Hemingways unique writing style

Hemingways unique writing style


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Hemingway, who is very famous for his creation of a new and unique writing style, is one of the most influential writers in American literary history during the 20th century, so he is undoubtedly to be the focus of the researchers all over the world. But from all the researches on him, it is easy to find that authors are always focusing on his several long-novels and his The Old Man and the Sea to show his unique writing style. As a matter of fact, his unique writing style is fully and exactly reflected by his short stories, which are drawing more people™s attentions. So this essay takes Hemingway™s short story—Hills Like White Elephants as the focus to give a brief introduction on his unique writing style.

Hills Like White Elephants is one of the most classic short stories of Hemingway. Among all the comments on it, the one by Milan Kundera, a famous Czech writer, is surely attractive and profound. He specifically makes an analysis about the hidden elements of the story, the different characters of the two and so on, especially the real dialogue structure which is simple, clear and beautiful in his minds, contrasting with the drama dialogue structure. And in Researches on Hemingway, edited by Dong Hengxun, the English critic H. O. Bates in his works mainly refers to Hemingway™s concise writing style.

But to sum up, most of the researches on Hemingway™s unique writing style are systematic and theoretical. And the analysis about Hills Like White Elephants although are profound, but not all-round. Accordingly, this essay is based on the purpose that fully shows all the Hemingway™s unique writing style in Hills Like White Elephants and to deepen the readers™ understanding on Hemingway™s unique writing style and his short stories.

?. A Brief Introduction to the Author and the Story

One sentence that an American man tries to persuade a girl to have an operation when they are waiting for the train at a station. The whole story consists of the simple and usual dialogues of the two figures, and the focus of them are just roused by a metaphor that the hills like white elephants, made by the girl. But obviously, the man doesn™t pay his attention to such focus, for he is fully occupied in persuading the girl to have the operation. Obviously, tense conversation ensues between the man and the girl, and the story ends without any clear resolution, leaving the reader to find the possible outcomes. In general, that is the feature of Hemingway™s writing style.

For the Hills Like White Elephants, many comments had been made upon it, but the one from Milan Kundera, a famous Czech writer, is undoubtedly profound and perfect. In Milan Kundera™s Les testaments trahis, he spends many words to talk about the Hills Like White Elephants, especially make a striking contrast between the plain dialogue structure of Hemingway and the dialogue structure in the drama to give prominence to the simplicity, the clarity, the lucidity, the beauty and the melody of Hemingway™s plain dialogue. And his explanation of the figures™ characters and the hidden story is penetrating. Of course, the dialogue structure emphasized by Kundera is just one aspect of Hemingway™s unique writing style, but the other styles aren™t mentioned. Apart from Milan Kundera, there are many other critics that give different narratives of the Hills Like White Elephants from one or more than one aspects of Hemingway™s writing style, the relationship between the male and female basing on the female™s views, etc. However, if taking the writing style in Hills Like White Elephants as the focus, the comments on it are not all-round. So this essay aims at introducing the Hemingway™s writing style in his Hills Like White Elephants comprehensively, including his plain dialogue, concise language, perfect symbolism, characteristic ending and the deliberate hiding which is the so-called Iceberg Theory. It is just such unique style that makes Hemingway win a high reputation in the literary circles that has accomplished a reformation on the traditional literature. But before expounding the views on the unique writing style of Hemingway, it is absolutely necessary to talk about his development to a new writing style so as to let the reader deeply understand the uniqueness of his writing style.

