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Iceberg Theory

below the surface of a story.[2] He learned about corrup-


tion in city politics, and that in hospital emergency rooms
and police stations a mask of cynicism was worn like ar-
mour to shield whatever vulnerabilities remained.[2] In
his pieces he wrote about relevant events, excluding the
background. As foreign correspondent for the Toronto
Star, while living in Paris in the early 1920s, he covered
the Greco-Turkish War in more than a dozen articles. As
his biographer Jerey Meyers explains, he objectively
reported only the immediate events in order to achieve a
concentration and intensity of focusa spotlight rather
than a stage.[3] From the Greco-Turkish War he gained
valuable writing experience that he translated to the writ-
ing of ction. He believed ction could be based on re-
ality, but that if an experience were to be distilled, as he
explained, then what he made up was truer than what he
remembered.[3]

2 Denition
In 1923, Hemingway conceived of the idea of a new the-
Ernest Hemingway as photographed for 1940 edition of For ory of writing after nishing his short story Out of Sea-
Whom the Bell Tolls son. In A Moveable Feast, his posthumously published
memoirs about his years as a young writer in Paris, he
The Iceberg Theory (sometimes known as the "theory explains: I omitted the real end [of Out of Season"]
of omission") is a style of writing (turned colloquial- which was that the old man hanged himself. This was
ism) coined by American writer Ernest Hemingway. As omitted on my new theory that you could omit anything
a young journalist, Hemingway had to focus his news- ... and the omitted part would strengthen the story.[5] In
paper reports on immediate events, with very little con- chapter sixteen of Death in the Afternoon he compares
text or interpretation. When he became a writer of short his theory about writing to an iceberg.[5]
stories, he retained this minimalistic style, focusing on Hemingways biographer Carlos Baker believed that as a
surface elements without explicitly discussing underlying writer of short stories Hemingway learned how to get
themes. Hemingway believed the deeper meaning of a the most from the least, how to prune language and avoid
story should not be evident on the surface, but should waste motion, how to multiply intensities, and how to tell
shine through implicitly. Critics such as Jackson Benson nothing but the truth in a way that allowed for telling more
claim that the iceberg theory, along with Hemingways than the truth.[6] Baker also notes that the writing style of
distinctive clarity of style, functioned to distance himself the iceberg theory suggests that a storys narrative and
from the characters he created. nuanced complexities, complete with symbolism, operate
under the surface of the story itself.[6]
For example, Hemingway believed a writer could de-
1 Background scribe an action, such as Nick Adams shing in "Big
Two-Hearted River, while conveying a dierent mes-
Like other American writers such as Mark Twain, sage about the action itselfNick Adams concentrating
Stephen Crane, Theodore Dreiser, Sinclair Lewis and on shing to the extent that he does not have to think
Willa Cather, Hemingway worked as a journalist before about the unpleasantness of his war experience.[7] In his
becoming a novelist. After graduating from high school essay, The Art of the Short Story, Hemingway is clear
he went to work as a cub reporter for The Kansas City about his method: A few things I have found to be true.
Star,[1] where he quickly learned that truth often lurks If you leave out important things or events that you know

