The Influence of Journalism on The Sun Also Rises
Ernest Hemingway is widely regarded as one of the finest modernist literary minds, and his first novel The Sun Also Rises (also known as Fiesta) is held in as high regard. It is based on real events in Hemingway’s life, ones which he novelized even as he was experiencing them, and is centered around the running of the bulls ceremony in Pamplona, Spain. Hemingway, having worked as a journalist in the years preceding the publication of his novel, employed an emerging writing style (known by some as ‘hard-boiled’ writing) which featured a stripped-down and stark nature, eschewing the use of florid descriptive words. This essay will show, by using The Sun Also Rises as an example, that this style was influenced by journalism, and that the basic elements of the novel itself were highly dependent on Hemingway’s journalistic background.
One of the most obvious ways in which The Sun Also Rises is related to journalism is that it was written practically extemporaneously, with Hemingway working on the novel as events unfolded in his own life. At first, it featured the characters’ real-life names, with Hemingway the protagonist simply called “Hem” (Hays, 2011, p.2). He took extensive notes throughout this period and began working on the novel itself later; according to Linda Wagner-Martin, in Ernest Hemingway: A Literary Life, “It is a matter of literary history that Hemingway took notes… even while the roman a clef was occurring” (Wagner-Martin, 2007, p.52). What emerged from these notes was a novel, crafted afterwards by Hemingway in editing and rewriting. The novel has special significance as Hemingway originally did not intend to write something of that length, but rather to write about the festivities in Pamplona, a subject he thought worthy of study as it was unknown to many Americans. It could be argued that Hemingway’s journalistic background was entirely necessary for his presence in Pamplona (since he wanted to break away from it and write a novel about the Fiesta), and likewise that journalism’s focus on comprehensive note-taking made it possible for a novel to be hewed from the resulting information. There is a sense of urgency throughout the novel which is produced by many factors, but the fact that it is an account of real-life events (more or less) and recorded practically ‘in the moment’ no doubt added realism to the work. His sentences are short and factual, especially during any scenes of action – a relevant example is this account of the running of the bulls: “Then people commenced to come running. A drunk slipped and fell. Two policemen grabbed him and rushed him over to the fence. The crowd were running fast now” (Hemingway, 1926, p.103). This account is a running commentary, so to speak, and is reminiscent of what a journalist might record or write while watching action take place. This whole descriptive section is devoid of emotive words and reads like an up to the minute news broadcast. This is a remnant of his journalistic training at the Toronto Star: “[the newspaper’s] first commandment was ‘use short sentences. Use short first paragraphs.’” (Underwood, 2013, p.127). Whether or not it adds realism to the work is of course a subjective question, but in this instance it emulates the type of micro-reporting one sees in live-blogging, reporting factual sight after factual sight. In this way, one could view it as more realistic as it is presented in a way in which we are accustomed to receiving news, or factual information.
This brings up the topic of Hemingway’s writing style, another major part of The Sun Also Rises which was influenced by his background in journalism. His terse, reticent prose withholds much of the ancillary information from the reader, and any authorial representation of emotion which might influence the way the reader views the presented information. Take this section as an example:
“I say, weren’t you there?” Mike asked. “Ring for some beer, Bill.”
“What a morning!” Bill said. He mopped off his face. “My God! what a morning! And here’s old Jake. Old Jake, the human punching-bag.”
“What happened inside?”
“Good God!” Bill said, “what happened, Mike?”
“There were these bulls coming in,” Mike said. “Just ahead of them was the crowd, and some chap tripped and brought the whole lot of them down.”
“And the bulls all came in right over them,” Bill said.
“I heard them yell.” (Hemingway, 1926, p.105)
This passage has the characters discussing important things, but there is an utter lack of detail outside the dialogue to indicate that. Even ‘said’, being a sort of ‘invisible’ word when representing dialogue, is used incredibly sparingly. Every action described – and again, these are extremely sparse – is conveyed neutrally, without being imbued with an emotion or even a description. Throughout the book, there are plenty of other examples of this sort of brevity of representation, and it adds up to a fly on the wall view of these characters, as if the reader is simply watching them. This lends an aspect of truth to the novel, as ‘truth’ to any one person could be defined as what they themselves saw or heard. Examining the influence of journalism on the plot of The Sun Also Rises brings up an interesting point: as one of the tenets of journalism is to represent reality, Hemingway was precocious to note the literary appeal of writing about his own life, and to convey his reality.
