Unlike many of his predecessors who have retired to the evanescent zone of the appraised yet seldom read, such as—Sherwood Anderson, Thomas Wolfe and Sinclair Lewis—Ernest Hemingway continues to be loved dearly by a colossal community of readers; owing to his distinctive, eccentric style of weaving words together and giving life to some of the greatest works of American literature.
As a tribute to the ultimate macho face of 20th century prose on his birthday, here’s a list featuring some of Hemingway’s most critically acclaimed novels.
The Old Man and The Sea
Possibly his most prominent novel, The Old Man and The Sea revolves around an old Cuban fisherman named Santiago who, after having caught no fish for 84 days, takes his skiff far out into the deep waters of Gulf Stream, where he engages into an epic battle of will against a giant marlin.
It’s an exquisitely momentous yet unswerving tale of human’s battle of determination against the adversities of nature in the purest and simplest crux of it. What’s even more beguiling is that the author managed to turn a mere marlin into the manifestation of virtues that make human beings unyielding in the face of hardships, all the while managing to fuse its characteristics with the ones coherent in Santiago’s personality. Adorned with Hemingway’s signature narration style—clear-cut, down to earth, and free of ornamental pretense, The Old Man and The Sea is the kind of book that demands to be read in one go.
The Sun Also Rises
This novel follows a world-weary, cynical group of expatriates—part of the Lost Generation, the one that came to age during WWII, and snippets of their lives in the mid 1920s Europe. It brilliantly captures the existential disillusionment of the characters, which is strongly reinforced by diminutive factors here and there, such as the suppression of key details regarding the psychological states of the roles who go around from bar to bar, using sexual endeavours, and chiefly alcohol as distraction from their lives and their wartime associated feelings.
Miraculously, the intentional lack of character development draws the readers in by baiting their curiosity regarding the fundamental hollowness of the characters’ lives. Completely devoid of flowery language or romanticism, The Sun Also Rises has attracted the attention of many critics over the years—with some interpreting it as a serious literary effort to depict and castigate the aimless lifestyle of the Lost Generation, and others deciphering it as a satire, even.
A Farewell to Arms
Particularly notable for its autobiographical elements, A Farewell To Arms is a first person narration of Frederick Henry, a lieutenant in the ambulance corps of the Italian Campaign of WWI. An unromanticised account of war with several contradicting themes, such as fear and courage, love and loss—this novel has the ability to truly move a reader.
Hemingway once referred to it as his own version of Romeo and Juliet, but it explores arenas that are more pathetic than tragic. Instead of guiding the protagonist towards a profound perusal of life, anguish that sprouted from a heartbreaking turn in the plot turned him against it, citing the same poignancy of the disillusionment in the lives of people belonging to the Lost Generation, as seen in another one of his novel—The Sun Also Rises. Therefore, anyone who enjoyed reading the previously mentioned novel and felt a connection with it, is bound to love A Farewell to Arms as well.
Across The River and Into The Trees
A bittersweet tale of love and the plasticity of human beings, it’s the story of Richard Cantwell – a war ravaged American colonel, and the much younger Italian countess he becomes infatuated with—at the close of WWII in the beautiful city of Venice.
What’s great about this novel is not the plot, but the character study. Moments of power, poignance and tenderness woven into the simplest of narratives render not only avid descriptions of war atrocities, death and how people deal with it through their choices, but also the benevolence of love in contrast with the aforementioned weighty themes.
In a broader sense, this novel is also about the world around us which can only be seen if one takes the time to really look into it with the eyes of one’s soul. Also, the melancholic tone that mourns the gulf between the lives human beings wish to live and the ones they live in reality, efficiently creates an atmosphere of an almost tangible connection between the readers and the characters.
For Whom The Bell Tolls
Easily one of Hemingway’s best works, For Whom The Bell Tolls follows Robert Jordan, an American in a republican guerilla unit during the Spanish Civil War, who is designated to blow up a bridge during an attack on a city. Its themes talk mainly of fidelity, defeat, love, valour, and the tragic death of an ideal. This is a book that takes up 500 pages just to blow up a bridge—with planning strategies, gathering equipment, and contacting generals; but while that might sound a bit tedious, it’s rather enthralling and magnetic in its grace.
Each character introduced in the book is compelling in their own ways. Especially the women, who are astoundingly multidimensional. Even the romantic backdrop is pretty well developed, despite being a little hard to swallow due to the short time span. In a nutshell, For Whom The Bell Tolls is furiously compassionate and insightful, filled with a kinetic ability to stimulate anyone who picks it up.
Minimalistic yet eloquent, Ernest Hemingway’s style of writing has the power to purvey even the most profound and far reaching themes in unembellished, bare words. Therefore, anytime is a time to pick up his books, as all his creations are simply timeless.
“Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know.”
– Ernest Hemingway, The Garden of Eden
“The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places.”
– Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms
The writer is a part of the TDA Editorial Team.