?.Hemingway™s Development to a New Writing Style

A. The Writing Style of Modern European Literature During 19th CenturyThe 19th century is the century of greatest change in the European literary circles in that this is the period when a new colloquial writing style was born which was created by Mark Twain, whose use of vernacular speech revolutionized he language of American fiction. But obviously, it is only Ernest Hemingway that inherited and developed his colloquial style.As Milan Kundera said, in the early 19th century the novels were carefully structured with a series of scenes by Scott, Balzac (Milan Kundera 134). In his opinion, their novels were full of specific description, scenes, dialogues and plots which are usually seen in the drama. Looking back to the European literary history in the 19th century, a fact is evident to readers that the novels of all the writers, excepting Mark Twain, were full of long and complex sentences, blooded adjectives and adverbs, etc. In fact, the one who had read the novels of Balzac or Henry James, who were the representative writers of that century, will get the fact that Balzac tends to portray the outer actuality and the image of the figures carefully and Henry James likes to show his ability in superposing the modifiers. Their descriptions are undoubtedly specific and elaborate, but to some extent, tedious and boring. The novels in the 19th century are inclined to describing specifically and deeply with rich elaborate details about the outside or objective environment. It seemsthat if a novel lacks of any of the elements mentioned above, it would not be considered as a successful one. Therefore, after narrating a whole story, a novel with hundreds of thousands of words even millions of words is born. In fact, such writing style is very popular in the literary circles at that time when reading novels to be certainly a good method to amuse people. But with time goes on, literature also needs new blood to fill in to keep up with the development of the society and to meet the needs of people, who are gradually busy in pursuing wealth and have no enough time and spirit to spend in reading the too long and too difficult novels. With such time coming, the style of conciseness is asked for to meet the needs of new times. It is just Hemingway that has changed the traditional tedious writing style into a type of new concise style, purifying the literary language.

B. The Formation of Hemingway™s New and Unique Writing Style

Hemingway™s style is characterized by short and simple real-life dialogues, concise language with very few adjectives and adverbs, deliberate omission and so on, instead of the tedious style of the 19th century. Among so many writers, Hemingway becomes the only one person who has successfully developed a new writing style in Modern European Literature; there are several reasons for it. First of all, as mentioned before, in 1917, Hemingway worked as a journalist for the Kansas City Star, which is one of the best newspapers in American at that time. This newspaper asks for using short sentences, vivid and active language and reporting directly, so Hemingway learned that writing style should be trained as life. Of course, this experience benefits the formation of his so-called telegraph style greatly. Secondly, being under the illusion that the war is fine and attractive, Hemingway began his experience as a soldier in the First World War, even later in other wars, but in the battlefields, he was seriously hit. Bloody war shatters his dream; meanwhile, it provides him not just a wounded body and a hurt heart, but the rich sources of writing. So, for what he usually expresses in his works, he was viewed as the representative of the lost generation. Therefore, as a spokesman of the lost generation, Hemingway has already had a kind of unique style of his own. And, Hemingway™s success is related to the helps from other famous writers. Such as, Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein, Fitzgerald and so on, who give much indications and guidance on his writing. Furthermore, he absorbed the colloquial language of Mark Twain. Because of all the elements, the feature of Hemingway™s writing style is gradually appearing.

It is Hemingway that changes the traditional Modern European literary style of tediousness into a writing style of simplicity. In his the Hills Like White Elephants his unique writing style is absolutely reflected.

C. The Influence of Hemingway™s Writing Style

Noted for his unique writing style and devotion to the literature, Hemingway has exerted considerable influence on the later novelists. The writer, Wu Xiaodong, reckons him as a writer who deeply affected other writers. His concise language, short and simple sentences purify the American literature, and his colloquial style is very popular in European and American literary circles since the late 20th century. John O™Hara, who made a memorial speech for Hemingway on the New York Times of July3, 1961, held that in history no one else can directly affected so many writers, especially the young writers( Dong Hengxun 383). Hemingway is considered as an author who deeply affects the writing style of both the long novels and the short stories of American. Now that the influence of Hemingway™s writing style which brings a big reputation to him is so great, it is quite worth discussing it from his works—Hills Like White Elephants.

