Documentary “Reappraising Ernest Hemingway” Questions the Author’s Machismo

“Filmmaker Lynn Novick has joined Ken Burns to make a new six-hour documentary about  Ernest Hemingway for PBS. “Those of you who know Hemingway, or think you know Hemingway, will get a new aspect to it. Those of you who don’t, buckle your seatbelt!” K. Burns April 11, 2021

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key

Ernest Hemingway (July 21, 1899 – July 2, 1961) poster by Alfred Eisenstaedt.

Note: Unless stated, all photos are from the book, Hemingway: A Life in Pictures By Boris Veidovsky (author) and Mariel Hemingway (author) October 27, 2011

Excerpt: Reappraising Ernest Hemingway, CBS News, April 11, 2021

“Filmmaker Lynn Novick, like a lot of us, first read Hemingway when she was in high school: “I was a little intimidated to pick up a book by Ernest Hemingway,” she said… Four decades later, Novick has joined Ken Burns to make a new six-hour documentary about Hemingway for PBS… We all know the Hemingway image, the very definition of macho: war correspondent, deep-sea fisherman, bullfighting aficionado, big-game hunter. Correspondent Mark Whitaker asked Novick, ‘Hemingway is so much the poster boy for toxic masculinity and misogyny and a little bit of racism kind of thrown in there, too.’

Ernest, [young] hunter in the grass, 1906

‘Yeah, well, you know, his public image is really a problem in a lot of ways, for this moment,’ she said. ‘I think a lot of us will look at a man who seems to be glorifying bullfighting and killing animals for sport, and being dominant in physical conquest, and having women be subservient to you. His public persona is challenging at best, and problematic.’

In Teruel, December 1937, by Robert Capa. Ernest was becoming a recognizable face of the war.

He could be the life of the party, but also treacherous, to his friends…’That really, at times, characterizes Ernest Hemingway in all sorts of ways – he could be a real bitch!’ Burns said. The documentary examines Hemingway’s relationships with women, in real life and in the pages of his writing…He wants all of his four wives to cut their hair short, like boys. He wants to grow his long. He wants to change things up.’

Ernest Hemingway at his standing writing desk… near Malaga  (Photo by Loomis Dean:Getty Images)

In life, and in novels like The Garden of Eden (which was published after he died), Hemingway seemed to have a fascination with androgyny and sexual role reversals…Whitaker asked, ‘So ultimately, what are you trying to say? Like, does Papa Hemingway secretly want to be a Mama Hemingway?”I don’t think we really know that’ [replied Novick]…Hemingway led a vibrant life of worldwide fame and soaring literary success.

Ernest Hemingway standing with shot-gun indoors circa 1950s. (Photo by Foto search: Getty Images). Image provided by Getty Images.

But he was also haunted – by alcoholism, a family history of mental illness, and, as the new documentary lays out, a series of concussions suffered during war, accidents and plane crashes. It was a complicated life, and Ernest Hemingway died, by suicide, at the age of 61.”


ESL- Voices Lesson Plans: Four of Ernest Hemingway’s Classic stories:


Story: Indian Camp By Ernest Hemingway

Lesson Plan: Indian Camp

Answer Key

Story:  The Doctor and the Doctor’s Wife  By Ernest Hemingway

Lesson Plan: The Doctor and the Doctor’s Wife

Answer Key

Story: Soldier’s Home   By Ernest Hemingway

Lesson Plan: Soldier’s Home

Answer Key

Story: Cat in The Rain  By Ernest Hemingway

Lesson Plan: Cat In The Rain 

Answer Key

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ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post

NOTE: Lessons can also be used with native English speakers.

Level: Intermediate – Advanced

Language Skills: Reading, writing, and speaking. Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.

Time: Approximately 60 minutes.

Materials: Student handout (from this lesson) and access to news article.

