Study Guide

Ernest Hemingway Key West, Cuba & WWII

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Key West, Cuba & WWII

In 1928 the new Mr. and Mrs. Hemingway moved to Key West, Florida. It was a big year personally for Hemingway. In June his second son Patrick was born. Then in December, in a tragic foreshadowing of Ernest's own suicide, his father Clarence shot himself after struggling for years with health problems. Hemingway took his father's death hard and returned to Oak Park to arrange the funeral. The following year he published A Farewell to Arms, which he wrote mostly at his in-laws' house in Arkansas. The novel is set in World War I and follows the doomed relationship between a young, stoic American ambulance driver serving on the Italian front and a British nurse. Sound familiar? Like much of Hemingway's early fiction, it drew heavily on his personal experiences. The narrator also embodies many of the key characteristics of the "Hemingway male": stoic, courageous, impervious to flattery or praise, happy in pursuit of drink, women and other manly objectives. The novel was critically and commercially successful, enough so that Hemingway could pay the bills and not have to worry about his next paycheck.

After years of studious devotion to his fiction, Hemingway spent the decade after the publication of A Farewell to Arms taking a bit of a breather. He, Pauline and their children (his third and final child, Gregory, was born in 1931) settled in a house in Key West. He was able to travel and delve deeper into his various passions. In 1932 he went to Spain to research bullfighting for Death in the Afternoon, his definitive book on the subject. The following year, he and Pauline went on a ten-day safari to Kenya, where Hemingway developed an obsession with big game hunting. He returned several times to Africa. The landscape of African hills and safari camps appeared often in his fiction (including "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" and "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber," two of Hemingway's classic short stories) and nonfiction (The Green Hills of Africa). In 1936 he traveled to Spain to cover the Spanish Civil War as a correspondent for the North American Newspaper Alliance. The country had long gripped Hemingway's imagination—he was an outspoken supporter of the Republic, which Generalissimo Francisco Franco and his Fascists were attempting to overthrow—and his experiences there during the war served as the inspiration for his 1940 novel For Whom the Bell Tolls.

By the late 1930s, another intelligent, attractive female writer friend was spending a lot of time around the Hemingway household. She was Martha Gellhorn, an accomplished war correspondent, who joined Hemingway covering the war in Spain. They married in 1940, as soon as his divorce from Pauline was final, and set up house at an estate in Cuba called Finca Vigia. There, Hemingway drank, fished, boxed, grew his famous beard and generally spent more time cultivating his image of a burly macho man than writing any fiction. When the United States joined World War II in 1941, he trawled the waters in his fishing boat Pilar looking for German submarines (and was later awarded the Bronze Star for his efforts). The couple traveled together to China for Martha's work (Ernest filed a few stories too), and she recorded Hemingway's famous powers of conversation, observation and alcohol consumption. "He was able to sit with a bunch of men for most of a day or most of a night, or most of both day and night though perhaps with different men, wherever he happened to have started sitting, all of them fortified by a continuous supply of drink, the while he roared with laughter at reminiscences and anecdotes," she wrote. "Aside from being his form of amusement, he learned about a place and people through the eyes and experiences of those who lived there."

In 1944 Hemingway traveled to Europe (where Martha was already working as a war correspondent) to cover the war in France and Germany for Collier's magazine. Their marriage was faltering. Almost immediately he met a journalist named Mary Welsh and—well, you know the rest. Ernest and Mary were married on 14 March 1946 in Cuba.

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