As put by critic Peter L. Hays, “Hemingway never states but tries to suggest a character’s emotion” (Hays, 2011, p.59) which is done in the aforementioned style, reminiscent of factual reporting, and allowing the reader to freely extract whatever they want from the dialogue. The characters speak their emotions clearly enough, but by avoiding connecting adverbs and adjectives with the dialogue, Hemingway doesn’t represent his characters; he lets each represent him- or herself. Again, this adds realism to the work; in real life, unless we are directly told, we must infer a person’s state of mind by examining their behavior. This is exactly what Hemingway gives the reader the chance to do in The Sun Also Rises, and is one of the more salient reasons why it is realistic. In The Undeclared War Between Journalism and Fiction, Doug Underwood says that “in The Sun Also Rises, Hemingway’s technique was to merge the artist with the reporter by allowing Jake to present a journalist’s account of the festival’s drama and his friends’ interactions—but to do it in a way that invites us to see beyond the surface elements of his narrative” (Underwood, 2013, p.129). This is perhaps the most realistic way of creating a narrative, using a stripped-down version of first-person perspective which is so devoid of description that it invites it from the reader. This is, in a sense, ironic; Hemingway altered, removed or combined certain characters and changed dialogue and events in order to create a more rounded story. This again was a major factor in the realism of the novel itself; by presenting a semi-fictionalized story so starkly that it seemed more real than reality. Journalism’s modus operandi is to be truthful, but Hemingway wanted the reality of the story to exceed simple prose and become symbolic. This point leads directly to another influence journalism had on The Sun Also Rises; Hemingway’s rebellion against it.
This rebellion was inherently part of the creation of The Sun Also Rises, as it was Hemingway’s attempt to break free from journalism. At this point in his life, he wanted to write a novel and become a respected writer (2007, Wagner-Martin, p.52), which he felt could only be done by leaving behind his journalistic roots. He spoke out more than once against the limitations of journalism; the power of editors over his creativity, the family-friendly focus of newspapers at the time, and how stunted, formulaic and disposable journalistic work seemed to him (2013, Underwood, p.132). The Sun Also Rises was his attempt to contravene the regulations which had held back his work so far, and one of the major ways in which this was done was to take creative license with the plot and characters. According to Doug Underwood, in The Undeclared War Between Journalism and Fiction, “If scenes, people, and dialogue could not be refashioned—if only slightly—Hemingway believed that he would have been hampered from expressing the deeper “truths” of human interactions that his artist’s instincts told him were where the core dynamics of life take place” (2013, Underwood, p.129). In changing the names and adjusting the story and dialogue, Hemingway laid a thin veil of fiction over real, complex and profound characters, carefully crafting each moment in an attempt to represent truth more truthfully than journalism. He said “[a writer’s] standard of fidelity to the truth must be so high that his invention [which comes] out of his experience, should produce a truer account than anything factual can be” (2013, Underwood, 2013, p.127). So the relationship of journalism to The Sun Also Rises could be characterized as antagonistic; Hemingway willfully attempted to transcend its limitations and convey real life as he saw it.
One of the ways in which this was done is by addressing issues which would have been controversial at the time, and most certainly would not have been acceptable in a family-friendly newspaper. Homosexuality is one example; Jake gets angry at two gay men, saying “I know they are supposed to be amusing, and you should be tolerant, but I wanted to swing on one… to shatter that superior, simpering composure”. Jake is also impotent, a result of an injury obtained in the war, which is another subject – one, incidentally, with interesting interpretive depth – that would be considered impolite or taboo to discuss. This is even said by Bill, who states “Never mention that… that’s the sort of thing that can’t be spoken of” (Hemingway, 1926, p.). Even the arguable main point of the story, Jake’s inability to consummate his love with Brett, would be a taboo subject at the time. Therefore the novel is, itself, a rebellion against journalistic censorship. These issues might be considered relatively commonplace today, but considered within the social context, the reality was new and explosively controversial. Therefore, the addressing of taboo social issues such as these had a massive impact on the realism of the novel, rendering it as close to real life as had ever been represented at the time.