?.Discussion on the Writing Style in Hills Like White Elephants

A. Real-life Dialogue

Milan Kundera pays a compliment to Hemingway in his Les testaments trahis that Hemingway captures the real dialogue structure. Assuredly, being different from such writers who structure their works in absolutely literary language, Hemingway creates a kind of real-life dialogue style, the obvious feature of which is that it goes on face to face without narrating by the third party. Actually, the dialogue in Hills Like White Elephants is just a fragment of the dialogue in actual life so that the first impression the reader gets when he starts reading it is that he were listening. Looking at the following dialogue chosen from it:

“And if I do it youll be happy and things will be like they were and youll love me?”

“I love you now. You know I love you.”

“I know. But if I do it, then it will be nice again if I say things are like white elephants, and youll like it?”

“Ill love it. I love it now but I just cant think about it. You know how I get

“when I worry.”

“If I do it you wont ever worry?”

“I wont worry about that because its perfectly simple.”

“Then Ill do it. Because I dont care about me.”

“What do you mean?” “I dont care about me.”

“Well, I care about you.”

“Oh, yes. But I dont care about me. And Ill do it and then everything will be fine.”

“I dont want you to do it if you feel that way.” (qtd. in Long Maozhong, Yan Jinglan and Wang Hui 386 )

Omitting all the description on the speaking tone, facial expression and actions, the dialogue with the form of only answers between the two figures comes to the reader as if he were listening. That is the essence of the real-life dialogue which is different from the dialogue in absolutely literary language that focuses attention on the action and expression especially. For example, in Henry James™s Daisy Miller, he writes:

I should think it might be arranged, said Winterbourne. Couldn™t you get some one to stay for the afternoon with Randolph

Miss Miller looked at him a moment, and then very placidly, I wish you would stay with him! she said.

Winterbourne hesitated a moment. I should much rather go to Chillon with you.

With me asked the young girl with the same placidity. (qtd. in Long Maozhong, Yan Jinglan and Wang Hui 329 )

Obviously, because the third party, namely, the author joins in the dialogue, narrating carefully about the actions, inner minds and facial expressions of the figures substitute being explored by the reader himself. This dialogue is not as direct and suspensive as the real-life dialogue in Hills Like White Elephants, and it loses its charm to give the feeling to the reader that he was listening.

Keeping the charm of the real-life style, the dialogue in the Hills Like White Elephants is arbitrary and uncertain. As a matter of fact, the dialogue in absolutely literary language must be arranged with obvious purpose, based on the contents and the plot of the story. But in a real-life dialogue, it is unknown that what will be talked about and what will happen next, and the focus changes arbitrarily and may be interrupted at any time. In a word, the process of the real-life dialogue is full of uncertainties. Similarly, in Hills Like White Elephants, the focus of the dialogue casually begins with an usual trifle about drinking, but it is soon changes arbitrarily to the hills, the bead curtain, the drinks, the operation and so on, and it changes or stops without any advanced information. Therefore, there is no doubt that Hemingway captures the highlight of the real-life dialogue, but his dialogue is never as simple as it seems to be.

In fact, the method of composing the details which Hemingway takes into his dialogue fully shows his great ability in language. For the above dialogue chosen from the Hills Like White Elephants, the repeat method, which can obviously show the change of the inner minds and the character of the figures, is usually adopted. Obviously, the disappointment of the girl becomes deeper and deeper when she repeatedly asks questions to the man with if I do—. At the same time, she gradually makes compromises to the man with the result that she finally says out I™ll do it.™, I don™t care about me™ several times. In this process of using the method of repeating, the girl is confirming the man™s true love to her, but she fails and drops into the pit of disappointment and agony. For the man, his aim of repeatedly emphasizing I love you.™, I™ll love it,™ is to veil his hypocrisy and cheat. The words are useless and ridiculous connecting with his action that trying to let the girl to have the abortion operation. The candied words cannot conceal his original intention and his treacherous and fraudulent nature. Although there are not any words to describe what kind of person the man is, his character is obvious to the reader. Hemingway is adept in capturing and exploring the dialogue structure in the actual life, which was ordinary and simple for the first impression, but actually intelligible, artful and deliberate. That™s the uniqueness of his dialogue.

