In his time, Hemingway was the public epitome of the writer with a wild side. He hunted lions, he boxed, and he traveled the world. His first novel, The Sun Also Rises, defined the Lost Generation, the fashionable expatriates who enjoyed the Paris nightlife scene to the utmost. A closer look at Hemingway’s life, however, reveals more troubling details. Later life pictures of the great writer show a bump on his upper forehead. He received this when, seated on the commode of his Paris lodgings, he repeatedly pulled what he thought to be the chain the upper water chamber to flush it, but it didn’t work. It was actually the chain to a window in the wrought iron glass ceiling, and Hemingway stood up in frustration and jumped up in the air to put his whole body weight into the effort, bringing the entire ceiling down upon his head.
His adult life was filled with the adventures brought on by such excessive drinking, occasionally resulting in unexpected disasters that happen to tipsy individuals. Hemingway was part of what people thought was the image of the great partying intellectual, and hard drinking writers were the order of the day. If you look at major American writers of the first half of the twentieth century, there are only a handful who were not hard drinkers. A closer look at Hemingway’s life, however, tears down the notion that this was a happy way to live. His son testified that the best time he ever had with his father was when they drank a pitcher or two of martinis and then went out and shot dozens of flamingos that surrounded Ernest’s Cuban residence. The creation of such an unnerving mess is an example of the type of behavior that made it difficult for him to keep a wife. Lillian Ross spent a weekend with him to write an unflattering profile of him in the New Yorker, where she found the legendary writer to be a perpetually inebriated, moody and somewhat obnoxious man. Such conduct also brought a gradual decline in Hemingway’s writing, which was most unfortunate for such a talented man. The novel that has been most often assigned by some English teachers was The Old Man and the Sea, a depressing piece filled with self pity about the struggles of an old man to catch a fish.
Fortunately, however, the American literary scene has grown out of its affection for the hard drinking writer, and noted writers of today are more likely to be ones who have given up the consumption of alcohol to resuscitate their lives. The observer of the drunk has a much better perspective on the nature of life than the drunk himself.