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Is This Bad Dialogue? The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

July 6, 2021
I hope Ernest Hemingway was sober when he signed this book.

It’s almost unfair to make fun of a dead guy’s writing. The author isn’t around to defend himself, and his fans are either dead too or don’t see the point in defending him.

Ernest Hemingway’s writing gets mocked, even though (or maybe because) many of his novels are required reading at a lot of schools. Being required reading isn’t usually the author’s fault, but that’s how it goes.

I know Hemingway gets mocked because when I was in college, a friend of mine gave me a “Best of Bad Hemingway” book as a gift. It was a cool gift. I had no opinion of Ernest Hemingway at the time, but I knew enough about his writing style to get the joke.

I recently chose to start reading The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway, partially because I read East of Eden by John Steinbeck a few months ago. So far, I’m not enthusiastic about The Sun Also Rises. It seems that Hemingway doesn’t like his characters. Or maybe I don’t like his characters and I’m projecting onto the author.

Plus, there’s way too much dialogue. Don’t get me wrong; I like dialogue. I’ve read several Fletch books. The dialogue in The Sun Also Rises, however, seems to be more like self-indulgent chit-chat than storytelling.

Take a look at six straight pages!

Maybe this dialogue shows character development. Maybe this was Hemingway’s way to show without telling. Maybe it’s good dialogue but a bad use of it. Or maybe Hemingway should have listened to an editor (if the editor wasn’t afraid of him).

Whatever is going on, I’m not looking forward to continuing The Sun Also Rises. Dialogue can be a great storytelling tool, but I think this is the stuff that gets an author mocked, even/especially after the author has died.


What do you think? Is this bad use of dialogue? Or should I shut up because I’m just some random blogger?

  1. I couldn’t get through The Old Man and the Sea, (it was booooring) and it was later tossed around in literary circles that the book only won the Pulitzer as a sort of lifetime achievement award even though it is widely seen as his worst work.

    I remember enjoying “The Sun”… but it’s been over 20 years since I’ve read it, so maybe it sucks?

    • I tried reading The Old Man and the Sea when I was young and lived in a landlocked area: I couldn’t relate.

      Maybe now that I’m older (I’m almost an old man) and live near water, I’ll enjoy it more.

  2. I don’t much care for it. But I’m reading it for the first time almost 100 years after it was published. So to say I don’t really care for it kind of discounts its impact on American writing. Which was pretty big at the time, as I understand it.

    • You don’t care much for it. I don’t care much for it. I’m not claiming that the dialogue is bad, but I AM wondering what’s good about it.

  3. Anonymous permalink

    I find Hemingway’s use of dialogue in many of his books to be terse and repetitive. His characters are almost carbon copies of each other, almost cliche, primarily via their dialogue.

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