B. Concise Language

Hemingway is famous for his contribution to the literary circles that purifying the tedious writing style with concise language. The British critic H. O. Bates made a comment on him in his Hemingway™s Literary Style that Hemingway cuts off all the tedious and unnecessary words, omitting the explanation, discussion, and even the argument. Contrasting with Henry James, a writer mentioned before, the feature of Hemingway™s concise language is based upon his simple words, short sentences and few adjectives or adverbs.

Henry James is always considered as the representative in the literary circles of the late 19th century, who likes to structure his works with complicated sentences and blooded modifiers. For example, in his The Ambassadors, he writes:

When in a quarter of an hour, he came down, what his hostess saw, what she might have taken in with a vision kindly adjusted, was the lean, slightly loose figure of a man of the middle height and something more, perhaps, than the middle age—a man of five-and-fifty, whose most immediate signs were a marked bloodless brownness of face, a thick, dark moustache, of characteristically American cut, growing strong and falling low, a head of hair still abundant, but abundantly streaked with grey, and a nose of bold, free prominence, the even line, the high finish, as it might have been called, of which, had a creation effect of mitigation. (qtd. in Li Yixie and Chang Yaoxin 430 )

The first impression of this sentence on the reader is that it is very long and the structure of it is complicated with many clauses, phrases, adjectives and adverbs which can make the reader feel dizzy. Such a sentence is blooded with adjectives and adverbs, such as, lean, loose, immediate, thick, dark, grey, bold free, kindly, slightly, characteristically and so on. To some extent, such language style shows the author™s ability in mastering the language, but no matter how beautiful the words are, they may take borings to the reader. No wonder someone says that the flooded adjectives is a big disaster in English literature, which is caused by the writers in the late 19th century, with Henry James as their representative. On the contrary, it is just Hemingway that brings a fresh wind of conciseness to the American literary circles, getting rid of the style of tediousness and complication.

After finishing reading Hemingway™s Hills Like White Elephants, some facts are obvious to the reader that Hemingway absorbs the colloquial language of Mark Twain for his words are very simple and colloquial; the whole story consists of short sentences; and there is no too much modificatory words to describe the facial expression, inner minds and even the actions of the figures. What Hemingway shows to the reader is an absolute kind of simplicity, which is completely different from the tediousness of Henry James. Although the language is full of simplicity, is undoubtedly not monotone. Keeping pace with the tempo of the story, the tone and the changing feelings of the figures are clear. Just owing to the concise language, Hemingway™s style was endowed with the title telegraph style.

C. Perfect Symbolism

Hemingway™s famous writing style is fully embodied in the Hills Like White Elephants. Apart from his real-life dialogue and concise language, the perfect symbolism can be also found. E. M. Hallyday holds that Hemingway uses some symbolism in his works in a very limited and controlled method, so he can not be considered strictly as a writer that belongs to the Symbolism, like Allen Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne and so on. However, he still highly estimates and specifically analyses Hemingway™s symbolism in his comment. In fact, the symbolism contained in Hemingway™s works is attractive. As someone says about the Old Man and the Sea that the novel stands for the writer™s circumstances: the old man is the writer himself, the big fish is his works, and the shark is the critic, for any works criticized by the critics would be bad. One makes such conclusion owing to one fact that Hemingway hates the critics. Likewise, in Hills Like White Elephants, there is an important metaphor that they (the hills) look like white elephants. Here, white elephants is mentioned several times, if some relative messages about it are found out, the symbolism meaning of it will be clear. Why does the writer use white elephants to describe the hills? What does white elephants stands for? After finishing the whole story and understanding it, or finding other relative important information, the answer will be obvious.

