Modern American Literature: Ernest Hemingway
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  • Definition: One word--rebellious. Every writer in this genre has something different from every other writer, including Hemingway. They all wanted to break away from what writing was before. Hemingway fits in this mold because of his writing style and content. He chose to write a fictionalized version of his experiences in short, punctuated, yet vivid sentences. He also progressively wrote more bluntly and with more profanity as his career continued. This genre was born out of disillusionment and innocence lost, so much of the writing is dark and pessimistic as well.


  • Purpose: Hemingway’s novels’ purposes vary. The war-time novels exist to shock yet educate, while another novel about obsession exists to explore the human consciousness. He writes about these topics in a different way so that he can not only surprise the reader but also persuade the reader into following his train of thought. He reported on and wrote about current issues so to educate his readers because he did not want to hide anything or dilute the truth. Oppositely, he wanted to report nothing but the truth in the way he saw it, and he would convey his vision through his writing. He would also write about love and human connection, but it was not in a happy-ever-after way. He was excruciatingly and annoyingly blunt in his thoughts on love and war, and his writing shows that.

  • Audience: Anyone can read Hemingway because his sentences are fairly simple, but not everyone can understand his purpose. He personally wrote for fellow modernist supporters, artists, and authors, and he also wrote at a higher academic level. Still, his writing can be used at the high school level, specifically the eleventh and twelfth grade levels. He is a complicated man and writer, but even though high school students may not have been his intended audience, they would still understand him and gain knowledge from studying him.

  • Convention: Hemingway’s main convention is his ability to make his writing appear effortless when it is actually very layered and complex. This is indicative of Modernist American Literature because of how it differs from his predecessors, who wrote long, complicated sentences that explained everything up front. There was very little beneath the surface. Hemingway’s writing held much below the surface that the reader has to infer to understand. This metaphorical and enigmatic form of writing can be difficult to understand, but once accustomed to it, the reader realizes Hemingway’s purpose. He also creates his on grammatical rules; he does not follow traditional compound sentence rules because he creates his own pattern in his writing. Instead of using commas and conjunctions, he may use one or the other. He writes his own thoughts in his own style.



Annotated Bibliography
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  • Hemingway, E. (1926). The Sun Also Rises. New York, NY: Scribner.

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This novel is a good source for studying Hemingway as a genre because, like his other novels, it displays his unique writing style and topic choice. He discusses divorce, which could not have been very popular in the 1920s, and he discusses relationships as currency or as a way to get by in life. Love is not cherished or revered in this novel, which further affirms his label as a Modernist writer. Furthermore, his writing style of short, declarative sentences with changing punctuation is consistent throughout the novel. Because of this consistency, teachers can take excerpts from the novel, and students still experience Hemingway’s writing style and content without having to conquer the entire story. Depending on the degree of involvement the teacher wants, Hemingway can be explored in parts or in whole; the age and grade level of the students may also determine this involvement. This means that middle school students could explore Hemingway, but they would be more likely to look at passages, rather than an entire novel, which is more likely for high school students. Teachers can also look outside of the literary context and explore his historical contexts within the novel and his psychological and biographical contexts while writing this novel. This novel can appeal to several interests; it gives teachers a lot of options.


  • Hemingway, E. (1964). A Moveable Feast. New York, NY: Scribner
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  • This novel is not really a novel. It is Hemingway’s memoirs about his life in Paris during the 1920s, even though it was published posthumously. Teachers can use this book if they would like to explore Hemingway without delving into a fictional novel. Students may be weary of novels but more accepting of a memoir or autobiography because it is factual and psychological. Students may fear the analysis involved with reading a novel and may feel that approaching memoirs first is easier because of the content. Hemingway keeps to his writing style and his content that he establishes in his novels, so students can still experience the Modernist style without feeling overwhelmed. Again, students can explore the psychological, historical, and biographical contexts involved in the book and in Hemingway’s life, especially since it was published after his death. It can also lead to a genre study of autobiographies during the American Modernist movement or during any literary movement in America. Teachers can also study the date the memoir covers and the date it was published, since there is such a gap, because he may not have wanted it published. So, this work allows students to study Hemingway more as a man than as an author, and they can look at his thoughts and experiences, rather than his use of metaphor or symbolism. Furthermore, a memoir can be used in an English class or a History class by middle school or high school students. Like his novels, it can be used in passages if the students are younger because Hemingway is so consistent with his content and style. It is a good alternative to his novels.


