The Tip of the Iceberg: Hemingway and the Short Story: G. Kenneth … - AdelaminInfo

The Tip of the Iceberg: Hemingway and the Short Story: G. Kenneth …

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The Iceberg Principle and the Portrait of Common People in Hemingway’s Works

  •  Shahla Sorkhabi Darzikola    


Ernest Hemingway founded a novel method of text that is nearly ordinary nowadays. He did away with all the ornate writing style of the 19th century Victorian period and substituted it with a lean, strong text based on action rather than reflection. He as well hired a method by which he would leave out vital data of the story underneath the belief that oversight can occasionally add strong point to a story. It was a way of elusiveness which compared significantly (and in a method improved) the subjects he put pen to paper about conflict, dangerous sports similar to bullfighting or boxing, crime, etc. It is hard to find someone inscription today who doesn’t be in debt of effect to Hemingway. This paper tries to investigate more intensely on Hemingway’s literary and writing style.

  • Full Text:   PDF  
  • DOI: 10.5539/ells.v3n3p8

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License .

  • Issn(Print): 1925-4768
  • Issn(Onlne): 1925-4776
  • Started: 2011
  • Frequency: quarterly

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A Moveable Feast

Below the Surface: Hemingway’s "Iceberg" Method in A Moveable Feast


Once, in a physical science class, my professor showed the students a picture diagram of the three-pronged iceberg that sank the Titanic. A peer of mine immediately said, “How did that small iceberg sink a huge ship?” My professor let the class debate back and forth for awhile before she zoomed out of the diagram to reveal a hulking mass of ice below the surface of the water. She then went on to explain that less than 10 percent of an iceberg rests above the water’s surface. Ernest Hemingway models his writing in the form of an iceberg. Hemingway’s style of writing, called the “Iceberg Theory,” divulges the facts essential to understanding the plot without explicitly stating the underlying structure, allowing the reader to sense the story’s details. Hemingway demonstrates the “Iceberg Theory” in his memoir Moveable Feast.

In one instance in Moveable Feast, Hemingway uses the “Iceberg Theory” to reveal a character’s disposition through symbolism. This theory prevails in Hemingway’s comparison of Scott Fitzgerald’s wife Zelda to that of a hawk. Hemingway says, “Zelda had hawk’s eyes …” (Hemingway 154). In this reference, Hemingway assists the reader in visualizing Zelda’s physical attributes and mental makeup without directly…

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Ellen Akins
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Hemingway, Carver, Iceberg Principle Less Is More . . . Understood?

Posted on June 17, 2013 by Ellen Akins

One of my MFA students, doing one of the brief essays on craft we have our writers do at Fairleigh Dickinson , was writing about The Old Man and the Sea and cited Hemingway’s “Iceberg Principle” as he laid it out in his Paris Review spring 1958 interview .  Here’s the pertinent passage:

“If it is any use to know it, I always try to write on the principle of the iceberg. There is seven-eighths of it underwater for every part that shows. Anything you know you can eliminate and it only strengthens your iceberg. It is the part that doesn’t show. If a writer omits something because he does not know it then there is a hole in the story.”

(Hemingway says the same thing in Death in the Afternoon, Scribner’s, 1932, Chapter 16, p. 192:  “If a writer of prose knows enough about what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water.”)

Invisible knowledge? Or visible bullshit?  Because how, you have to wonder, is a reader supposed to intuit what’s omitted? Or that what’s omitted constitutes a sort of basis of authority—which is, really, what Hemingway is saying, right? That a reader will sense, from the rightness of the details he so sparingly includes, that a writer knows what he’s talking about?  There’s a lot to be said for authority—for making the narrative voice so convincing that a reader can happily be carried along—but I think authority can be assumed.I think it has everything to do with voice.  For instance, I might learn enough to write convincingly about shooting—and never have fired a gun in my life.  Or consider the example of writers of historical fiction. One sounds like she lived the life. Another sounds like she read a few books about the period. But neither of them lived it—they both got what they know from research.

And, it’s kind of funny, in the same Paris Review interview, Hemingway says:  A writer, if he is any good, does not describe. He invents or makesout of knowledge personal and impersonal and sometimes he seems to have unexplained knowledge which could come from forgotten racial or family experience. Who teaches the homing pigeon to fly as he does; where does a fighting bull get his bravery, or a hunting dog his nose?”

Coincidentally, in the same batch of essays, another student wrote about “playing the silence” in Raymond Carver’s work, specifically his short story, “Why Don’t You Dance?” In making his point, he (the student, Brian Bradford, an interesting writer himself) quoted Miles Davis: “It’s the notes you don’t play that make the difference.”

Brian writes:

“It is not only what [Carver] writes, but what he expertly omits that creates a sort of silence that allows his readers, through their own extrapolations, wider access into the lives of his characters.”

Sounds familiar. But Brian, I think, is saying something somewhat different, maybe a bit more subtle. He remarks on the nature of the details that Carver does include, how much they say about what’s not said (a little example: that the character “pours another drink” is the only reference to alcohol in the story, but it suggests something more than a guy having one drink).

What Brian says is: “This is Carver, at his minimalist best–playing the silence, courting conjecture.”  And that, “courting conjecture,” is a brilliant way to put it. The writer’s authority, finally, resides in an ability to get a reader to understand what’s not being said.

A side note:  the Carver’s story “Why Don’t You Dance?” is included in his collection What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, which was made into the 2010 film written and directed by Dan Rush & starring Will Ferrell, “Everything Must Go.”

Nine of Carver’s stories (and one poem) were also the basis of the 1993 Robert Altman movie (with a screenplay by Altman & Frank Barhydt) “Short Cuts”:

They’re Not Your Husband
Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?
So Much Water So Close to Home” (a killer story)
A Small, Good Thing” (another great one)
Jerry and Molly and Sam
Tell the Women We’re Going
Lemonade” (poem)


This entry was posted in All , Blog and tagged Ernest Hemingway , Everything Must Go , Iceberg Principle , Paris Review interview , Raymond Carver , Short Cuts , What We Talk About When We Talk About Love . Bookmark the permalink .

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  • Ellen Akins is the author of the novels Home Movie , Little Woman , Public Life , and Hometown Brew , and the short story collection World Like a Knife . She has published short stories in The Southern Review, The Georgia Review, The Missouri Review, and The Southwest Review, which (the last two) awarded her their biennial short fiction awards. Read more
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