Ernest Hemingway/From Boy to Man Hemingways First World War

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2.From Boy to Man: Hemingway's First World War

Hemingway once wrote F. Scott Fitzgerald: "We are all bitched from the start and you especially have to be hurt like hell before you can write seriously. But when you get a damned hurt use it - don't cheat with it. Be as faithful to it as a scientist"(Lynn (13.), p. 10). Hemingway's first hurts were so grave it took him nearly ten years to write them down in a novel.

When he arrived in Europe, he was just another young hotshot out for adventure. En route to the Italian front, he stopped in Paris. The city was under constant bombardment from German siege guns. Instead of staying in the relative safety of the Hotel Florida, Ernest asked the cab driver to bring him to the place where the shells were falling. He wouldn't stop looking for enemy fire until one shell was tearing apart the facade of a church at the Place de la Madelaine nearby. He later said: "I was an awful dope when I went to the last war. I can remember just thinking that we were the home team and the Austrians were the visiting team" (Barron's Book Notes (8.), p. 2).

But gruesome reality caught up with him. On his first day of duty, an ammunition factory exploded in the countryside near Milan. He had to pick up bodies and pieces of bodies, mostly of women working there. This first and extremely cruel encounter with human death left him shaken. The soldiers he met later didn't lighten this horror. Eric Dorman-Smith quoted Shakespeare's Henry IV Part Two: "By my troth, I care not; a man can die but once; we owe god a death . . . and let it go which way it will, he that dies this year is quit for the next"(Burgess (9.), p. 24). A 50-year-old soldier, to whom he said "You're troppo vecchio for this war, pop." replied "I can die as well as any man."(Burgess (9.), p. 24).

Still, he wanted to come even closer to the action, and was wounded at midnight on the eighth of July while bicycling to a forward command post to deliver chocolate. The exact details remain mysterious but two things we know for sure: A trench mortar shell hit him leaving fragments in both legs, and he got the Silver Medal of Military Valor (medaglia d'argento) from the Italian government. He may have saved another soldier's life by carrying him on his back.

Convalescing in the Ospedale Croce Rossa Americana, Via Alessandro Manzoni in Milan, he met Sister Hannah Agnes von Kurowsky, a nurse from Washington, DC. and one of eighteen nurses looking after just four patients. He fell for her, but they never were together. Soon after his departure, she fell in love with another man.

Hemingway's metaphysical movement in this early period was a shift from juvenile life in Oak Park to the horrors of a full scale war. He waded deeper and deeper into violence until he stood face to face with death.

next: /From Reality to Fiction A Farewell to Arms