  • Hemingway, E. (1987). The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway. New York, NY: Scribner.
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Hemingway’s short stories are a good compromise between novels and memoir, and they are a good way to start a genre study on Hemingway. Also, he wrote dozens of short stories, so teachers could do a very specific genre study on just Hemingway’s short stories or broaden it to short stories during the American Modernist period. They are written in the same style as his novels and memoir, so the students can still study his Modernist writing style and content style. Because he wrote so many over a period of years, teachers have several options on how to approach this source. They could focus on his earlier and later short stories, for example. Also, short stories may be more approachable for younger students since they are shorter, or they may be a good introduction into Hemingway for older students. Since they were written over a time period, students could also study the connection between the short stories and the biographical and historical contexts surrounding them. Short stories can still appeal to students outside of the literature arena. If the teacher wanted to focus solely on Hemingway’s short stories as a genre study, the students could split into groups or discuss the stories as a group; it would work best if the stories are divided in some way because of how many there are. The teacher could still take passages from them, especially from the longer ones, but some stories are relatively short and can be studied in one or two class periods. They could also be studied purely from a short story perspective; the teacher could compare them to other short stories they are studying without delving into Hemingway’s style too deeply. The teacher could focus more on Hemingway’s structure and overall content choice. His short stories are another great choice for teachers not wanting to use his fictional novels.
Instructional Activities

Instructional Activity #1: Collins_minilesson1.rtf
Instructional Activity #2: collins_minilesson2.rtf


Student Assessment Tool

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Purpose of Assessment: This assessment is formative and only meant to assess students’ understanding of the difference between theme and main idea in Ernest Hemingway’s writing. This is a discussion and collage assessment; it assesses all students in the classroom. It is informal.
Standard: 9 CCGPS Reading Literacy (RL)
ELACC9-10RL2: Determine a theme or central idea of text and analyze in detail its development over the course of the text, including how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details; provide an objective summary of the text.
Explanation:

  1. After teaching and discussing Hemingway’s literature, explain to the class the definitions of main idea and theme. Discuss these terms with the class as a whole. Tell the students they will be assessed on these terms as they pertain to Hemingway’s literature. They will be expected to turn in the assessment assignment before the end of class.
  2. Hand out excerpts from Hemingway’s literature to each student. They can get into groups to discuss if the teacher would like. Otherwise, they can read and take notes individually.
  3. After everyone is done reading, the class can come back as a whole. The teacher will make sure everyone has a good understanding of main idea and theme. Then, tell them to get into groups or work individually on the actual assessment assignment.
  4. Then, ask the students to take out pictures from magazines to depict their idea of theme and main idea based on what they read.
  5. After the students have accrued a few pictures, bring them together to discuss and defend their choices. Encourage them to hang onto their pictures to remind them about theme and main idea, especially if they will be tested on it. Or, the teacher could choose to post their pictures around the classroom so that the students have a constant reminder.
  6. Lastly, ask the students to write a couple sentences explaining one theme and one main idea from the literature they read today. They are to hand it to the teacher before or as they are leaving the class. This is their ticket out the door. This can make sure the teacher has an idea of how well all students understand these terms, especially if everyone is not able to talk during the discussion or time is running out.

Links to Teaching Resources
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Overview of American Modernist Literature
Themes in Old Man in the SeaOverview and Reflections on Hemingway's life and works