Objective: Students will read and discuss the article
with a focus on improving reading comprehension and improving oral skills. At the end of the lesson students will express their personal views on the topic through group work and writing.

I. Pre-Reading Activities

Stimulating background knowledge: Brainstorming

Directions: Place students in groups, ask students to think about what they already know about the author Ernest Hemingway.  Next, have students look at the pictures in the text and generate ideas or words that may be connected to the article.  Regroup as a class to list and discuss these ideas. Students can use a brainstorming chart for assistance.

II. While Reading Activities

Word Inference

Directions: Try to infer the meanings of the words in bold taken from the article. You use a dictionary, thesaurus, and Word Chart for assistance.

  1. The headlines are filled these days with stories of so-called cancel culture, as history is reappraised.
  2. Hemingway was known for his display of confidence and overall tough guy machismo.
  3. Filmmaker Lynn Novick was a little intimidated to pick up a book by Ernest Hemingway.
  4. She was mesmerized by the writing and the characters and the world.
  5. Four decades later, Novick has joined Ken Burns to make  a documentary about Hemingway.
  6. He is described as  the seminal writer in the 20th century for Americans.
  7. Hemingway is so much the poster boy for toxic masculinity and misogyny.
  8. His public persona is challenging at best, and problematic.
  9. He could be the life of the party, but also treacherous, to his friends.
  10. But he was also haunted – by alcoholism, and a family history of mental illness.


Grammar Focus: Structure and Usage

Directions: The following groups of sentences are from the article. One of the sentences in each group contains a grammatical  error.  Identify the sentence (1, 2, or 3 ) from each group that contains the grammatical error.


  1. Lynn Novick have joined Ken Burns to make a new documentary about Hemingway.
  2. It follows their films on other not-so-small topics.
  3. Hemingway is the poster boy for toxic masculinity.


  1. His public image is really an problem in a lot of ways.
  2. He could be the life of the party, but also treacherous, to his friends.
  3. His third wife, Martha Gelhorn was also  a war correspondent.


  1. He is around because he means something as an artist.
  2. He really suffered a lot emotionally.
  3. Hemingway wanted his wife to be completely obedient.


Reading Comprehension Fill-ins

Directions: Place students in groups and after they have read the entire article, have them complete the following sentences  taken from the article. They can use the words and terms from the list provided, or provide their own terms. They are to find the meanings of any new vocabulary.

“We ___in an ___where a lot of ___figures of the past – most of them ___men – some ___are being taken down, their ___are being taken off of___. Writers are being taken out of curriculums. Why hasn’t ___been canceled? And why shouldn’t he be canceled?”

WORD LIST: Hemingway, powerful, live, statues, names, era, buildings, White,

III. Post Reading Activities

Discussion Questions for Comprehension /Writing

Directions: Have  students discuss the following questions/statements. Afterwards,  students share their thoughts as a class. To reinforce the ideas, students can write an essay on one of the topics mentioned.

  1. Have you read any stories by Ernest Hemingway? If so which ones?
  2. What do you know about Ernest Hemingway’s personal life?
  3. Why did Ken Burns describe Hemingway as the seminal writer in the 20th century for Americans?
  4. What does the phrase “cancel culture” mean?
  5. According to professor Marc Dudley why hasn’t Hemingway been canceled?
  6. In your opinion, should  Hemingway  be canceled?
  7. What personal problems did Hemingway suffer?
  8. How did Hemingway die?
  9. Write down three new ideas you’ve learned about the topic from this reading,  two things  that you did not understand in the reading, and one thing you would like to know that the article did not mention. Review the responses as a class.

Additional Activities:

Using Pictures to tell a story

Directions: Place students in groups and have them view the various photos of Hemingway.  Each group writes a description paragraph or two explaining what they think the photos mean. Share the stories as a class.

Asking Questions

Directions: Place students in groups. Have each group list 3  questions they would like to ask Hemingway or any person mentioned in the article. Groups share questions as a class.