Analysis of Ernest Hemingway

Everyone who is familiar with Hemingway’s literary work may have heard about his bright, contradictory and adventurous life, at the same time full of troubles and disorders which eventually led to a tragic suicidal ending. In order to understand the reasons for such behavior, the following research will focus on the analysis of Hemingway’s personality based on psychoanalytical approach and the existential psychology theory.

Psychoanalysis is, perhaps, the most well-known method of exploration of a human personality, which influenced a range of theories and practices. Founded at the end of the XIX century by the prominent Austrian psychiatrist and psychologist Sigmund Freud, psychoanalysis was further developed and reconsidered by Carl Jung in his analytical psychology approach, the intrapsychic theory of Alfred Adler and Erich Fromm’s social psychology. Freud’s views were set out in such his major works as “Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality” (1905), “Beyond the pleasure principle” (1920), “The Ego and the Id” (1923), “Totem and Taboo” (1913) and others. In “The Ego and the Id” Freud develops the structural concept of the psyche defining its major areas: the unconscious one (“Id”) which is the defining inherent plan of the human psyche, the field of sexual instincts; the conscious one (“Ego”) which stands for the human mind, the mediator between the unconscious and the outside world; the subconscious area (“Superego”) – the internal personal conscience, which is influenced by the system of social prohibitions. The conscious “Ego” and the subconscious “Superego” are constantly seeking to conquer the unconscious “Id”, which results in the emergence of art, religion, society, as well as of all personal disorders. Another major idea developed by Freud is the Oedipus complex indicating child’s unconscious immanent sexual desire for the parent of the opposite sex and ambivalent feelings towards the parent of the same sex. The successful resolution of the Oedipus complex is the key to a person’s mental health, while the failure to solve it leads to neurosis and sexual deviations.


Considering Hemingway’s suicidal inclinations, one may see them as a particular case of the Oedipus complex. Traditional gender roles in Hemingway’s family were distorted – his overbearing mother Grace took the lead, while the weak-willed father Clarence often performed the duties of a housewife. The relationship between Ernest’s parents was contradictory. His mother treated her male children rather cold preferring to pay more attention to her daughters; Hemingway’s father loved his son but, nevertheless, indulged his dominant wife. Ernest, therefore, expressed an ambivalent attitude towards his father and hostility towards his mother. All his life, Hemingway emphasized his masculinity, thereby secretly competing with the figure of his father and trying to position himself as a macho. Such behavior was also expressed in his love to bullfighting, hunting of large predators, which can be seen as a sublimation of parricide. Hemingway was married four times and each time he chose strong-willed, active and adventurous women. However, in his novels, male take dominance over women, female characters are very often bleak. It should be noted that Hemingway’s father committed suicide at the age of 57 when he had financial and health problems, which is very much alike of Hemingway’s decision to end his life voluntarily.

Another theoretical approach which can be applied to the analysis of Hemingway’s personality is the existential psychology developed in by American psychologist and psychotherapist Rollo May in the 70-ies of the XX century. Tracing its roots from the works of such philosophers as Seren Kierkegaard, Friedrich Nietzsche, Martin Heidegger, Jean-Paul Sartre other leading European thinkers, existential psychology is based on the suggestion that that people carry much of the responsibility for what they are. Bearing this notion in mind, May came up with a new concept of man. His approach was based largely on clinical experiments, rather than the armchair theory. From May’s point of view, a man lives in the present; it is primarily important for him what happens here and now. A man creates himself and is responsible for what he ultimately becomes. Many people, according to May, lacked the courage to face their fate. Trying to avoid such experience, people sacrifice much of their freedom and try to evade responsibility by claiming an initial lack of freedom of their actions. People refuse to make a choice and lose the ability to see themselves as they are; they embrace the feeling of their insignificance and alienation from the world. Normal people, on the contrary, defy their fate, appreciate and protect their freedom. They are aware of the inevitability of death, but they have the courage to live in the present.

From the existential point of view, Hemingway’s life seems to be a long romance with the death. Another famous existential psychotherapist Irvin Yalom argues that Hemingway was a compulsive man who was “driven to face danger in order to escape a greater danger within”, he was trying “to seek out and conquer danger as a grotesque way of proving there was no danger”. Indeed, throughout Hemingway’s life so many traumas, injuries and limit situations can be found, that one may conclude that he was unconsciously seeking to meet with his death. Working as a police reporter, Hemingway often found himself in the midst of gang shootings. As the Red Cross worker during the World War First, he participated in a battle and was seriously wounded. He was injured in a fight with the bulls in Spain. Moreover, he experienced two plane crashes in Africa and two car accidents receiving open fractures and head injuries. It may seem that Hemingway was somehow afraid of the death and unable to be happy with a quiet life. Hemingway’s acquaintance with the atrocities of the war caused dramatic distortions of his psyche and constant internal conflict. As Pettipiece notes, “the trauma experienced in war created a new Hemingway; more aggressive and far less idealistic, this older, wiser Hemingway would often appear fractured and broken, as if in conflict with himself”. Approaching his 60-ies, Hemingway suffered from problems with physical health in addition to rising symptoms of delusional disorder and persecution mania. While living in Cuba, Hemingway tried to shot himself with a gun several times and was put in the clinic, but eventually, he committed suicide on July 2, 1961. It seems that he was unable to bear the betrayal of his mortal body and made the final shot.

Overall, it can be seen that Hemingway’s personality was significantly influenced by the environment he grew in. His breeding within the family headed by the powerful mother caused failure to resolve the Oedipus complex, which, in its turn, led to hyperactivity, quick temper and overwhelming desire to assert himself as an invincible adventurer – his subconscious self that sought for being revealed. Hemingway was permanently challenging the death, but affected by depression and personal imperfection, he decided to chose solution ahead of the approaching death and perish by his will.

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