For many years, the narrative technique of Hemingway has been under debate. Writers before him had already achieved works that bear the characteristics of the modern short story, and many of their works could stand today, with those of Hemingway and of writers like Faulkner, as representative short stories of modern times. What distinguishes Hemingway both from his predecessors and from his contemporaries, however, is the theory he produces to deal with the challenge of spatial limitation which every short story writer has to face: how can he say more than his space actually allows him to say? The principle of the iceberg, as the theory is called by Hemingway, leaves distinctive imprints on his short stories: a clipped, spare style, naturalistic presentation of actions and observations, heavy reliance on dramatic dialogue, and a pattern of connection extending backwards and forwards between the various stories.
Because of the above, it is helpful to have some understanding of his theory. In Death in the afternoon, Hemingway (1932,191) points out that no matter how good a phrase or a simile a writer may have, he is spoiling his work out of egotism if he puts it in where it is not absolutely necessary. The form of a work, according to Hemingway, should be created out of experience, and no intruding elements should be allowed to falsify that form and betray that experience. As a result, all that can be dispensed with should be pruned off: convention, embellishment, rhetoric. It is this tendency of writing that has brought Hemingway admiration as well as criticism, but it is clear that the author knew what he was doing when he himself commented on his aim:
I always try to write on the principle of the iceberg. There is seven-eights of it under water for every part that shows. Everything you know you can estimate and it only strengthens your iceberg (cited in Moritz 1968, 168).
One observation that can be made on Hemingway's narrative technique as shown in his short stories is his clipped, spare style, which aims to produce a sense of objectivity through highly selected details. Hemingway refuses to romanticize his characters. Being "tough" people, such as boxers, bullfighters, gangsters, and soldiers, they are depicted as leading a life more or less without thought. The world is full of such people, and it is unrealistic to put sublime thoughts into their heads. So Hemingway writes about them in their own oxlike, instinctive, thoughtless language. To write about gangsters, for example, Hemingway adopts their own language, with its slang and vernacular, as can be found in "The Killers": "hot town" ,"what the hell", "talk to goddam much" ,"blow his head off". "it ain't that". In "After a Storm", the narrator as protagonist is probably a sea adventurer, so he tells the story in a language that is cold and void of emotion.
It wasn't about anything, something about making punch, and then we started fighting and I slipped and he head me down kneeling on my chest and choking me with both hands like he was trying to kill me. Brother, it was some storm.
It is his use of carefully selected details that enables Hemingway to achieve distinctive verbal economy, characterized flat, neutral diction, which make his stories simple, in a distinctive simple. Consider his use of "basic" vocabulary, and the heavy load of implication carried by such uncertain monosyllables as "fine" in "The Killers":
We all know that, bright boy, "Max said, "Talk about something else. Ever go to the movies? "Once in a while,"
You ought to go to the movies more. The movies are fine for a bright boy like you."
Such flat, neutral diction is most frequently couched in simple declarative sentences, with repetition replacing subordination. Consider the following passage in "Big Two-Hearted River":
There was no underbrush in the island of pine trees. The trunks of the trees...