Discussion Questions for Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway

December 8, 2017 September 1st, 2019 Free Essays Online for College Students

1. What “American characters” – in both the individual and the cultural senses – do u find in Hemingway’s short stories?

American men are often portrayed in Hemingway’s short stories as masculine, rich, and carefree drunkards who seldom have any sympathy on their partners. For example, both Harry from ‘The Snows of Kilimanjaro,’ and Hubert Elliot from ‘Mr. and Mrs. Elliot,’ have indulged themselves in drinking alcohol after they have lost their interest in their love. Harry has, in fact, never take a liking to his wife whom he has married just because of her wealth while Hubert, on the other hand, has done so just to get a child.

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On the contrary, American women tend to be helpless; dependent on men, some being obsessed with them either because of true love or again, richness. Helen from ‘The Snows of Kilimanjaro’ is a fine example of a woman who is extremely dedicated to her husband, Harry, who has no sign of passion for her. However, in the initial part of ‘The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber,’ Margot is a stronger character than her husband, Macomber, as she dominates his life in order to possess his wealth.

1. Appraise your preconceptions of Hemingway. To what degree do you think your notions of the man coloured your views of the fiction? As you turned (or returned) to the short stories and tried to divorce past judgments or prejudices from present reading, what did you discover?

Each and every Hemingway’s short story appears to be colored with the reflections of his actual lifestyle. Notable themes namely decay and death represent the numerous despairs he has faced in his life. For instance, in ‘The Hills of Kilimanjaro,’ the inevitable death of Williamson when hit by a stick bomb, exemplifies Hemingway’s weary past when he was a soldier in World War I. ‘The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber’ reflects Hemingway’s personality of enjoying hunting and living outdoors. In addition, his travel to Paris is also represented by Harry’s own vacation when he was a young author in ‘The Snows of Kilimanjaro.’

Even when all the past judgments and partialities have been stripped off from present readings, Hemingway’s stories are still distinguishable from other stories in the way that they have been written; the excessive use of dialogues with little description or character introduction, as well as the presence of significant themes of dread such as those mentioned above.

1. As you read Hemingway’s short stories, what has he left out? Why has he included what he has included? Do you always agree with his choices?

The significance of Hemingway’s short stories is the lack of an introduction either to the characters or a narration of the background of the plot. As the stories often jump straight into dialogues, readers are left blank, making the stories seem a bit defective but, as they continue to read, they will be able to conjure up their own imagination in order to apprehend the occurring event as well as to form their own conclusions to the stories. For example, in ‘Hills Like White Elephant,’ readers are presented with vague information at the beginning of the story when a American man and a girl are having a conversation at a train station. Therefore, readers are forced to wonder what these people are discussing about (the American persuading the girl to have abortion) or how the story ends (whether the girl agrees or disagrees to have abortion). So, although Hemingway’s style of writing may seem confusing sometimes, it is really intriguing if readers learn to extract the hidden meaning in each story.

1. Do you find a sense of inevitable doom in all of the stories? Is there any qualifying or mitigating force in the presence of unkind fate?

The sense of inescapable doom is present in all of Hemingway’s stories. Firstly, in ‘Mr. and Mrs. Elliot,’ although the couple had tried their best to have a baby, they just grew further apart with every attempt and finally, Mr. Elliot became addicted to alcohol and writing poems while Mrs. Elliot spent more time with her girl friend rather than with her husband. Secondly, in ‘The Killers,’ even though Nick Adams went to warn Ole Andreson that he was about to be murdered, the old man claimed his inevitable death by replying, “No. I got in wrong. There ain’t anything to do. I’m through with all that running around.” Finally, in ‘The Snows of Kilimanjaro,’ death seemed to have already chosen Harry from the very beginning when he had received a wound in his leg after which his car broke down on a barren plain and the rescue plane did not arrive in time to save him.

A justifying force is always present with this cruel fate. In ‘The Killers,’ Ole Andreson seemed to be aware of his guilt as he made no action to escape from his imminent death while in, ‘The Snows of Kilimanjaro,’ Harry believed that his death would compensate for his sins of trading his ambition of writing with women, drinks and laze. Furthermore, ‘Indian Camp’ illustrates the gruesome image of an Indian’s suicide for which he willing commits for having to ask help from a western doctor to let him deliver his wife’s child.

