The principle of the iceberg: what it is and how it is used to write

The things we see, hear or read are, in fact, the most superficial layer in all of history that could be behind it. People’s lives are shown like an iceberg, seeing only the tip of the large chunk of ice.

This is the reality that famous writer Ernest Hemingway used to write his stories, rather short stories, with few details but with enough information for readers to fill in the gaps in the story.

The principle of the iceberg is a literary technique used by the American writer Ernest Hemingway which we will see below, and which may very well be related to virtually any aspect of life, in which there is much more than what is seen with the naked eye.

    What is the Iceberg principle?

    If one reads Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961), it will give him the impression that his work is floating on water. But despite this, their stories did not flow, on the contrary. The stories and tales of this American journalist have gone down in the history of universal literature and few people do not know the name of this author, one of the leading novelists and storytellers of the twentieth century.

    The symbolism of Hemingway’s stories is underwater, a metaphor that fits very well with the name of the technique he himself invented: the iceberg principle. What he wants to tell about his stories cannot be seen with a simple cursory and superficial reading of what the famous writer embodied in printed words, but by guesswork. The core of his stories has been suggested, in the form of brushstrokes that cannot be captured by literal reading.

    The principle of the Iceberg is easy to understand. According to Hemingway, each story should only reflect a small part of the story., leaving the rest to the reading and interpretation of the readers. Much like when we see an iceberg floating, what we see is just its surface, with about 90% of the large chunk of ice submerged, not visible to the naked eye.

    History doesn’t have to prove the true context for free, must be like this iceberg, be suggested and encourage the reader to strive to see it. By this we are not talking about morals or double meanings, although they can also be included in this submerged part of the iceberg. The concept proposed by Hemingway goes much further. For example, if we want to talk about love through a story, what we can do is focus the story on a couple arguing on vacation.

    Through this discussion, we will enter into a larger reality, love itself and the consequences associated with aspects of the couple’s cohabitation, such as incommunicado detention or the time in a couple’s life. All of this could be done without explicitly talking about the love of the text.

      Application of the technique

      Applying this technique, Hemingway first wrote or thought of a complete story, and then, when everything was in order, with every detail and aspect of the story thought out, he removed up to 80% of the content, leaving only and exclusively the essential. With this method, he forced readers to make the effort to fill in his interpretation the gaps left by the writer.

      On numerous occasions Hemingway has made his stories revolving the plot around a conflict or topic that is not explicitly mentioned throughout the text, leaving it to the reader to find out what happens. Using this technique, meticulously selecting the information that deserves to be put into the text and also omitting the correct one, the reader must have reread the story, even if on first reading he felt that something was wrong. touched his fiber.

      Hemingway did not randomly delete information. He followed his own criteria, so extremely good that it was this that made him enter the history of universal literature. The American journalist eliminated parts that he considered superfluous and that did not indicate or direct towards what he wanted the reader to understand. Although subtly, he managed to get what he put into the story, at the end of it all, to lead the reader to where Hemingway wanted to take them.

      It is said that Ernest Hemingway began to mature this theory in 1923, after finishing the story “Off season”. The same author pointed out that he omitted the real end of this story, that is, the old man playing in the story ended up hanging. Hemingway omitted this part, which seems so crucial, but which helped him see that, according to his then new theory, any part can be omitted, and that this omitted part will strengthen the narrative.

      One of Hemingway’s biographers, Carlos Baker, once said that the writer had learned to make the most of it. shorten the tongue and avoid unnecessary movements multiply the intensity and the way of saying nothing more than the truth in a way that allows to count more of the same.

        Practical example of this writing method

        It’s hard to fully understand how Hemingway’s method works if one of his stories has never been read.. For this reason, we will be talking about (and also eviscerating) one of his stories: “Culines like white elephants”. In this story, we are presented with a seemingly banal conversation between an American couple waiting for a train to Madrid to arrive at a station near the Ebro River. The couple chat while looking at the scenery and drinking beer and anise. The story ends with the announcement of the arrival of the train.

        The story is essentially a conversation in which we are clearly told that the couple are heading to a location where the girl will need to have an operation and the two will discuss whether or not to continue the plan. And little else. The man doesn’t even have a name and we only know the girl’s name is Jig. Their appearance is not described and little is said about the way they behave or the gestures they have.

        The story is pure dialogue and has almost no time markers. It is a story of sober appearance and with a very natural, flat and simple language.

        However, as the reader reads more carefully, you can have the intuition that the two characters are talking about a possible abortion, an intervention which will have consequences on the continuity of the couple. This would be the first level of depth of the text, and it’s something that can be interpreted as the text contains a lot of elements that reinforce this idea.

        For example, the characters are in a relationship crisis, which is reinforced by the space in which they find themselves, a ground floor observing a Mediterranean landscape. On one side of the roads, the landscape is green and oozes fertility, while the other is arid and dry, symbols of pregnancy and abortion respectively. The girl comments that the hills, which are very dry, actually look like white elephants, which could be interpreted as a metaphor for fertility. Even Hemingway is dualistic when he exposes that they both have different views on the taste of anise.

        Corn we haven’t reached the deepest layer of the iceberg yet. Under this layer, we find another more immersed and the one that speaks of the situation of the couple and their breakup. The story shows the differences between the two characters and that reconciliation is impossible. The possibility is raised that none of the options, abortion or not, is the solution to the problems. The couple is already broken up, and whatever we do, no solution will be possible. The couple eventually go their separate ways when the train arrives, although as readers we never get to see what the transport is like.

        By recapping the story and relating it to the iceberg principle, we can make a mental and graphic picture of the data given to us in the story. The outermost layer is what is read verbatim in the text, each of Hemingway’s hallmarked and literate words. The next two layers are the ones that actually give us a more expansive view of the story, approaching the core of it. To read superficially, this is just a casual conversation between a couple of travelers, but that’s not really what happens. past.

        Bibliographical references

        • Marcs, A. (2018). Hemingway and the iceberg technique. School descriptors. Retrieved from:
        • Boulanger, Carlos (1972). Hemingway: The Writer as an Artist (4th Edition). Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-01305-5.
        • Benson, Jackson (1989). “Ernest Hemingway: Life as Fiction and Fiction as Life.” American Literature 61 (3): 345-358. doi: 10.2307 / 2926824
        • Halliday, EM (1956). “Hemingway’s ambiguity: symbolism and irony. American Literature 28 (1): 1-22. JSTOR 2922718
        • Smith, Paul. (1983). “The Early Hemingway Manuscripts: The Theory and Practice of Omission.” Journal of Modern Literature (Indiana University Press) 10 (2): 268-288. JSTOR 3831126

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