Who Was Ernest Hemingway?
The big bear stopped in the middle of the road. It was somewhere “out West,” Ernest Hemingway said. It might have been in Idaho, or maybe it was Montana. The bear stood on its hind legs. It roared at any car that tried to pass by. The bear would not budge. The cars either turned back or went the long way around. After a while, no one could use the road. All the drivers were scared of the huge animal.
But not Ernest. He wasn’t scared. He was mad. He drove right up to where the bear was standing. He got out of his car and yelled at the beast. What did the animal think it was doing? “Do you realize that you’re nothing but a miserable, common black bear?” Ernest said.
The bear went down from its hind legs. It slinked to the side of the road on all fours. It never bothered the cars again.
Did this story really happen?
Ernest sure could tell it like it had. That was his great gift: He was an amazing storyteller.
Ernest liked to tell his friends about the time he landed the biggest sailfish ever caught in the Atlantic Ocean. Then there was the time he claimed to have met enemy spy Mata Hari during World War I. And the time he saved an African village from a lion that was lurking near its fields at night. Some of the stories were true. Most were a little bit true. A few weren’t true at all.
But Ernest wasn’t known all around the world because he told stories about himself to his friends. He became famous because he wrote books and stories that are still read by millions of people today, more than sixty years after his death. He wrote The Sun Also Rises, A Farewell to Arms, The Old Man and the Sea—-some of the best--known books in American literature. In all, he wrote more than twenty books and more than fifty short stories.
Most of Ernest’s books and stories were fiction, which means they were made up. But they all seem to have in them some details of events that really happened to Ernest.
He really did travel to Spain for the bullfights, like the people in The Sun Also Rises. He was on the front lines of World War I, like his main character in A Farewell to Arms. He worked hard to catch huge fish in the ocean, like the fisherman in The Old Man and the Sea. Sometimes it was hard to tell where real events stopped and the fiction began.
Ernest was always in search of adventure. He looked for situations that would test his courage and his ability to perform under pressure. Then he used those experiences to write stories that are still meaningful to readers today.
However, his stories aren’t important only for what he wrote about. They also are important for how he wrote them. Ernest wrote in a new way, with short sentences that got right to the point. He didn’t use many adjectives to describe things. And he often didn’t choose to use big words.
Ernest Hemingway became one of the most important authors in American history. His unique style has influenced many other writers—-even to this day. Chapter 1: Young Storyteller
When Ernest Hemingway was a little boy, his mother once asked him what he was afraid of.
“’Fraid a nothin’!” Ernest said.
That was the truth! Young Ernest would try just about anything. He was only three years old when he went fishing for the first time. Not long after that, he learned to start a campfire. By the time he was five, he knew how to hunt.
Ernest was born on July 21, 1899, in Oak Park, Illinois, not far from the city of Chicago. His father, Clarence Edmonds Hemingway, usually called Ed, was a doctor. His mother, Grace, was a music teacher. She had dreamed of being an opera singer when she was younger. When Ernest was born, the Hemingway family lived with Grace’s father. Ed and Grace had fallen in love when the doctor was a regular visitor at the house to care for Grace’s mom, who was sick. Grace’s mom died in 1895. Ed and Grace were married the next year.
Ernest had an older sister, Marcelline. He had three younger sisters: Ursula was born three years after Ernest. Madelaine was born in 1904. Carol was born in 1911. Leicester (say: Lester) was born in 1915, when Ernest was a teenager.
Marcelline was eighteen months old when Ernest was born. Grace had been hoping for another daughter. She wanted to have two little girls whom she could dress alike. And even though Ernest turned out to be a boy, that didn’t stop Grace. She dressed Ernest like a girl.
That wasn’t unusual for the time. Many families dressed boys just like girls when they were babies. But Grace dressed Ernest and Marcelline in matching pink outfits and called them her “two summer girls.” That was unusual. Grace sometimes still had Earnest wear girls’ clothes up until he was almost six years old.
Ernest’s father didn’t like that idea. Neither did Ernest. He was a rough--and--tumble boy who liked to hunt, fish, and play outdoors.
