(1899-1961), American

Ernest Hemingway’s Top 10 Best Quotes

Ernest Hemingway wrote some of the most memorable books in the history of American literature. On this list, there are ten of the very best quotes from several of his wonderful novels and short stories. They represent his characteristically direct and minimal style while also conveying the depth of emotion that his characters experience.

Ernest Hemingway's Top 10 Best Quotes

Man and Nature

The fish is my friend too…I have never seen or heard of such a fish. But I must kill him. I am glad we do not have to try to kill the stars. Imagine if each day a man must try to kill the moon, he thought. The moon runs away. But imagine if a man each day should have to try to kill the sun? We were born lucky; he thought

These lines come from The Old Man and the Sea and are some of the most commonly quoted.  They appear in the section of the novella in which Santiago is on the water. He is musing on the state of humanity and wondering over what role he has to play in the larger natural world. Specifically, he is quite interested in the relationship he has with the marlin. He is a friend to the fish, and the fish is a friend to him. But, Santiago knows he has to kill him.

Loneliness and Violence

But we were never lonely and never afraid when we were together. I know that the night is not the same as the day: that all things are different, that the things of the night cannot be explained in the day, because they do not then exist, and the night can be a dreadful time for lonely people once their loneliness has started. But with Catherine there was almost no difference in the night except that it was an even better time. If people bring so much courage to this world the world has to kill them to break them, so of course it kills them. The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills.

This longer passage is one of the best from Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms. The lines feature in Chapter Thirty-Four. The scene depicts Henry and Catherine in bed together and the initial hope that Henry feels after their reunion. But, that soon changes. Henry’s mind moves away from their positive relationship and to a belief that the world is determined to destroy everything good about it. 

Sex and Relationships

For him it was a dark passage which led to nowhere, then to nowhere, then again to nowhere, once again to nowhere, always and forever to nowhere 

These famous lines come from Chapter Thirteen of For Whom the Bell Tolls. They describe the relationship between Maria and Robert Jordan as they are on their way back from El Sordo. Their intimate relationship is described through the structure of these lines and Hemingway’s use of repetition. As the lines progress, Hemingway continues these techniques in order to depict each part of their climax and release. Readers should also consider what these lines, which have no real coherent order and structure relay on Robert’s state of mind in this passage. 

Would you please please please please please please please stop talking? 

This very interesting line comes from Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants”. In it, Jig, the girl, is talking to her American partner. Her eruption of repetition in this line is very striking. It shows the emotion that is at the root of their conversation, which is often hidden in Hemingway’s prose. She is really struggling and here a reader finally gets a look at it. 

Hope

It’s silly not to hope. It’s a sin he thought.

These two short sentences come from Hemingway’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Old Man and the Sea. In this quote, the main character Santiago is speaking. Throughout the novel, he expresses his belief in luck, hope, and the power of all living things. He realizes that he’ll be able to catch this enormous marlin he has hooked if he perseveres.

The Nature of War

I had seen nothing sacred, and the things that were glorious had no glory and the sacrifices were like the stockyards at Chicago if nothing was done with the meat except to bury it. There were many words that you could not stand to hear and finally only the names of places had dignity. Certain numbers were the same way and certain dates and these with the names of the places were all you could say and have them mean anything. Abstract words such as glory, honor, courage, or hallow were obscene beside the concrete names of villages, the numbers of roads, the names of rivers, the numbers of regiments and the dates.

These lines come from A Farewell to Arms and feature in Chapter Twenty-Seven. Here, Henry is meeting Gino who has a very different opinion about war than he does. Gino celebrates the idea of dying for one’s country and blues things like honor and glory. But, to Henry, these things do little to justify the actual outcomes of war. He cares more about the names of those who have died and the places that have been lost. 

Writing

All you have to do is write one true sentence

This wonderful line comes from Hemingway’s memoir, A Moveable Feast. In it, he states very simply the one thing that he wanted to do with his life—write clearly and movingly without ornamentation or overwrought prose. Hemingway’s writing style is memorable direct, so much so that there are often many layers of meaning in one line.

Longing

“Yes,” said the girl. “Everything tastes like licorice. Especially all the things you’ve waited so long for, like absinthe.” 

There is really no better example of Hemingway’s writing style than the short story “Hills Like White Elephants”. This short quotation, as well as the one to follow, both come from the story. The girl asked the American to order absinthe, stating that she’d never tried it before, but when she drinks it she explains that it tastes like “licorice,” just like all the things that “you’ve waited so long for”. This is her attempt to navigate the conversation back to her pregnancy. 

Complex Relationships

Jake:“Couldn’t we live together, Brett? Couldn’t we just live together?”

Brett: “I don’t think so. I’d just tromper you with everybody.”

These two lines come from Chapter Seven of The Sun Also Rises. Here, the two are speaking after Brett gets to Jack’s house in Paris. This is a perfect example of the way that Hemingway is able to write about something complex and multilayered with a few words. Jake desperately wants Brett to be with him but she replies that she would “tromper” him or cheat on him. This is something that gets at the heart of the novel and the wounds that Jake suffered in the war.

Life Changing Decisions

We’ll be fine afterward. Just like we were before.

These lines are spoken by the American in “Hills Like White Elephants”. Here, he is alluding to the possible outcome if the girl decides to have an abortion. To him, it’s a simple choice, she has the operation and they can perhaps be “fine”. The word “fine” does not quite do justice to the situation though. It was not as simple of a procedure then as it is today plus the fact that it was illegal in Spain at the time makes the whole situation all the more complicated. 

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Emma Baldwin
About Emma Baldwin
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues on Book Analysis.

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