1. What morals does he argue for, stand for? Is his a morality of mere survival, or is there something more?

Hemingway has a strong opinion about people being manly only when they are masculine, drink alcohol and have loose relationships with women. Such ‘men’ are Harry from ‘The Snows of Kilimanjaro,’ and, the American from ‘Hills Like White Elephant.’ On the other hand, women are meant to be powerless and dependent on men. Such ‘women’ are Helen (Harry’s wife) and Jig (the American’s spouse).

1. Explore instances of virile writing in Hemingway’s short fiction where potent, brawny themes and style are juxtaposed with exquisite, sensitive themes and style.

The fact that Hemingway is biased towards men while having a rather negative opinion towards women indicates that one can instantly know the gender of the author being a male. His stories are usually associated with loose relationships between couples, hunting, travelling and violence, while the setting is mostly in bars, near brothels and deserted locations such as a barren plain or a café at midnight.

1. Do you see Hemingway’s characters completing the symbolic journey with a knowledge or power they lacked at the outset?

Several of Hemingway’s characters begin to possess the power or knowledge which they have lacked at the beginning of each story towards its end. For instance, in ‘The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber,’ Macomber was a cowardly man dominated by his wife, Margot, at the outset of the story. However, as the story proceeded, there was a shift in power from Margot to Macomber who became brave by standing his ground and shooting the charging buffalo. Additionally, in ‘Indian Camp,’ Nick who appeared to be a weak immature character, reliant on his father, at the onset of the story, later developed into a sensible young man who came to understand the true meaning of life and its fragility.

1. Do you agree that psychology is more important than action in the stories?

Psychology is a crucial component in Hemingway’s stories than action. This is because most of his stories revolve around the feelings and memories of a single character rather than focusing on the physical unfolding of the plot. For example, Harry from ‘The Snows of Kilimanjaro’ recollected his memories blended with his regrets for having written nothing and his negative emotions towards his wife in a stream of consciousness style. Since he is physically handicapped, his mind is only allowed to wonder by his unrestricted imagination.

1. From the short fiction, try to reconstruct the complexity of Hemingway’s view of manhood and the relationship of sexes.

Since childhood, Hemingway has been pressured by both of his parents who dreamed that he would become what they had expected to. His mother, an opera star, wished him to become a famous musician while Hemingway, in fact, is more interested in his father’s ‘masculine’ characteristics of travelling and hunting. This is also because musicians during that period are considered to be more ‘feminine.’ Therefore, Hemingway writes his stories in a way that men are always meant to be masculine and happy-go-lucky individuals while women are supposed to be weak, dependent on men and pitiful.

1. “None of Hemingway’s characters is definite.” What protagonists in Hemingway’s short fiction illustrate this complexity?

Hubert Elliot from ‘Mr. and Mrs. Elliot’ is the most notable character who illustrates this complexity. Although at first, readers are assuming that he was a wealth successful poet, their beliefs are encouraged to change when misshapen events fell on Hubert; his friends abandoned him for a younger, more exciting poet, he became indulged in drinking and he grew further apart from his wife. In contrast, despite being described as an utter failure in his recollections, Harry, a protagonist of ‘The Snows of Kilimanjaro,’ did in fact, have a spiritual ascension to the peak of Kilimanjaro upon his decease, indicating his freedom from his sins and thus, earning purity.

1. Is “The Killers” Nick Adam’s story or is it Ole Andreson’s?

‘The Killers’ is Ole Andreson’s story as the entire plot is about two men waiting at a restaurant in order to kill him when he comes for dinner. Nick Adams, George and the nigger are present only as waitpersons at the very restaurant that the killers are planning to murder Andreson. Even if he is not mainly present in the story, the plot revolves around Andreson as he becomes a target for his enemies. If he has been left out of the plot, there would not be any need for the killers to come to the restaurant or Nick and his colleagues to be alarmed by their cruel plan.

1. “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” contains two prominent symbols – the mountain and the leopard frozen on it. How do they function in the story? Does Harry come to an understanding of himself at the end of the story? How do these symbols help answer the previous question?

Kilimanjaro serves as a symbol of truth, idealism and purity. When Harry dies, his spirit is released from the despairs of the plain and travels to the summit of the mighty mountain. During this spiritual ascension, Harry sees a frozen leopard, preserved in ice, which serves as a symbol of immortality. Harry himself can also be the leopard at certain times in his life such as when he mentally composes recollections and uses his intention to write, and, when he never confesses his true feelings to his wife.


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