As mentioned earlier, Hemingway’s main writing precepts were developed during his time at the Toronto Star, the two primarily being, according to biographer and critic Charles A. Fenton in his book The Apprenticeship of Ernest Hemingway, “short sentences and vigorous English” (Fenton, 1954, p.32). This ethos clearly stuck with Ernest Hemingway, and plenty of examples of it can be found in the novel. While Jake and Bill are going to the fishing spot, Hemingway describes the surroundings: “The road came out from the shadow of the woods into the hot sun. Ahead was a river-valley. Beyond the river was a steep hill. There was a field of buckwheat on the hill. We saw a white house under some trees on the hillside. It was very hot and we stopped under some trees beside a dam that crossed the river” (Hemingway, 1926, p.60). The care with which the story is arranged – Hemingway working out exactly how much information to leave out for interpretive reasons – was also a result of his work at the Toronto Star. Hemingway credits the assistant city editor of that newspaper with teaching him how to do this, and extends further credit to Lionel Calhoun Moise, who gave the advice “pure objective writing… is the only true form of storytelling” (Fenton, 1954, p.41). There is an undeniable connection between that advice and Hemingway’s writing style, and another way in which the foundation of Hemingway’s writing was influenced by journalism. Without his time at the Toronto Star, he would never have met these people and learned to write concisely, objectively and precisely.
Comparing all the basic tenets and techniques of journalism with The Sun Also Rises is extremely enlightening, and shows how closely linked the two are. The Universal Journalist, by David Randall, lists several basic characteristics of good journalism (Randall, 2011, p.164); comparing them with The Sun Also Rises shows that Hemingway’s novel sticks quite closely to basic journalistic convention. It features construction (Hemingway was known to agonize even over the structure of a single-paragraph piece (Fenton, 1954, p.41)); clarity, efficiency and precision – Hemingway’s terse style being a prime example of each; honesty – one of Hemingway’s motivations in writing the novel; finally, suitability – the backdrop of the Pamplona ceremony often mirrors events in the narrative, satisfying this condition.
It can be concluded from all these examples that Hemingway’s career as a journalist was intrinsically intertwined with the construction of The Sun Also Rises. The novel presents a barebones approach to storytelling, stylistically descended from the various rules to which Hemingway was subject at the Toronto Star, and ultimately appears objective and truthful. Without his very specific training and the contacts he made while working there, he might not have learned how to do this. In addition, he might not have noticed that his own life had literary worth. So it can safely be said that journalism and The Sun Also Rises have a close, if not symbiotic, relationship. And, indeed, that in Hemingway’s case, the foundations of journalism were the key to producing a truly durable and timeless novel.
Hemingway, E. (1926). The Sun Also Rises. Accessed at http://www.24grammata.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/Hemingway-TheSunAlsoRises-24grammata.pdf on 02/12/14.
Fenton, C. A. (1954). The Apprenticeship of Ernest Hemingway: The Early Years. American Book-Stratford Press, Inc., New York
Underwood, D. (2013). The Undeclared War Between Journalism and Fiction: Journalists as Genre Benders in Literary History. Palgrave-Macmillan, New York.
Wagner-Martin, L. (2007). Ernest Hemingway: A Literary Life. Palgrave-Macmillan, New York.
Randall, D. (2011). The Universal Journalist, 4th Ed. Palgrave-Macmillan, New York.
Hays, P. L. (2011). The Critical Reception of Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises. Boydell & Brewer Inc., Suffolk.
Hallengren, A (2001). A Case of Identity: Ernest Hemingway. Accessed at https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/literature/1954/hemingway/article/ on 04/12/14.
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