Holidays and the Hemingway Code

Ciao, amici! Today, I’m deviating from my Story Development and Execution series because it’s a special day. In the U.S., it’s Veterans’ Day. The holiday doesn’t get the same level of celebration that Independence Day or Memorial Day does (maybe because it falls in a cold-weather, non-picnic kind of month), but it should. Politics aside, the men and women who served our country and secured our freedoms deserve our gratitude.

I have several family members who are veterans, so I take this quite seriously. My gratitude is boundless.

That’s it for the soapbox portion of this post.

I’m going to use the patriotic theme of the day to transition into a literary device.

I think many people, when asked to name an American author (particularly of classic literature), think of Hemingway. He epitomized what it meant to be a man’s man in his time. So, it’s no wonder a certain type of hero bears his name.

The Hemingway Code Hero.

Today is an era of powerful heroines who don’t need a knight in shining armor. But that wasn’t the case in Hemingway’s time. His male protagonists followed a certain code:

  1. He never showed emotions.
  2. He was honest to a fault.
  3. He was courageous.
  4. He measured himself based on the trials he faced and how he handled them, knowing life was a losing battle and it was how the war was fought that mattered the most.
  5. He faced death with dignity, suffering both physical and emotional pain in silence.
  6. He didn’t believe in an afterlife, so his actions were his only chance at leaving his mark, and his death was his final legacy.

Today’s heroes are a lot less chauvinistic and a lot more complex. While they are truthful and brave, they also express their feelings—maybe not to everyone, but at least to the people they love.

Our veterans recognize the military trinity: God, country, family. And there are plenty of novels where the hero embodies this motto.

I’m not going to say the literary heroes (male or female) you create have to embody all three. Pick two. Pick only one. Heck, create three other values your hero holds above all else.

However, I do think your protagonists will be better received if they are a little warmer than the Hemingway Code hero.

What do you think, SEers? Did you like Hemingway? I admit, I’m not a fan. Do you still see characters in contemporary literature who follow the Hemingway Code? Do you like these types of heroes? Have you written one? Let’s talk about it.

And to all the men and women who served our country,
thank you for your service.

Staci Troilo bio box

59 thoughts on “Holidays and the Hemingway Code

  1. Hi Staci, this post is intriguing to me. I didn’t know their was a Hemingway code hero. It is interesting that Hemingway is considered in the way you described because the heroes in both A Farewell to Arms and For Whom the Bell Tolls fall so hard for the female interests and it clouds their decisions and choices.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s probably not fair to characterize all of his heroes as unemotional, but it was a trend he leaned into. I didn’t care much for his work, so I only read what I was required to in school, so I can’t speak to his entire collection. But thanks for pointing that out, Robbie.

      Liked by 1 person

      • HI Staci, I haven’t read his entire collection either and it could also be how people interpret unemotional. I though Henry was very emotional when Catherine died in A Farewell to Arms. That is one of the few books that’s made me cry. The other Hemmingway I’ve read is The Old Man and the Sea so I may have missed the ones that are being referred to here. I rarely read all the works by an author, I tend to stick to the most famous ones because of time constraints.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I always remember Hills Like White Elephants and how uncaring the male lead was. But I agree with you about A Farewell to Arms. I never read The Old Man and the Sea, so I can’t speak to that one.


  2. I still read/watch a lot of characters that follow the Hemingway code, Staci, both in books and films. I find them a little two-dimensional these days and prefer more nuanced characters. I feel the same way about their counterpart – the helpless emotional heroine. I hope you had a peaceful Veteran’s Day.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hemingway was adept at allegory and metaphor, though I’ve certainly read much better. He was boosted by his persona and image, especially when Esquire Magazine began showcasing his work, playing heavily on the adventurous-man who sees a bit more angle at a time most stories by and largely for men were not so literary. Right place, right time. Shout out to my Uncle Robert Sullivan, WWII vet who I lost in 1984.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sometimes, I think I’d take “right place, right time” over talent. I say sometimes because I would prefer getting somewhere on my own merit and not from sheer luck or from knowing someone. A victory earned is so much sweeter than one gifted. Thanks for sharing your take, Stephen. And I second your shout out.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I love some of the traits of Hemingway, but I wouldn’t devote my writing towards developing characters of that type. When i want to write, I just look at a few other natural people I’VE INTERACTED WITH and craft my characters around their traits. The world is now half different.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. What an excellent post for today, Staci! Thank you for calling attention to our veterans. My father served during WWII but never talked about it. I think that was part of his generation.