In fact, every summer Ed took Grace and the children out to the country to a family cottage at Walloon Lake in Michigan. Ernest’s first trip to Michigan came only six weeks after he was born. He would return every summer for eighteen years.
There was no dressing up Ernest in girl clothes at Walloon Lake. There, Ernest hunted and fished. His father taught him how to use a gun.
One summer day when Ernest was a young boy, he was running with a stick in his mouth. He fell down. The stick cut into the back of his throat. Luckily, Ed knew what to do.
He removed the stick and fixed the wound. Ernest’s injury healed. But it was the first of many serious accidents he would have in his life.
Back in Oak Park, Ernest started first grade in 1905. He was a good student. After school, Grace made him practice playing the cello in the big new house the family had moved into earlier that year. The house was three stories high and had eight bedrooms. It had a separate music room in which Grace could give lessons. But Ernest hated playing the cello! He wanted to be outside with his friends, running around and playing sports. And if he couldn’t be so active, he wanted to be reading.
Ernest read almost anything he could get his hands on. But he especially liked adventure stories. Robinson Crusoe was one of his favorite books. It is a story by Daniel Defoe about a man shipwrecked on an island. Another author, Robert Louis Stevenson, wrote many of the other adventure stories that Ernest liked.
Those books helped develop Ernest’s great imagination. One day when he was five years old, he raced in the door of the house. He excitedly told his family how he had stopped a runaway horse all by himself!
“This boy is going to be heard from some day,” Ernest’s grandfather told Grace. “If he uses his imagination for good purposes, he’ll be famous.”
Each year before the family went to Walloon Lake, Ernest made a trip to the library in Oak Park. He checked out as many books as he could carry. The rest of the summer, whenever he wasn’t out hunting or fishing, he spent his time with a good book. Chapter 2: Early Writings
Ernest entered Oak Park High School in the fall of 1913. He began writing for the school paper, the Trapeze. His first assignment was to report about a concert at the school. But he soon discovered that his real talent was for making up stories. Luckily, his high school also had a magazine.
His first short story was written for the school’s magazine, which was called the Tabula. It was about a hunter who set a trap for a fellow hunter, only to be caught up in it himself, too. Ernest’s short stories for the Tabula were often about sports or the outdoors.
Ernest was on the swim team and in the rifle club. He made up stories about the rifle club to fill space in the Trapeze. He also told tales about being a football star. In reality, Ernest was no star. He liked football because he was big and strong, and he could use that to his advantage. But he was not especially fast. He played on the lightweight team his sophomore and junior seasons. The lightweight team was a notch below the top level in high school, like junior varsity is to varsity now. Ernest made the top team in his final year.
By that time, Ernest already stood about five feet ten inches tall. He had lots of friends, and the girls thought he was handsome. However, he was shy around them. When it was time for a school dance, he helped decorate the school gymnasium but then left before the dance began.
In the classroom, Ernest earned high marks in English and history. His grades were good enough for him to go to college. It wasn’t as common in the early part of the twentieth century as it is now for high--school seniors to go on to college. Still, Ernest’s family expected that is what he would do after graduation. His father hoped that Ernest would go on to become a doctor like him.
But Ernest didn’t want to go to college. He wanted to experience more of life. Sitting in a classroom for at least four more years was not the kind of experience he was looking for.
One of Ernest’s uncles had a friend who worked for the Kansas City Star newspaper. That friend helped Ernest get a job as a reporter in the fall of 1917.
In October that year, Ernest moved to Kansas City, Missouri. He began reporting on news from the courthouse. However, it wasn’t very exciting to write about judges and jury trials. He wanted to be where the action was! So he convinced his boss to assign him to crime reporting. That meant he would rush to the scene of a crime when the police were called. It also meant covering the local hospital, where he wrote dramatic stories about accident victims.
Ernest liked working at the newspaper, but most important, he learned a particular way of writing at the Star. The newspaper had a style that it wanted all its reporters to follow. The rules were detailed in what is called a style guide.
Ernest learned to write that way in his crime stories. And he used the newspaper’s style for the rest of his life.
Copyright © 2022 by Jim E Gigliotti. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.