Short and Sweet

It seems only logical that the master of short sentences should also be a champion of short stories. We’ve explored Ernest Hemingway’s writing before, but this time I left his notorious winding novels behind for a small collection of his shorter works called The Snows of Kilimanjaro and Other Stories. Hemingway’s use of brisk dialogue and concise prose is even more effective in his short stories. You may have read “Hills Like White Elephants” – one of his better known short pieces – in high school, and noticed that Hemingway often allows his readers to draw their own conclusions. The same held true for the ten pieces included in The Snows of Kilimanjaro and Other Stories, among which “The Snows of Kilimanjaro”, “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place”, and “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber” were my top favorites.

As is Hemingway’s trademarked style, these stories all featured male leading characters, at first convincingly strong and composed yet always critically flawed somehow. In what has been cleverly coined an “iceberg” scenario, the bulk of the meaning behind these stories is hidden deep between the text and dialogue, far beneath the surface.

So why read Hemingway? Besides the fact that he’s a legendary American author, he has a remarkable knack for making you think. And in his simplistic, minimalist style, that is a feat not easily accomplished.

“The Snows of Kilimanjaro” centers on Harry, a writer (not much in practice) who takes on rich female lovers, who finds himself stranded on an African safari with one such woman, while he slowly succumbs to the gangrene that has infected a wound in his leg. He languishes over his wasted talent – he never wrote all that he really wanted to write – while the woman, Helen, dotes on his deteriorating body, regardless of the insults she suffers from her dying companion.

"'Stop it. Harry, why do you have to turn into a devil now?'

'I don’t like to leave anything,' the man said. 'I don’t like to leave things behind.'"

In “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place”, Hemingway takes the perspective of two young waiters that find themselves stuck at the restaurant with an elderly deaf man as he drinks late into the night. The younger of the two is eager to return home to his wife and the persistence of the old man to stay and drink  angers him. The older waiter sympathizes with the man’s solitude, realizing that he is starting to suffer from the same loneliness himself.

"What did he fear? It was not a fear or dread, It was a nothing that he knew too well. It was all a nothing and a man was a nothing too. It was only that and light was all it needed and a certain cleanness and order."

Set on an African safari once again (Hemingway has never been shy about his own fondness for hunting), “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber” was to me the most interesting read out of the three. The wealthy Francis Macomber has paid for a guide named Wilson to take him out to shoot a lion, bringing his beautiful wife along to watch. But killing such a powerful animal proves to be harder than Macomber thought, who finds to his own and his wife’s surprise, that he is terrified of it. Centering on familiar themes of manhood and masculinity, femininity, marriage, and deceit, this is by far the most dramatic out of all the short stories I’ve read by Hemingway; I’ll say no more for fear of ruining the surprise.

"'I bolted like a rabbit,' Macomber said. Now what in hell were you going to do about a man who talked like that, Wilson wondered."