    I have never read Hemingway. My required reading was more Poe, Steinbeck, and Dickens. When it comes to my book heroes, I like them to be conflicted and show emotions to a degree. In the long run, I think I prefer beta heroes to alpha. I love strength and nobility, but tangled with a lot of flaws and a measure of vulnerability.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I love Poe and Dickens. Steinbeck didn’t really appeal to me, but I think it was more subject than writing style. I will say the end of The Grapes of Wrath has always stuck with me as one of the most powerful things I ever read. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. And for sharing a bit of your father with us.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Like most high school students, I had to read Hemmingway. He is not a favorite, I find it hard to stay interested in his writing. What worked for him and others at that time, does not work for writers today I like my hero to be complex and show emotion. It’s hard to imagine anyone keeping everything bottled up.

    Like so many, and as Staci’s sister, I have several relatives who serve(d). Their service means a great deal to me and my family. I have a friend who talks about her PTSD, but not how she got it. But to her, it is the only way to share what she needs to share. The system let her down, and she struggles daily with lack of care from the VA. My wish for all who serve(d) and anyone who needs someone to talk with, that they get what they need. There is nothing worse than believing you are alone.

    I am no saint, but when I see a military person, I make it a priority to smile and say hi and to thank them for their service.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. A fine post, Staci. I’m not a huge Hemingway fan, but he’s a foundational stone in the writing universe. As a person, he was complex and flawed–as is every individual who has ever drawn a breath in this realm. Is the Hemingway Code a thing of the past? Perhaps. The world is a changing place.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I avoided reading Hemingway. I was a bigger fan of English literature than American, although Dickens almost buried me in words. I really enjoyed how Hemingway was portrayed in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris. My husband was in Vietnam but rarely talks about it. I don’t think he wants to remember most of what happened there.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think many veterans feel as your husband does about his time in the service. I wish I could erase their bad memories. Heck, I wish I could erase all wars.

      I’m a big fan of Dickens. And Poe. Fitzgerald. Faulkner. I guess I prefer verbose to sparse. But that’s the great thing about writers and readers. There’s a match for all of us. Thanks, Judi.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. A great post, Staci. I feel like the Hemingway Code applies to a time past. I prefer our heroes to be more real with feelings and faith. The. Vets in my family who had it bad never spoke of what they went through. It is hard to imagine what they deal with on their own.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Excellent post, Staci. As many have said already, I find Hemingway out of date and relevant to an older—if not extinct—generation. He’s not a writer I can read for leisure.
    My grandfather was a POW in WWII and he never spoke about it or his service, which was normal for that generation. I feel it is much healthier to express than repress, so I’m glad some of this code is outdated. I second your appreciation for all those who have fought on the side of freedom.
    My heroes are more complex, and I see this more as a list to embellish upon massively. Anytime I re-read a classic, it hits home how vastly literature has changed in recent decades.
    Thanks for sharing! This one has made me think for sure. Have a wonderful weekend. Hugs 💕🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • I can’t imagine what your grandfather went through. Nor can I understand how so many veterans bottled up all that horror. Over the summer, I had a client who hired me to create a book from her father’s notes from WWII and include photos he returned with. I was crushed by some of the things I read. It’s impossible for me to imagine going through something like that and never talking through it.

