Now in real life, William Faulkner and Ernest Hemingway had a tense relationship. That’s a nice way of saying they both thought the other was a garbage writer. So, in honor of Faulkner’s recent birthday celebration, we figured we would bring them together to settle their differences—by punching each other in the face.
So ignoring the broader themes of Chuck Palahniuk’s seminal work, Fight Club, we’re going to do what we do best and have two people fight each other.
Since we can’t talk about Fight Club (see rules one and two), we’re going to write about it. Specifically, we’re going to have two writers fight each other. Three rounds will determine their strength as we go through their power of description, their distinctive style, and their impact on the world at large.
1-Whose Writing Style is More Descriptive?
Image Via Nobel Prize.org
Actually, let’s wait up.
Ernie in his natural habitat / Image Via The Forward
Hemingway’s descriptions are brief and uncomplicated, yet his ability to paint such vivid imagery is astounding. Each word is a paintbrush and he puts them all together perfectly.
He’s the master of dialogue, but let’s look at his infamous short story: “Hills Like White Elephants“:
“What should we drink?” the girl asked. She had taken off her hat and
put it on the table.
“It’s pretty hot,” the man said.
“Let’s drink beer.”
“Dos cervezas,” the man said into the curtain.
“Big ones?” a woman asked from the doorway.
“Yes. Two big ones.”
The woman brought two glasses of beer and two felt pads. She put the felt pads and the beer glasses on the table and looked at the man and the girl. The girl was looking off at the line of hills. They were white in the sun and the country was brown and dry.
“They look like white elephants,” she said.
“I’ve never seen one,” the man drank his beer.
The dialogue is excellent, but I have one question for you: What do the characters look like?
It doesn’t matter what the charters looks like in this story, but we’re not talking about the power of this story, we’re using it as an example of Hemingway’s descriptive prowess.
Image Via Inquiries Journal
Faulkner, unlike Hemingway, is known for his purple descriptions. Let’s look at A Rose for Emily: for an example, where he describes Miss Emily:
They rose when she entered–a small, fat woman in black, with a thin gold chain descending to her waist and vanishing into her belt, leaning on an ebony cane with a tarnished gold head. Her skeleton was small and spare; perhaps that was why what would have been merely plumpness in another was obesity in her. She looked bloated, like a body long submerged in motionless water, and of that pallid hue. Her eyes, lost in the fatty ridges of her face, looked like two small pieces of coal pressed into a lump of dough as they moved from one face to another while the visitors stated their errand.
Can’t you just picture it?
Image Via Quartz
Let’s get on some even ground through. What do the main buildings in these stories look like? Here’s an earlier passage from “Hills Like White Elephants”:
The hills across the valley of the Ebro’ were long and white. On this side there was no shade and no trees and the station was between two lines of rails in the sun. Close against the side of the station there was the warm shadow of the building and a curtain, made of strings of bamboo beads, hung across the open door into the bar, to keep out flies. The American and the girl with him sat at a table in the shade, outside the building. It was very hot and the express from Barcelona would come in forty minutes. It stopped at this junction for two minutes and went on to Madrid.
Well, we now know that the man and the woman are “the American” and “the girl”. Besides that, we know what isn’t there, such as trees and shade, and that there is a building with a curtain made of bamboo weeds as well as a bar. But what does the building look like? Is it big? Small? White?
Again, it doesn’t matter for this story, in fact it’s reservation is its greatest strength, but we’re not judging Hemingway for his story but for his description.
Image VIa William Faulkner – WordPress
Here’s Faulkner describing a house in A Rose for Emily:
It was a big, squarish frame house that had once been white, decorated with cupolas and spires and scrolled balconies in the heavily lightsome style of the seventies, set on what had once been our most select street. But garages and cotton gins had encroached and obliterated even the august names of that neighborhood; only Miss Emily’s house was left, lifting its stubborn and coquettish decay above the cotton wagons and the gasoline pumps-an eyesore among eyesores. And now Miss Emily had gone to join the representatives of those august names where they lay in the cedar-bemused cemetery among the ranked and anonymous graves of Union and Confederate soldiers who fell at the battle of Jefferson.
We know the shape of the house, the fact it has a garage, the lights on the street, the history of the house, we know everything and anything we’ll need to know and even some things we might not need to know. Plus, the passage is bigger. Who’s got more description?
Don’t worry be happy / Image Via Literary Hub
Who’s got style? Whose method of writing is more memorable, distinctive, and just all around fabulous?!
Faulkner won last round, so he’s up at bat…
Image Via AMazon
Faulkner’s “The Sound and The Fury” experiments with switching perspectives, changing his style from chapter to chapter from children to an outcast to an insane characters and the illiterate. Like a musician he’s an expert at arrangement, building tension and breaking while at the same time filling it with a high emotions and Gothic elements. His characters are wide ranging and diverse, from descendant of slaves to poor whites to working-class Southerners and the aristocracy from old and traditional Southern families.
He experiments with everything and anything, but sadly this comes at a loss. What is his style? Flowery prose?
Image Via Wikipedia
A pioneer of iceberg theory, Hemingway was known for his minimalist style. The idea of it is to write as little as possible with the truth lurking beneath like an iceberg.
As a foreign correspondent for the Toronto Star, while living in Paris in the early 1920s, Hemingway covered the Greco-Turkish War. His biographer Jeffrey Meyers explains that Hemingway “objectively reported only the immediate events in order to achieve a concentration and intensity of focus—a spotlight rather than a stage.” He brought this to fiction, believing that if an experience were to be distilled, then “what he made up was truer than what he remembered.”
