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Author Study: Ernest Hemingway Curated by Joyce Hur '17

Terse sentences, Modernist Movement, symbolism, Lost Generation, masculinity, alcohol, hunting, complex love affairs - Ernest Hemingway.

Take a Case in Point...

"The Snows of Kilimanjaro" is Hemingway's short story first published in Esquire magazine, 1936 edition. Lauded as one of his greatest works, this story is about an acclaimed writer who now has developing gangrene on his right leg and is slowly dying. Harry, the protagonist, has gone on a trip to the African Safari and got injured, which he did not care much for but gets badly infected. Now he lies on the deathbed with his beloved caretaker, Helen, lamenting together, waiting for the plane to come for medical attention.


1952 Film adaptation of "The Snows of Kilimanjaro," directed by Henry King, starring Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner and Susan Hayward.

Iceberg Theory

Approximately, only 1/8 of an iceberg is above water, the rest submerged underneath. Hemingway believed that stories should be written like icebergs; a writer should omit details of a story for the readers to figure out what really lies below the surface. He coined the term "iceberg theory," which is also known as the "theory of omission," and emphasized:

The crux of the story lies below the surface and it should be able to shine through.

Hemingway was a journalist. As a journalist, his writings were extremely succinct, concise, with very little elaboration or context. This style persisted through short stories and novels, and he focused on the "surfaces of the iceberg," and concealed underlying themes. Therefore, even the true feelings or the meanings behind actions of the protagonists are often concealed for the readers to infer themselves.

Biographer Carlos Baker writes:

Since Hemingway began writing short stories, he learned how to "get the most from the least, how to prune language, how to multiply intensities and how to tell nothing but the truth in a way that allowed for telling more than the truth."


Hemingway usually writes in terse, bullet-like sentences, but when he does occasionally write sentences that are few hundred words in length, he often employs polysyndetons. Polysyndeton is the technique which replaces commas or other possible punctuation marks with conjunctions, thus making the clauses in the sentence each hold equally great significance and evoking a sense of hurriedness and anxiety. Hemingway is famous for his frequent use of polysyndetons and he did so in order to express urgency. Another effect of using polysyndeton was to make his stories sound colloquial. His stories contain many dialogues and this particular technique makes the dialogs more realistic and relatable.