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Ernest Hemingway Modernism

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Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961) was an American writer who burst onto the modernist literary scene in Paris during the 1920s and subsequently became one of the most famous authors of the twentieth century. Ernest Hemingway coined this theory when he determined that by omitting parts of a story, details that the writer and reader both inherently know, the story’s prose will the shortened and strengthened.

Ernest Hemingway’s Short Stories: The Iceberg Theory

“We are all tips of the iceberg”- Ashlecka Aumrivani once said when she was defining the invisibility of the whole picture of human nature as a mystery that makes our lives more interesting. In a similar manner, we can enjoy Hemingway’s style of writing that makes his readers think and guess if they want to fully understand the whole plot of his stories. To put it simpler, let’s figure out what “The Iceberg Theory” actually is about.

According to Hemingway’s Iceberg Theory, “If a writer knows enough about what he is writing about, he may omit things that he knows. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one-ninth of it being above water” (What is Hemingway). I would also add some important factors to that statement that probably makes that theory work. That is the readers have to share the author’s feelings and intentions in order to catch up with the omitted details. In other words, the readers have to be knowledgeable enough and have an intuitive mindset to pick up the omitted information.

I would like to analyze two short stories “Hills Like White Elephants” and “The Killers” to better understand the usage of “The Iceberg Theory” in practice. Starting from “Hills Like White Elephants”, when I first read the above short story for the first time, I honestly couldn’t comprehend the whole meaning of the story. What I could understand is that a man and a woman were sitting at the railway station, drinking beer and chatting with each other. There were a lot of things in their conversation that I couldn’t immediately understand. Although there was the word “operation” in the story, I still was confused about the meaning. Throughout the story, I was wondering what kind of operation it was. The man never talked or asked about her spouse’s health, so I rejected the assumption that the woman was sick. Once I had read the story one more time, I realized that the man and the woman were actually talking about abortion. I think that the omission of the actual word “abortion” adds an additional emotional impact to the story. “Hills Like White Elephants” was the first story that I have ever read in my life where I could observe such a literary tool as “words omitting”. I personally don’t find that theory easy to understand probably because I can’t call myself a sophisticated reader. However, I believe that those people who read a lot of Hemingway’s stories will truly enjoy the iceberg theory used in his works as it makes reading more interesting when only a portion of words can drag much more meaning further.

Having analyzed the language of the story, I found out that symbolism and lack of feelings contributed to the overall purpose of “The Iceberg Theory”. The symbolism in the story gives a clue to the readers and helps them pick up the important things that are unsaid. For example, the “white hills” symbolizes that the woman has a “hill” of her own, which emphasizes her pregnancy. Additionally, Hemingway gave a lack of feeling to the man about the woman’s situation. Thus the man was unable to consider an “abortion” as an event that might change the woman’s life. Hemingway used his writing style of omissions not only in “Hills Like White Elephants”; the short story “The Killers” was written with the “The Iceberg Theory” implemented.

In “The Killers” short story, I liked how Hemingway included a sense of mystery in his characters. When I read that story, I couldn’t see enough characteristics of the two men who were threatening to kill Ole Andreson. I think Hemingway deliberately omitted the important details in order to expose his readers to the dramatic tension of the plot and create a hostile atmosphere of the events. Moreover, the story lacks important details about the setting and location of the lunchroom where the main events were happening which gives the readers a chance to imagine. It’s also important to emphasize the specific characteristics of the dialogues’ structure, almost in all cases, the dialogues are concise and limited, with the “said” and “asked” words used a lot. We can observe that structure by looking at the sample below:

‘Got anything to drink?’ Al asked.

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‘Silver beer, bevo, ginger-ale,’ George said.

‘I mean you got anything to drink?’

‘Just those I said.’

(Ernest Hemingway, The Killers).

The story left with lots of questions both about the main characters and their intentions. For example, I don’t know what drove those “killers” to commit such a crime. Those unanswered questions give the readers room for imagination and adaptation.

The title of the story “The killers” suggests that we will see the killers, but the title doesn’t show us how many of them will be in the story. By further reading the story, we may, in fact, see that there are only “two killers”. Perhaps, those are the killers which were mentioned in the title but, again, this is just our assumption.

In conclusion, I think that “The Iceberg Theory” is a very effective tool in writing as it gives the readers the opportunity to replenish the details in the stories that are omitted by Hemingway on purpose. However, I do believe that “The Iceberg Theory” must be used with much caution as if it’s not implemented properly, the readers will be lost in the plot and thus the author’s message will be misunderstood. In my opinion, a writer cannot cut the majority of details as it won’t give any leads to readers to discover the whole point of a story. The right balance between giving all the details and omitting them has to be implemented. The proportion of the above-mentioned factors is crucially important as otherwise the risk of losing the value of a story is quite high. Therefore, I think it is the art of using “The Iceberg Theory” in the right way, and only those writers who can determine the right proportion of what is supposed to be included and omitted will be able to gift their readers a chance to enjoy the true benefits of that literary style. I believe that Hemingway has successfully managed to implement that theory in his short stories!


  1. ‘Ernest Hemingway – The Killers | Genius.’ Genius | Song Lyrics & Knowledge. Web.
  2. ‘What is Hemingway .’ – Share research. Web.

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Ernest Hemingway Modernism. (2022, December 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 24, 2023, from
“Ernest Hemingway Modernism.” Edubirdie, 27 Dec. 2022,
Ernest Hemingway Modernism. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 24 May 2023].
Ernest Hemingway Modernism [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Dec 27 [cited 2023 May 24]. Available from:
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