1
2 4 NOVELS

about, the story is strengthened. If you leave or skip man against the background of his world and universe
something because you do not know it, the story will be to examine the human situation from various points of
worthless. The test of any story is how very good the stu view.[13]
that you, not your editors, omit.[8] A writer explained
how it brings a story gravitas:
3 Early ction and short stories
Hemingway said that only the tip of the
iceberg showed in ctionyour reader will
see only what is above the waterbut the Gwendolyn Tetlow believes that Hemingways early c-
knowledge that you have about your character tion such as "Indian Camp" shows his lack of concern for
that never makes it into the story acts as the character development by simply placing the character
bulk of the iceberg. And that is what gives in his or her surroundings. However, in Indian Camp
your story weight and gravitas. the use of descriptive detail such as a screaming woman,
Jenna Blum in The Author at Work, 2013[9] men smoking tobacco, and an infected wound build a
sense of veracity.[14] In other words, a story can commu-
nicate by subtext; for instance, Hemingways "Hills Like
White Elephants" does not mention the word abortion,
From reading Rudyard Kipling Hemingway absorbed the
although in the story the male character seems to be at-
practice of shortening prose as much as it could take.
tempting to convince his girlfriend to have an abortion.[15]
Of the concept of omission, Hemingway wrote in The
Big Two-Hearted River Hemingway explains is about
Art of the Short Story": You could omit anything if
a boy... coming home from the war... So the war, all men-
you knew that you omitted and the omitted part would
tion of the war, anything about the war, is omitted.[8]
strengthen the story and make people feel something
Hemingway intentionally left out something in Indian
more than they understood.[10] By making invisible the
Camp and Big Two-Hearted River two stories he
structure of the story, he believed the author strength-
considered to be good.[16]
ened the piece of ction and that the quality of a piece
could be judged by the quality of the material the au- Baker explains that Hemingways stories about sports are
thor eliminated.[10] His style added to the aesthetic: us- often about the athletes themselves and that the sport is
ing declarative sentences and direct representations of incidental to the story. Moreover, the story "A Clean
the visible world with simple and plain language, Hem- Well Lighted Place" which on the surface is about nothing
ingway became the most inuential prose stylist in the more than men drinking in a cafe late at night, is in fact
twentieth century according to biographer Meyers.[10] about that which brings the men to the cafe to drink, and
the reasons they seek light in the night none of which is
In her paper Hemingways Camera Eye, Zoe Trodd ex-
available in the surface of the plot, but lurks in the iceberg
plains that Hemingway uses repetition in prose to build
below.[17] Hemingways story Big Two-Hearted River
a collage of snapshots to create an entire picture. Of his
is ostensibly about nothing, as is A Clean Well Lighted
iceberg theory, she claims, it is also a glacier waterfall,
Place, but within nothing lies the crux of the story.[17]
infused with movement by his multi-focal aesthetic.[11]
Furthermore, she believes that Hemingways iceberg the-
ory demanded that the reader feel the whole story and
that the reader is meant to ll the gaps left by his omis- 4 Novels
sions with their feelings.[11]
Hemingway scholar Jackson Benson believes Hemingway Benson believes that the omission Hemingway applies
used autobiographical details to work as framing devices functions as a sort of buer between himself as the cre-
to write about life in generalnot only about his life. For ator of a character and the character. He explains that as
example, Benson postulates that Hemingway used his ex- an author creates a distance between himself and the
periences and drew them out further with what if sce- character he becomes more practiced, it would seem.
narios: what if I were wounded in such a way that I Benson says in Hemingways ction the distance is nec-
could not sleep at night? What if I were wounded and essary, and successful in early ction such as in The Sun
made crazy, what would happen if I were sent back to Also Rises, but if he as the author does not deliberately
the front?" By separating himself from the characters he create such distance the ction fails, as in the later works
created, Hemingway strengthens the drama. The means such as Across the River and into the Trees.[12]
of achieving a strong drama is to minimize, or omit, the Baker calls Hemingways Across the River and into the
feelings that produced the ction he wrote.[12] Trees a lyric-poetical novel in which each scene has
Hemingways iceberg theory highlights the symbolic im- an underlying truth presented via symbolism.[18] Accord-
plications of art. He makes use of physical action to pro- ing to Meyers an example of omission is that Renata,
vide an interpretation of the nature of mans existence. It like other heroines in Hemingways ction, suers a ma-
can be convincingly proved that, while representing hu- jor shockthe murder of her father and the subse-
man life through ctional forms, he has consistently set quent loss of her hometo which Hemingway alludes
3

only briey.[19] Hemingways pared down narrative forces Show, don't tell
the reader to solve connections. As Stoltzfus remarks:
Hemingway walks the reader to the bridge that he must
cross alone without the narrators help.[20]
7 References
Hemingway believed that if context or background had
been written about by another, and written about well,
then it could be left out of his writing. Of The Old Man [1] Meyers 1985, p. 23
and the Sea he explains: In writing you are limited to
by what has already been done satisfactorily. So I have [2] Reynolds 1998, p. 17
tried to do something else. First I have tried to elimi-
nate everything unnecessary to conveying experience to [3] Meyers 1985, pp. 9899
the reader so that after he has read something it will be-
come part of his experience and seem actually to have [4] qtd. in Oliver 1999, p. 322
happened.[5] Paul Smith, author of Hemingways Early
Manuscript: The Theory and Practice of Omission, be- [5] qtd in Smith 1983
lieves Hemingway applied the theory of omission in ef-
fort to strengthen [the] iceberg.[5] [6] Baker 1972, p. 117

