Ernest Hemingway: Time with the Red Cross Inspired His Literary Work

Ernest Hemingway in the Red Cross Hospital in Milan, July 1918

Ernest Hemingway: Time with the Red Cross Inspired His Literary Work

Ernest Hemingway during World War One
Ernest Hemingway during World War One

Ernest Hemingway is considered a literary genius who established a writing style that bears his name.  He also was a noncombatant during World War I whose experiences inspired his early work.

Hemingway was born July 21, 1899 in a Chicago suburb and lived a privileged life throughout childhood. As a high school student, he participated in sports and took a journalism course that led to working on the school newspaper. It was this experience that helped him fine-tune his writing skills.

He graduated in 1917 and went to work for The Kansas City Star as a reporter.

War Inspires Literature

A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway

When the U.S. entered World War One, Hemingway was rejected by the army because of his eyesight, so he volunteered to become a Red Cross ambulance driver. He served on the Italian front, witnessing the horrors of war.

He was wounded in the summer of 1918 and spent several months in the hospital. While there, he met and fell in love with a Red Cross nurse. He wanted to marry her, but she was engaged to an Italian officer.  A Farewell to Arms is based on this experience.

“The best American novel to emerge from World War I, A Farewell to Arms is the unforgettable story of an American ambulance driver on the Italian front and his passion for a beautiful English nurse,” the book’s description online says. “Hemingway’s frank portrayal of the love between Lieutenant Henry and Catherine Barkley, caught in the inexorable sweep of war, glows with an intensity unrivaled in modern literature, while his description of the German attack on Caporetto — of lines of fired men marching in the rain, hungry, weary, and demoralized — is one of the greatest moments in literary history. A story of love and pain, of loyalty and desertion, A Farewell to Arms, written when he was 30 years old, represents a new romanticism for Hemingway.”

Hemingway’s doomed romance is credited as the reason he had four wives; he was protecting himself from becoming hurt again.

He returned home in 1919, and accepted a job as a foreign correspondent with The Toronto Star.

In the 1920s, Hemingway lived for a time in Paris. He met other writers including Gertrude Stein, who coined the term Lost Generation to describe those who came of age during the war. Hemingway used this term in his novel The Sun Also Rises.

Struggles with Depression

Hemingway died July 2, 1961, in Idaho of suicide.

In the final days of his life, Hemingway was overcome with depression and anxiety, which he was hospitalized for, as well as medical issues.

Over the course of four generations, there have been seven suicides in the Hemingway family.

If you’re curious about the Hemingway family’s struggle with depression, you can read an interview actress Mariel Hemingway, Ernest’s granddaughter,  had with Salon.

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Updated:  21 October 2020
Melina Druga
Most kids have an active imagination. My imagination has stayed strong into adulthood, and I’ve funneled that creativity into a successful writing career. I write history, both fiction and nonfiction, because although your school history classes may have been boring, the past is not. My goal is to bring the past to life in all its myriad of colors.
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