As we know that the term white elephants is derived from Thailand where a white elephant is given to unfavored people by the ruler. Because the elephant is sacred and not permitted to work, it is a burden to the owner as it would eat up all the owner™s money until he becomes destitute. And in Ancient India, the white elephant stands for something rare, noble and venerated. Even in China, especially for the Dai Nationality, white elephant stands for happiness and beauty. Learning about the original meaning of white elephants, the perfectness of Hemingway™s symbolism appears. After reading the whole story, it is obvious to the reader that the operation that the girl is asked to have is an abortion one, so it is sure that the white elephant stands for the baby, which is a beautiful thing to the girl who is longing for it and doesn™t want to lose it, but a burdensome and useless thing for the man who doesn™t want to keep it. This metaphor is undoubtedly perfect for its connection with the different feelings of the two figures towards the baby.

Secondly, the white elephants also stands for the pregnant somatotype of the girl. Look at the sentences: The girl was looking off at the line of hills. They were white in the sun and the country was brown and dry. (qtd. in Long Maozhong, Yan Jinglan and Wang Hui 384) In the literature, this is a popular writing method that by describing the surroundings to show the feelings. Obviously, there is a contrary of two different inner minds and connecting with the two kinds of feelings of the girl, the hills may stand for the girl™s pregnant somatotype, so she describes the hills in a good mood and undoubtedly she wishes to keep the baby. By contrast, the brown and dry country stands for her somatotype after abortion, so the country is ugly in her minds and she describes it in a disappointed mood. Moreover, in this novel, it can be also said that white elephant also stands for the love between the two persons. Actually, as said before, white elephant means good things in somebody™s mind. Here, it can surely means the true love. When the girl deliberately said that the hills look like white elephants, she must want to get the definite answer of the man. In other words, she wants to confirm the man™s true love to her. But she fails. The man doesn™t pay much attention to this metaphor about white elephants. Namely, he attaches little importance to the love between them and the baby which is always considered as the fruit of the true love. So at last, the girl said that They™re lovely hills. They dont really look like white elephants. I just meant the coloring of their skin through the trees.” (qtd. in Long Maozhong, Yan Jinglan and Wang Hui 385) It stands for that the girl™s fantasy about love is shattered. Of course, the love also disappears. To sum up, the symbolism of white elephants is very successful.

D. Characteristic Ending

Referring to Hemingway™s writing style, we cannot help but talk about the characteristic ending in his novels. Traditionally, at the end of a novel, the plot should reach its climax and the main figure™s final destiny should be mentioned, even not mentioned directly, but obvious to the reader. For example, in Balzac™s Old Goriot, the ending likes this:

It was growing dusk, the damp twilight fretted his nerves; he gazed down into the grave and the tears he shed were drawn from him by the sacred emotion, a single hearted sorrow. When such tears fall on earth, their radiance reaches heaven. And with that tear that fell on Father Goriot™s grave¦¦

He went a few paces further¦¦His eyes turned almost eagerly to the space between the column of the Place Vendome and the cupola of the Invalids; there laid the shinning world that he had wished to reach. He glanced over that humming hive, seeming to draw a foretaste of its honey, and said magniloquently:

Henceforth there is war between us.

And by way of throwing down the glove to Society, Rastignac went to dine with Mme. de Nucingen. (96-97)

Father Goriot, the main figure, is dead. And Eugene Rastignac, a poor law student, who is always making up his mind to go out into the genteel society to seek a protectress, finally abandons his only left good morals and fully throws himself into the ugly genteel society. Here, each figure™s destiny is determined and schemed out by the author. Contrasting with it, it would be better to say that there is no ending in Hemingway™s stories. In Hills Like White Elephants, the story ends up like this:

He picked up the two heavy bags and carried them around the station to the other tracks. He looked up the tracks but could not see the train. Coming back, he walked through the barroom, where people waiting for the train were drinking. He drank an Anis at the bar and looked at the people. They were all waiting reasonably for the train. He went out through the bead curtain. She was sitting at the table and smiled at him.

“Do you feel better?” he asked.

