Hemingway is classified as a modernist in fiction. Modernism rejected traditions that existed in the nineteenth century and sought to stretch the boundaries, striking out in new directions and with new techniques. More was demanded of the reader of literature or the viewer of art. Answers were not presented directly to issues raised, but instead the artist demanded the participation of the audience more directly in finding meaning and in seeing the relationship between technique and meaning. In literature, writers developed new structures as a way of casting a new light on such accepted elements as character, setting, and plot. Much of modernist fiction shows this increased demand on the reader. Ernest Hemingway gives the illusion of moving in the other direction by simplifying language to the point where it seems ascetic, but in truth his language is complex in its way, building meaning into every word and the placement of every word much like poetry. The reader needs to delve deeply into the style of the language to understand fully what is being communicated. Hemingway used his style of language in works often autobiographical in nature, extolling a certain masculine image that Hemingway tried to live up to in life as in art.
Among the influences on Hemingway's life and writing were the modernist movement, the literary scene in Paris in the 1920s, World War I and the idea of war in general, a number of Spanish elements including bullfighting and the Spanish Civil War, and Hemingway's youth in Michigan. Hemingway used different elements in different works. A Farewell to Arms, for instance, was derived from Hemingway's experiences in World War I as an ambulance driver. Spanish influences are evident in The Sun Also Rises (bullfighting) and For Whom the Bell Tolls (the Spanish Civil War). His youth in Michigan is an element in the Nick Adams stories. Africa was another influence, and big-game hunting was featured in stories like "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" or the book The Green Hills of Africa. Hemingway wove autobiographical elements in his works, many of them based on real events, people, or exploits, and others perhaps derived as much from his image of himself as from the reality.
Hemingway was also influenced by certain literary figures, especially those he knew from Paris in the 1920s.
Gertrude stein was one. He worked for Ford Madox Ford on a new literary magazine, not only writing for it but helping find other manuscripts for publication (Baker, Ernest Hemingway: A Life Story 123-128). At that time, the war was still the major influence on his work, along with echoes from his youth in Michigan. From the first, Hemingway worked to develop a literary style that was unique and that offered a near-poetic use of language. Even in these yearly years, though, Spain and bullfighting were beginning to have a strong influence on the writer. In the early 1920s, he wrote to Gertrude Stein that he was learning much from the matadors in Spain at various festivals. The autobiographical nature of many of his writings can be seen from this time, as Broer notes when referring to the festivals of 1925:
But this year Hemingway had gathered together a small group of friends from the cafes of Montparnasse, the soon-to-be characters of The Sun Also Rises, whose idleness and irresponsibility cut heavily into his usual enjoyment of Pamplona (Broer 5).
Hemingway wrote about his years in Paris in A Moveable Feast, and Broer indicates that Paris and Spain were connected for the young man (Broer 5). In many of his short stories, especially those collected in the book In Our Time, the character of Nick Adams corresponds in many ways to the young Hemingway. Both are from Michigan. Both left home to go to the war. Both were preparing to become writers. Edmund Wilson notes that In Our Time was an odd but original book. Wilson believes that the war was intended to be the key for the whole book, and the brutality of the war is contrasted with the more idyllic and peaceful scenes of the boy at home in the States. Later, however, the boy turns up as a soldier in the Italian army and is shot in the spine by machine-gun fire (Wilson 17). Hemingway thus develops a character representing himself and takes that character into new territory.
The main character in Ernest Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms shares much in common with the author, who used his own World War I experiences as an ambulance driver in telling the story of Frederick Henry and his love affair with Catherine Barkley.
Hemingway volunteered to work for the Red Cross in World War I and was accepted. He was wounded and spent time in an Italian hospital, and it was at that time that he met a nurse named Agnes Kurowsky and fell in love with her. The correspondences between Ernest and Agnes on the one hand and Frederick and Catherine on the other are not exact, but it would seem that Ernest used his own experience sa a source for the story he would tell some ten years later in A Farewell to Arms. Agnes did not die, for one thing, but instead took up with another man while Ernest was back in the United States working to get money together to bring Agnes to this country. The man Agnes took up with was a duke, and she wrote Ernest a letter about the affair:
Agnes, now quite certain of her future with the duke, had written that she had fallen in love with an Italian major, that theirs had been only a boy-and-girl affair, and that she was sorry and knew he probably would not understand but might someday forgive her and be grateful to her (Griffin 113).
The outcome is quite different for all concerned than the discovery of true love by Frederick, a discovery challenged by Catherine's death. In the end, Frederick discovers the importance of love and life even though his own love has been lost. Frederick forces his way into the room where Catherine lies in an attempt to be close to her one last time:
But after I got them out and shut the door and turned off the light it wasn't any good. It was like saying good-by to a statue. After a while I went out and left the hospital and walked back to the hotel in the rain (Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms 332).
Hemingway shapes his fiction through careful use of language. Aldridge discusses The Sun Also Rises (1926) and notes,
If the thing most feared is barely visible behind the language, the fear itself is barely controlled by the language. Language is a provisional barricade erected against the nihilism that threatens to engulf his characters, the nihilism that is always seeking to enter and flood the human consciousness (Aldridge 345).
This can also be said of Hemingway's fiction itself, that it serves as a barricade against the nihilism that is all around us. A Farewell to Arms is described by Glaser as a work in which the main character is also fighting to find something in which to believe: "Throughout the book, Frederic moves slowly towards becoming Christian" (Glaser 469). Ganzel points out that the characters of Rinaldi and the priest reflect different aspects of Frederic's character and so show warring attitudes within him from the first (Ganzel 576).
The main character in Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940) is another version of Hemingway himself. Malcolm Cowley notes that the fight of Robert Jordan at the bridge comes as the culmination of a series of events in the novel but also as the culmination of events that had taken place through several previous books by Hemingway:
Most of Hemingway's early heroes are aspects of the same person, whether we call him Nick Adams or Frederic Henry or Jake Barnes, and of course he reappears in Robert Jordan. The hero's adventures began in Michigan, but they reached their first climax in A Farewell to Arms, when, falsely charged with being a spy, he deserted form the Italian army (and also, in a sense, from organized society... Hemingway's books are interconnected in several fashions; the connections are what many critics miss by their canoneering (Cowley 166).
The novel also reflects another element found in much of Hemingway's fiction, his use of naturalism. The naturalistic element in this novel is bound with the bridge, as if the bridge were an intrusion into the natural landscape so that its removal will restore nature. Naturalism is a literary treatment based on realism but also expressing a certain unity with the world of nature:
Properly speaking, it should be used to describe works of literature which use realistic methods and subjects to convey a philosophical form of naturalism; that is, a belief that everything that exists is a part of nature and can be explained by natural and material causes -- and not by supernatural, spiritual, or paranormal causes…