[7] Oliver 1999, pp. 321322

5 Legacy [8] Hemingway, The Art of the Short Story

In October 1954 Hemingway received the Nobel Prize in [9] Jenna Blum, 2013, The Modern Scholar published by
Literature. He jokingly told the press he believed Carl Recorded Books, The Author at Work: The Art of Writ-
Sandburg and Isak Dinesen deserved the prize more than ing Fiction, Disk 1, Track 9, ISBN 978-1-4703-8437-1,
he, but that the prize money would be welcome.[21] The ...that is what gives your story weight and gravitas....
prize was awarded to Hemingway for his mastery of the
art of narrative, most recently demonstrated in The Old [10] Meyers 1985, p. 114
Man and the Sea, and for the inuence that he has ex-
erted on contemporary style.[22] A few days after the [11] Trodd 2007
announcement, Hemingway spoke with a Time magazine
correspondent, while on his boat shing o the coast of [12] Benson 1989
Cuba. When asked about the use of symbolism in his
work, and particularly in the most recently published Old [13] Halliday, E.M. (1956). Hemingways Ambiguity: Sym-
Man and the Sea, he explained: No good book has ever bolism and Irony. American Literature. Ameri-
been written that has in it symbols arrived at beforehand can Literature, Vol. 28, No. 1. 28 (1): 122.
and stuck in...That kind of symbol sticks out like raisins doi:10.2307/2922718. JSTOR 2922718.
in raisin bread. Raisin bread is all right, but plain bread is
better....I tried to make a real old man, a real boy, a real [14] Tetlow, pp. 5355
sea, a real sh and real sharks. But if I made them good
and true enough they would mean many things. The hard- [15] Mellow 1992, p. 348
est thing is to make something really true and sometimes
truer than true.[23] [16] Smith 1983

[17] Baker 1972, pp. 123125

6 See also [18] Baker 1972, pp. 274275

Abductive reasoning [19] Meyers 1985, p. 445


Case-based reasoning
[20] Stoltzfus 2003
Casuistry
[21] Baker 1972, p. 338
Concision
[22] The Nobel Prize in Literature 1954. Nobelprize.org.
Gonzo journalism
The Nobel Foundation. 1954. Retrieved 2010-04-25.
I know it when I see it
[23] An American Storyteller. Time Magazine. Time, Inc.
Purposeful omission 13 December 1954. Retrieved 2010-04-25.
4 8 SOURCES

8 Sources
Baker, Carlos (1972). Hemingway: The Writer as
Artist (4th ed.). Princeton University Press. ISBN
0-691-01305-5.

Ernest Hemingway (1990). The Art of the Short


Story. In Benson, Jackson. New Critical Ap-
proaches to the Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway.
Duke University Press. ISBN 978-0-8223-1067-9.
Benson, Jackson (1989). Ernest Hemingway: The
Life as Fiction and the Fiction as Life. American
Literature. 61 (3): 345358. doi:10.2307/2926824.

Oliver, Charles M. (1999). Ernest Hemingway A


to Z: The Essential Reference to the Life and Work.
New York: Checkmark. ISBN 0-8160-3467-2.
Mellow, James R. (1992). Hemingway: A Life With-
out Consequences. New York: Houghton Miin.
ISBN 0-395-37777-3.

Meyers, Jerey (1985). Hemingway: A Biography.


London: Macmillan. ISBN 0-333-42126-4.

George Plimpton (Spring 1958). Ernest Heming-


way, The Art of Fiction No. 21. The Paris Review.

Reynolds, Michael S. (1998). The Young Heming-


way. New York: Norton. ISBN 0-393-31776-5.

Tetlow, Wendolyn (1992). Hemingways In our time:


lyrical dimensions. Cranbury NJ: Associated Uni-
versity Presses. ISBN 0-8387-5219-5.
Smith, Paul. (1983). Hemingways Early
Manuscripts: The Theory and Practice of Omis-
sion. Journal of Modern Literature. Indiana Uni-
versity Press. 10 (2): 268288. JSTOR 3831126.

Stoltzfus, Ben (2003). The Stones of Venice, Time


and Remembrance: Calculus and Proust in Across
the River and into the Trees". The Hemingway Re-
view. 22 (2): 2029.

Trodd, Zoe (2007). Hemingways camera eye: The


problems of language and an interwar politics of
form. The Hemingway Review. 26 (2): 721.
doi:10.1353/hem.2007.0012.
5

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