“I feel fine,” she said. “Theres nothing wrong with me. I feel fine.” (qtd. in Long Maozhong, Yan Jinglan and Wang Hui 388 )

There is no any word to show the destiny of the girl. No one knows if she will have an abortion operation and no one knows the tendency of their relationship. For readers, not any thing is clear. So it is better to say that it is just an ending of a dialogue, but not a story. Although it doesn™t mention where they will go, the dialogue may continue when they are on the train or other places. So the ending of the story is suspensive. The author makes enough space to let the reader exert all their imaginative powers. Discriminated from other writers, such as Balzac, an obvious feature in the ending of Hemingway™s story is that he usually uses dialogue to instead of narration. As a matter of fact, the dialogue is extremely concise and compact, and the main figure™s feeling is fully reflected by it, and it is more powerful and stronger than the narration by the author. No wonder at the end of the Old Goriot Balzac also lets Rastignac say out: Henceforth there is war between us.

E. Deliberate Hiding—Iceberg Theory

Literature is a kind of language art. Hemingway undoubtedly makes good use of this art that he had created a kind of Iceberg Theory style. Everyone knows that Hemingway is very famous for his Iceberg Theory. He had ever said about his writing style: If a writer of the prose knows enough about what he is writing about, he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water. As a matter of fact, in Hemingway™s own words, the feature of his Iceberg Theory is to omit something that both the author and the reader know, and the essence of it is to explore the hidden seven-eight facts through the only one-eight obvious fact.

That is to say, the Iceberg Theory is just a kind of art of omission. According to it, both the concise language and the characteristic ending mentioned before should be included in his Iceberg Theory. Hemingway deliberately hides many feelings of his novel to let the reader to explore them. Most people hold that the Old Man and the Sea should be considered as Hemingway™s characteristic works, which fully reflects his Iceberg style. However, as a short story, which is born earlier and much shorter than The Old Man and the Sea, Hills Like White Elephants can also show this Iceberg Theory completely.

First of all, being different from European traditional writing style which is inclined to introduce the story™s background at the beginning carefully, Hemingway tends to leave out the background of his stories. In the Hills Like White Elephants, the story begins with simple description about the position of the story and a real-life dialogue without introducing the background. However, just through the content of the dialogue between the two figures, the reader can understand what their relationship is and what happens on them.

Secondly, it omits the intensely full-face conflict. The story goes on with arbitrary dialogues, in which the conflict between the two figures is just hidden. Only when the girl says out Would you please please please please please please stop talking. the conflict unveils. Furthermore, the dispensable description about the proverbial information in the dialogue is omitted. The novel goes on round the focus of an operation which is not pointed out what kind of is, however, the fact that the operation is an abortion one comes to the reader obviously through their dialogue; and there is no any words to describe the feelings of the two figures, but with the dialogue continues, the girl™s disappointment and the man™s fretfulness and so on are clear to the reader. As Hemingway said, what he omits is what he and the reader know. But in the literary circles, this omission art is condemned as a kind of art of avoidance.

A famous American author depreciates Hemingway™s achievement in the literature, considering him as a second writer in the American literary circles, for he holds that Hemingway is always insisting on escapism in his works. In his words, Hemingway™s omission art is just an avoidance of life. But in fact, omission is not a simple thing that can be done at one™s pleasure, it relies on the rich life experience and the excellent ability in writing, by which Hemingway can exerts all his talents in omission art to create his Iceberg Theory.

Hemingway™s Iceberg Theory is fully reflected by his Hills Like White Elephants, for under the concise language, there exists rich information and deep feelings. It is just the highlight of the Iceberg Theory.


There is no doubt that Hills Like White Elephants is one of the most classic short stories of Hemingway and it perfectly reflects his unique writing style.

Particular experience makes an opportunity for Hemingway of creating a unique writing style with real-life dialogue, concise language, famous Iceberg Theory and so on, which can be all found in the Hill Like White Elephants. Looking back to his works, he revived the colloquial style in American literature. It is certain that the novels of Hemingway are simple in the surface, but actually full of emotion and art. He has the ability in conveying his information with simple words. Although there are many criticisms about Hemingway™s style, it can not be denied that Hemingway purifies the literary circles with his unique writing style, the influence of which is not only in American but also all over the world. -H

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