and he was the Misher Visiting Professor of the Humanities at the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia in 2013. He currently serves as the chair of the Illinois Historic Sites Advisory Council, and he is on the board of the Illinois State Historical Society and the editorial board of the Journal of Illinois History. He is the author of three books and a number of articles and reviews. Professor Monroe is currently completing Robert W. Johannsen’s biography of James K. Polk.