How-to Handout



Writing in the Genre
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“House and Home”
In the early summer of my fifteenth year, I lived in a house in a small town with a lake and several acres of land. On the lake, the Canada geese would swim with their goslings and they would leave the lake once the goslings became geese. The deer would eat the grass in the pasture by the lake, which was always peaceful and dark and muddy. The grass was always green and strong in the early summer and the deer ate together in packs next to the geese. Then, the horses would eat their hay and the grass next to the deer and the geese. Suddenly, the Jack Russell terrier and the blue healer would dart down to the pasture and chase and startle the geese and deer. It is one of the fondest memories I have of that childhood home. And I yearn for a home like that again. Once I left childhood, I could not return; I move on through life, movements from one house to another. Yet, none of them is a home. It is not the lake or the dogs or the geese or the deer or the horses. It is the feeling, the memory that makes a home. And I have lost that now. I write about my lost home because I hope to regain some of what I lost. The memory belongs to me and I belong to it. When I have a pause in the day, my mind travels to that lake and that strong and green grass and the noisy honking of Canada geese and the shrill barking of the two dogs.
So I write. Write to forget what I lost, write to remember what I lost. As time passes on, the memories fade or shift together to form yellowed, dusty, framed snapshots in my mind. Sometimes at night when I dream, I return to that home and the lake and that fifteenth summer of my life. I go back to innocence and promise. I take only myself and see only myself there, myself and the lake and the grass and the hay and the animals, in the beginning. If the dream continues, I see my parents and my brother and the other dogs and the cats. It crystallizes in my dream, and for what never seems long enough, I am home again and content. Upon waking, I see my home in fog and mist and press my eyes shut to hang onto every last moment. But I cannot hold onto the past for very long. It always slips away, like water through your hand.
I force myself out of bed and walk to the bathroom. Glancing in the mirror, I see my matted, messy gray hair. Far away from the geese and grass and my warm and delicious dream, the city bursts to life, all at once. I sit at my desk. Blank page on the computer screen. Several novels later, the art of writing seamlessly eludes me. I sit in a straight-backed, hard, wooden chair and it creaks as I move. I move constantly, never sitting still. In the crisp smoggy morning, my nightgown fails to warm me, so I hunt for my robe and slippers. I grab a cup of coffee on the way back to the satanic blank page. After reluctantly releasing my grasp on my typewriter, I entered the new age with a black Asus laptop. At least that’s what I’m told. After procrastinating long enough, I begin to write.
Still filled to the brim with pieces from my dream, I begin to write about what feels the closest and most natural—house and home. I live in a house; it’s not a home. It’s a one-bedroom apartment in some apartment complex next to some park. It had an elevator and a doorman and was rent-controlled. I keep only myself, not even a cat. I often gaze down into the park or onto the street. Looking for something, I suppose. I return to the screen, the herculean obstacle in front of me. I continue to write about my home…my lost home. The smell after a good long rain and how lush everything looked. The way I would lay in the bed of a truck and gaze up at the trees, I would pretend I was in a rainforest. Suddenly, I’m back there again. I hear the chirping crickets and ribbiting frogs. The dogs bark at a deer or falling leaf and I awake in my bed, bathed in sunshine against white walls. Alone except for animals and nature, I wander through the memories, pathways of my mind. Eyes closed, I see it all, consume everything. I remember smells, textures, tastes, sensations. Even in my mind, I sense it all, like I never left. I meander down the hill in bare feet, headed to the glassy and calm lake. The ground is warm but still wet with morning dew. I reach the lake and dip my feet into the muddy water. The dogs and horses run and prance in the April morning. I remember Easter egg hunts and birthday parties, riding my favorite horse with no one there. I walk past the lake into the woods. I follow the dog-created paths as I wind and dip between trunks and branches. The forest is alive with noise…
Then the neighbor’s baby begins to scream and cry. The jarring and unrelenting sound thrusts the present into my mind. Exasperated, hopeless, I turn to my remaining refuge—my writing. The blank page is spattered with black specks. I read the words, not remembering creating most of them. Consumed in thought on home, I failed to notice. I begin to create again, moving on to the lake and the woods and the trees. I can write about the color of the leaves in autumn and how they covered the gravel driveway entirely when they fell from the branches to the ground. You would walk on leaves for months before seeing any gravel. I can write about how the lake froze in the winter but I was always too afraid to venture out onto it. I can write about how my favorite horse shuffled into the paddock for dinner one night, covered in cuts. I was too young to realize the impact, the importance of the veterinarian coming out so late in the evening. Yet, a year later you couldn’t even see the scars on his chest anymore. His black fluffy hair grew back, good as new. I can write about all the dogs lost, through death or wandering away.
The pain makes a house into a home, as does the happiness. The connection, like that between spouses, thickens and deepens with grimace and grin. In this concrete cage, I have no pain or happiness, only unconcern. With old age, I have pain with my body but the pain of living is not the pain of feeling, as is with happiness. With old age, I ruminate on life and death, past and present. There is not much future left. All I have is the blank page and the memories.