Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Ernest Hemingway and the Sin of Ungratefulness

One of the worst deficiencies in a human being is the inability to show appreciation to another person for their kindness or generosity.  In the current age of entitlement it comes as no shock that many individuals lean towards being thankless moochers without a sense of gratefulness.

Ernest Hemingway, the greatly admired American writer, was no exception.  According to Paul Johnson in his excellent book, Intellectuals,  in Hemingway's adolescence the author rejected the religion and moral culture of his parents.  

in 1920 when Hemingway came home from the Great War after serving in an ambulance unit, he was a bit of a war hero. But he embarrassed his parents by failing to find a job and remained somewhat idle. 

In July that year, his mother Grace, wrote her son a letter that was the straw that broke the camel's back in their relationship.  She wrote in her letter that when a child is born into the world, he or she makes withdrawals from his mother like a bank. The child draws and draws without making any deposits throughout his or her childhood.

Now that her son was a young man, Grace wrote a carefully crafted note to him to remind him of his need for maturation:
The account needs some deposits by this time, some good-sized ones in the way of gratitude and appreciation, interest in Mother's ideas and affairs.  Little comforts provided for her home; a desire to favor any of Mother's peculiar prejudices, on no account to outrage her ideas. Flowers, fruit or candy, or something pretty to wear, brought home to Mother with a kiss and a squeeze . . . A surreptitious paying of bills, just to get them off Mother's mind . . . deposits which keep the account in good standing. Many mothers I know are receiving these and much more substantial gifts and returns from sons of less abilities than my son. 
Unless, you, my son, Ernest, come to yourself. cease your lazy loafing and pleasure seeking. . . stop trading on your handsome face. . . and neglecting your duties to God and your Savior, Jesus Christ . . . there is nothing before you but bankruptcy: You have overdrawn.
From this letter Hemingway went into a fury and settled into a deep hatred for his mother. In fact this hatred lasted for the rest of his life. To his fellow writers he usually referred to his mother as "that bitch."

I bring up this incident as an example of an intellectual who despite such novels as The Sun Also Rises and Farewell to Arms was lacking in simple human love and gratitude.  Like most intellectuals Hemingway was a self-made man, a person with no need for God and focused on his own individualism.

As a man who considered religion as a "menace to human happiness," it became apparent that this American writer needed the relationship with God his parents wanted him to enjoy. Instead, he worshipped his own need for fulfillment and ended up as a loveless, individualist who is much like people today who are content with a godless existence and the resulting lack of higher virtues they display.

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