Banned Books Awareness: Ernest Hemingway


\"\"Ernest Hemingway’s distinctive writing style influenced 20th-century fiction, as did his life of adventure and his public image. Hemingway wrote seven novels, six short story collections, and two non-fiction works between the 1920’s and the 1950’s, ultimately winning the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1954; three non-fiction works were also published posthumously. His works are considered classics of American literature, but at the same time most have been routinely banned by governments around the world.

All of his material was burned in the Nazi bonfires of 1933 Germany for “being a monument of modern decadence.” But if you’re thinking such things were isolated to foreign lands, guess again. In 1962 the group “Texans for America” opposed any textbooks which mentioned books by Hemingway.

 \"\"For Whom the Bell Tolls currently ranks at #30 on the ALA’s list of most-banned classics. It graphically describes the brutality of civil war and is told through the thoughts and experiences of Robert Jordan, a character inspired by Hemingway\’s personal experiences in the Spanish Civil War. Robert is an American who travels to Spain to oppose the fascist forces of Francisco Franco, where a Russian military superior orders him behind enemy lines to destroy a bridge with the aid of a group of guerrillas (The Soviet Union aided and advised the Republicans in the war). While in their camp, Robert encounters Maria, a young Spanish woman who is gang raped by the Falangists (part of the fascist coalition), and whose parents were executed at the outbreak of the war. His strong sense of duty clashes with his unwillingness to commit to a covert operation that would have repercussions, and his new-found love for Maria.

In 1941 the U.S. Post Office declared the book unfit to mail because it was seen as pro-Communist- the storyline contains references to Marxism, and the book includes the Communist party slogan “Hold out and fortify, and you will win.”

On Feb. 21, 1973, eleven Turkish book publishers of “For Whom the Bell Tolls” went on trial before an Istanbul martial law tribunal on charges of publishing, possessing, and selling books in violation of national law and “spreading propaganda unfavorable to the state.”  Eight booksellers were also on trial on the same charges.

\"\"Published in 1929, “A Farewell to Arms” is a semi-autobiographical novel set amid events of the Italian campaigns of the First World War. The book is a first-person account of American Frederic Henry, serving as a Lieutenant in the ambulance corps of the Italian Army. In 1998, the Modern Library ranked A Farewell to Arms #74 on its list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century, but today it also ranks at #20 on the ALA’s banned list.

Hemingway complained bitterly about his editor’s acting as censor, removing unsavory words which he felt conveyed important truths about war and love. Despite his editor’s efforts, reviews of the novel often asked if it were art or dirt.

In these early editions, the words shit, fuck, and cocksucker were replaced with dashes (\”—-\”). There exist at least two copies of the first edition in which Hemingway re-inserted the censored words by hand, so as to provide a corrected text. One of these copies was presented to Maurice Coindreau; the other, to James Joyce. Hemingway\’s corrected text, by the way, has not been incorporated into most modern publications.

The June 1929 issue of Scribner\’s Magazine, which ran Hemingway\’s novel, was banned in Boston, Massachusetts, claiming the story was too sexual. The Italian government also banned it because of its glaringly-accurate account of the Italian retreat from Caporetto, Italy which depicted both the cowardice and atrocities of the soldiers; the government also forced cuts in the 1932 film adaptation.

Ireland banned the book in 1939; and it was challenged at the Dallas, Texas, Independent School District high school in 1974 and at the Vernon-Verona-Sherill, New York School District in 1980 as a “sex novel.”

The book continues to draw fire when taught in U.S. public schools. During the 1980’s the ALA listed the novel as persistently challenged for three primary reasons: sex and debauchery; violent deaths and senseless brutality; and belief in a universe indifferent to people’s suffering. It also continues to be challenged as “pacifist propaganda” and “un-American.”

\"\"The Sun Also Rises” is a 1926 novel about a group of American and British expatriates who travel from Paris to the Festival of San Fermín in Pamplona, Spain, to watch the running of the bulls. An early and enduring modernist novel, it received mixed reviews upon publication.

It, too, was banned in Boston in 1930; burned by the Nazis in 1933; and outlawed in Ireland in 1953. In 1960 it was banned from schools in San Jose and Riverside, California. It remains today at number #18 on the ALA’s banned classics list.

In 1938, To Have and Have Not was removed from public sale in Detroit, Michigan by the Prosecutor of Wayne County on complaint by Catholic organizations, as well as from circulation in the public library, but preserved among works by “writers of standing.” It was also barred from distribution in the Borough of Queens, New York. The novel is about Harry Morgan, a fishing boat captain who lives with a prostitute and runs contraband between Cuba and Florida. The novel depicts Harry as an essentially good man who is forced into black-market activity by economic forces beyond his control.

Along with “The Sun Also Rises,” Ireland also banned “Across the River and into the Trees” in 1953, as did legislators in Johannesburg, South Africa for being “objectionable and obscene.”

\"\"Hills Like White Elephants,” a short story from The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway, was pulled in 2010 from Litchfield, New Hampshire’s Campbell High School elective courses after parents voiced their concerns about a short-stories unit called “Love/Gender/Family Unit” that dealt with subject matters such as abortion, cannibalism, homosexuality, and drug use. The parents claimed such stories promoted bad behavior and a “political agenda” and shouldn\’t be included in classroom lessons. The Campbell High School English curriculum adviser eventually resigned amid the controversy.

A minor planet, discovered in 1978 by Soviet astronomer Nikolai Stepanovich Chernykh, was even named for him (3656 Hemingway); but his legacy to American literature is his style. Today writers emulated it or avoided it. Biographer Michael Reynolds wrote that “he left stories and novels so starkly moving that some have become part of our cultural heritage.”In a 2004 speech at the John F. Kennedy Library, Russell Banks acknowledged that he, along with many writers of his generation, was influenced by Hemingway\’s writing philosophy and style. Hemingway\’s influence is seen in the tributes and echoes of his style in popular culture- Ray Bradbury wrote The Kilimanjaro Device, with Hemingway transported to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro.

Timo Müller said in an essay that Ernest Hemingway “has the highest recognition value of all writers worldwide,” yet despite that he remains today one of the world’s most-banned creative minds because of some cuss words and for showing us the dirty, hard truth about the depravity of war. Truth, as they say, may be stranger than fiction, but it also hurts.


 For a complete list of titles covered and more information about the Banned Books Awareness and Reading for Knowledge project, please visit

Sources: Wikipedia, Amazon, American Library Association, Marshall University, TIME/LIFE, Kansas City Star
© 2011 R. Wolf Baldassarro/Deep Forest Productions