Throughout the short stories of Ernest Hemingway, alcohol inevitably lends its company to situations in which desperation already resides. In an examination of his earlier works, such as In Our Time, a comparison to later collections reveals the constant presence of alcohol where hopelessness prevails. The nature of the hopelessness, the desperation, changes from his earlier works to his later pieces, but its source remains the same: potential, or promise of the future causes a great deal of trepidation and lament throughout Hemingway’s pieces. Whether the desperation comes from trepidation or lament depends on the view point from which it is observed, or rather, experienced.
In many of the works written early in his career, Hemingway’s characters experience a fear of the future. The fear does not necessarily stem from commonly expected sources, such as “the unknown,” but rather, it seems to grow from a fear of failure, a fear of being unable to fulfill potential. A number of stories and vignettes from In Our Time reflect these trepidations, and throughout, the presence of alcohol surfaces as a reminder of the desperation felt by the characters as they confront or avoid the circumstances surrounding their fears. It should be clarified, however, that “desperation” here does not insinuate the many nuances that the term conjures, but rather, it describes its simplest meaning of a loss or a lack of hope. For the characters of the early stories, the lack of hope motivates trepidation, while in the later works, the loss of hope creates lament.
The lament experienced by Hemingway’s characters in his later works corresponds to an older perspective by both author and characters. In most cases of desperation, the later characters re…
In moving from the perspective of his early stories to that of his later stories, it becomes clear that Hemingway’s deft ability to illuminate the nature of people’s attitude toward potential is well complemented by the presence of alcohol. Trepidation and lament are marked by the presence of drink and its quieting effects. On the few occasions where triumph over fear manifests itself, Hemingway seems to imply that the failure to fulfill one’s potential is not inevitable, and that even if it does occur, it can be dealt with. Alcohol then becomes a sign of either celebration or at the very least endurance. Regardless of the individual case and outcome, Hemingway’s use of alcohol is inextricably tied to despair and varied perspectives on the loss of hope.
Hemingway, Ernest. The Short Stories. New York: Simon & Schuster, Inc., 1995.