      And I agree; the Hemingway code had its time, but it’s now an outdated list in need of a massive upgrade. Thanks for sharing your grandfather’s story and your thoughts, Harmony.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Your post brings up a few thoughts, Staci. I join you in thanking our veterans. I am not fond of Hemmingway’s work and I think you just pointed out the reason. His code is way too simplistic and generalized for solid character development. Some of his stereotypes are what have kept men from being able to live well-rounded lives. Today’s complex environment almost makes Hemmingway’s code out of date. Super post.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. I’m not a big Hemingway fan (except for maybe his cats). Seriously, I respect his dedication to the craft, but he’s not someone I would read for pleasure. I do think heroes are more complex.

    Interesting that most family members that have served in the military rarely talked about their experiences. My father-in-law was in WWII, two cousins served in Vietnam, and our nephew has been in both Afghanistan and Iraq. Other than brief mentions of certain things, they didn’t talk about the war(s). An uncle was a POW in Germany during WWII and he never spoke about it.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I have no personal experience with veterans who were POWs. I can’t even imagine the horrors they went through. I’m glad today’s veterans have people to talk to and places to seek help, but as Gwen pointed out, we still aren’t doing enough. I can’t think of a group of people who deserve more from us. Thanks for sharing your family’s history, Joan.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Thank you for this thought-provoking and beautiful post, Staci. In terms of the code, my brother embodies it. He never talks about his experience in Vietnam, nor does my cousin who was an officer in Afghanistan. On one code point, they differ from Hemingway — both strongly believe in God. ❤️

    Liked by 3 people

    • And maybe their faith makes all the difference. I know my parents’ and grandparents’ generation seldom (if ever) talked about their service. My niece didn’t talk about her service for a long time and still today says very little. My dad will tell stories of lighthearted moments (he has a great one about how he won a big swimming competition in Monaco), but he never talks about the work aspect of his service. But every veteran I know operates (in service and out) with a strong moral compass. Thanks for sharing a bit about your family, Gwen.

      Liked by 2 people

  14. I like this post. It makes me think and challenges me to a degree. If I step outside the box, Clovis kind of fits the mold. I admit he’s more of an anti-hero, but people seemed to love him. I kind of do, too. I’d like to bring him back one day. It may not be a trinity, but he has his own moral compass.

    Liked by 2 people

  15. I deeply respect Hemingway’s work. But I attempted to read one of his books a couple of years ago and have to confess I never made it all the way through. I keep waiting and waiting for something to happen. I think that’s a testimony of how we have changed since his generation. As Liz said, our characters are much more complex as we delve deep into their feelings. The cowboy code is more to my liking than the Hemmingway code. Thank goodness we advanced in our ways of thinking. Great post, Staci. And thank you to all our veterans for their service.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’ve only read a few of his things that weren’t a battle for me to complete. Many of his works that I read in school bored or annoyed me. Had I been reading for pleasure, I’d have set them aside. I love your idea for a cowboy code. That’s more my style, too. Thanks, Jan.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. This is a thought-provoking blog. I do love Hemingway’s writings, but I did not respect him as a man. My characters do not fit all parts of the Hemingway Code. They might have one or two characteristics.
    Staci, thank you for presenting this blog which I will probably think about each time I create a character.

    Liked by 2 people

    • When you have a man who becomes larger than life, it’s hard to separate what we know about him from what we see on the page. It sounds like you’ve managed to do so effectively. Maybe one of the reasons I’m not a fan is because, on some level, I never made that distinction. I’ll be thinking about that today. Thanks for sharing this perspective, Karen.

      Liked by 1 person

  17. I’m not a big fan of Hemingway, but I love defining a code for the chief protagonist. Bestselling authors like Erle Stanley Gardner and Raymond Chandler excelled at satisfying the audience’s expectations by aligning the hero’s thoughts, choices, words, and actions with that code. A search nets today’s writer an abundance of code examples to use as “patterns.”

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  18. Pingback: Holidays and the Hemingway Code | Legends of Windemere

  19. I admit I haven’t read enough of Hemingway’s writing to have an informed opinion. I know it mainly as an example of writing we should emulate (which may be why I’ve avoided it). 😉 I don’t think any of my heroes, male or female, conforms to the Hemingway Code. Although looking at the list of qualities again, some of them are admirable, but maybe not all at once, or all in the same character.

    Liked by 4 people

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