Ernest Miller Hemingway was born on July 21, 1899, in Oak Park, Illinois. His father was the owner of a prosperous real estate business. His father, Dr. Hemingway, imparted to Ernest the importance of appearances, especially in public. Dr. Hemingway invented surgical forceps for which he would not accept money. He believed that one should not profit from something important for the good of mankind. Ernest's father, a man of high ideals, was very strict and censored the books he allowed his children to read. He forbade
Ernest's sister from studying ballet for it was coeducational, and dancing together led to "hell and damnation".
Grace Hall Hemingway, Ernest's mother, considered herself pure and proper. She was a dreamer who was upset at anything which disturbed her perception of the world as beautiful. She hated dirty diapers, upset stomachs, and cleaning house; they were not fit for a lady. She taught her children to always act with decorum. She adored the singing of the birds and the smell of flowers. Her children were expected to behave properly and to please her, always.
Mrs. Hemingway treated Ernest, when he was a small boy, as if he were a female baby doll and she dressed him accordingly. This arrangement was alright until Ernest got to the age when he wanted to be a "gun-toting Pawnee Bill". He began, at that time, to pull away from his mother, and never forgave her for his humiliation.
The town of Oak Park, where Ernest grew up, was very old fashioned and quite religious. The townspeople forbade
the word "virgin" from appearing in
school books, and the word "breast" was questioned, though it appeared in the Bible.
Ernest loved to fish, canoe and explore the woods. When he couldn't get outside, he escaped to his room and read books. He loved to tell stories to his classmates, often insisting that a friend listen to one of his stories. In spite of his mother's desire, he played on the football team at Oak Park High School.
As a student, Ernest was a perfectionist about his grammar and studied English with a fervor. He contributed articles to the weekly school newspaper. It seems that the principal did not approve of Ernest's writings and he complained, often, about the content of Ernest's articles.
Ernest was clear about his writing; he wanted people to "see and feel" and he wanted to enjoy himself while writing. Ernest loved having fun. If nothing was happening, mischievous Ernest made something happen. He would sometimes use forbidden words just to create a ruckus. Ernest, though wild and crazy, was a warm, caring individual. He loved the sea, mountains and the stars and hated anyone who he saw as a phoney.
During World War I, Ernest, rejected from service because of a bad left eye, was an ambulance driver, in Italy, for the Red Cross. Very much like the hero of A Farewell to Arms, Ernest is shot in his knee and recuperates in a hospital, tended by a caring nurse named Agnes. Like Frederick Henry, in the book, he fell in love with the nurse and was given a medal for his heroism.
Ernest returned home after the war, rejected by the nurse with whom he fell in love. He would party late into the night and invite, to his house, people his parents disapproved of. Ernest's mother rejected him and he felt that he had to move from home.
He moved in with a friend living in Chicago and he wrote articles for The Toronto Star. In Chicago he met and then married Hadley Richardson. She believed that he should spend all his time in writing, and bought him a typewriter for his birthday. They decided that the best place for a writer to live was Paris, where he could devote himself to his writing. He said, at the time, that the most difficult thing to write about was being a man. They could not live on income from his stories and so Ernest, again, wrote for The Toronto Star.
Ernest took Hadley to Italy to show her where he had been during the war....