Yes, “Hills like White Elephants” isn’t heavy on description and the dialogue doesn’t explain anything, but it doesn’t take a literary master to realize that the building with the beaded curtain is an abortion clinic. The story is about two people discussing about having an abortion.
His books are loaded with symbolism, but it all comes naturally. Why? Well, as Hemingway explained when he received the Nobel prize for literature (don’t worry fans, Faulkner got the same prize):
No good book has ever been written that has in it symbols arrived at beforehand and stuck in… That kind of symbol sticks out like raisins in raisin bread. Raisin bread is all right, but plain bread is better… I tried to make a real old man, a real boy, a real sea, a real fish and real sharks. But if I made them good and true enough they would mean many things. The hardest thing is to make something really true and sometimes truer than true.
Who’s got a distinct style? Faulkner’s certainly got style, but experimentation means people can’t pick you up at first glance. Maybe that’s a good thing, but for this competition it’s a bad thing.
Point for Hemingway!
Don’t worry be happy / Image Via The Daily Beast
Both of these authors have made classic works, but whose influenced more authors?
Image VIa The Telegraph
Faulkner created revelations of life in the south, challenging perceptions of the area, but these revelations often hit on deaf ears because he makes the readers work for it. Like Joyce and Wolfe, his craft of social critique through fiction is as masterful as it is incredible.
Now I have to talk about the bad stuff.
The long and short of it is people don’t get him, so many stop reading. Even those that finished are often left in a state of confusion, as was one interview who posed Faulkner this question: “Some people say they can’t understand your writing, even after they’ve read it two or three times. What approach would you suggest for them?”
Faulkner’s response? “Read it four times.”
Let’s give Faulkner credit: he certainly has more complex emotions than Hemingway’s archetypal heroes have and he certainly has a style, given his love of the Gothic South and his frequent use of stream of consciousness. He’s far more experimental than Hemingway, but that’s hard to imitate.
Image Via Encyclopedia Britannica
Ernest Hemingway, on the other hand, is known not only for his iceberg theory and his terse, journalistic style, but his love of traveling. His stories have us drinking in Paris, trekking through Spain, warring in Italy, fishing in Cuba, and hunting in Africa.
As the pioneer of a simple style, his influence is everywhere. Plus, in the age of social media, what do you think people are reading more: long-winded symphonies of words, or pages filled with as little words as possible?
Point for Hemingway!
Image Via National Post
Sweat poured down his face. On his knees, hands wrapped around his gun, Ernest Hemingway leaned against a rock. He had to lean his head down forward so Faulkner wouldn’t get a shot at him. Taking a breath, heart jackhammering in his chest, Hemingway looked down at his trusty rifle. The edges were worn, the gears were light with rust, but it could still fire a shot, or at least he believed it could.
He hadn’t fired a single shot yet. Not biggie, neither had Faulkner. Hidden in his home, the door shut, the blind cautiously drawn, leaving only a inch of space where the black eye of a rifle, similarly worn and rusty, pointed out at the bolder. Hemingway could feel the black eye of Faulkner’s rifle just above him. His neck hurt, every bone in his body urged him to pick his head up and crane his neck, just for a small stretch, but he knew the moment he did Faulkner would take his shot. He had to move something, anything, so moved the only thing that was safe to move: his mouth.
“You bloody drunk!” Hemingway screamed.
His voice echoed through the wide open plains and came back to him. The echo rang out in his ear. Take the shot. Stand up and fire.
“And you’re a coward!” Faulkner screamed from inside his house.
“I am not!” Hemingway barked, still hiding behind his rock.
“Stop hiding then!” Faulkner screamed. “Oh, but you won’t, will you? You would never crawl out on a limb. You have no courage and have never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary.”
That attack on his manhood felt like a punch in his manhood. “Poor Faulkner,” Hemingway spat. “Do you really think big emotions come from big words? You think I don’t know the ten-dollar words. I know them all right. But there are older and simpler and better words, and those are the ones I use.”
“I am lambas and ambrosia!” Faulkner was hurling fire at him, firing with great speed, “And you are bread and beer!”
“Everyone loves beer!” Hemingway shot back. “Now face me, you coward!”
But Faulkner did not. He did not speak, and Hemingway did not respond. He simply sat behind his rock, crouched there, his eyes squinting from the sun.
His eyes were narrowed. The moon shined a light upon him, like the bright lights on the stage. Should he stand? Is it worse to die a coward, or to die sober?
“I will get that liquor,” Hemingway muttered, and with that he jumped out from behind the rock, turned, and saw that the rifle wasn’t in the window.
Taking a breath, rifle aimed in front of him, Hemingway approached the house.
Coming to the door, he kicked it open. A useless gesture, the door was already unlocked.
Swinging his head from left to right, Hemingway saw on the left was Faulkner, lying on the ground.
“I’ve won,” Hemingway said, “I’ve won!” He threw his rifle to the ground, but it did not come away from his hand. It was stuck there, thanks to sweat and fear. Who cares? After all this time, fighting from dusk til dawn, he had won out.
Victorious, Hemingway marched passed Faulkner and found his liquor cabinet. Smiling wide, he opened the cabinet wide.
But all the bottles were empty. With that revelation, Hemingway cried.
Image Via Writers Write.co