Author: Martha Gellhorn
Article: Men Without Medals ( 1938)
Publisher: Collier’s The National Weekly, Vol. 101, No. 3
Article: Night Life in the Sky (1945)
Publisher: Collier’s The National Weekly, Vol. 115, No. 11
Martha Gellhorn (see fig. 1) was an American novelist and journalist who was considered by the London Daily Telegraph to be one of the greatest war correspondents of the 20th century. She reported on nearly every significant world conflict that occurred during her 60- year career. She was also the third wife of novelist, Ernest Hemingway.
Last class we purposefully read Martha Gellhorn’s Men Without Medals and Ernest Hemingway’s Hemingway Reports Spain back-to-back because they are two accounts of the same experience. Hemingway reports on specific events during the Spanish Civil War through a style that is wordy, lacks dialogue and embodies a long sentence structure. In contrast, Gellhorn uses dialogue, vivid scene description, suspense, and a fairly consistent style to advance her story. All of these attribute to our preference of Gellhorn’s account of the Spanish Civil War over Hemingway’s.
The first element of Gellhorn’s writing that captivated us was her ability to paint a scene and attempt to take her audience to the trenches in Spain through her vivid imagery and detailed descriptions. At the beginning of her article, she does this when she sets the scene of Belchite (see fig.2): “Once it had been a town, circled by a wall, standing like a gray rock on a gray hill. Around it were the stony highlands of Aragon, with the orange-colored dust blowing. Belchite had caved in under artillery fire and aerial bombardment” (9).
Unlike Hemingway, Gellhorn uses dialogue to advance her story. Both she and Hemingway interviewed Robert Merriman (see fig. 3), a former California University professor and Chief of Staff of the Fifteenth Brigade. Not only does Gellhorn provide detailed paraphrasing of Merriman’s explanations but she implements dialogue: “‘The boys did well,’ Merriman said” (10). Another example is evident in the next paragraph when Merriman says: “This is a fine brigade we’ve got here. . . ” (10).
A technique evident in Gellhorn’s writing of which we failed to see in earlier forms of literary journalism is the element of suspense. Gellhorn uses this with her title Men Without Medals. She does not reveal the meaning of this title until the third to last paragraph. She says: “In this war, there are no rewards you could name. There are no Congressional medals, no Distinguished Service Crosses, no bonuses for soldiers’ families, no newspaper glory. And what you get paid, every day, would buy a soft drink and a pack of cigarettes in America, but no more” (49).
Moving on to her article Night Life in the Sky, which was published seven years later in 1945, Gellhorn takes more of a personal approach. During an intense time period, approximately one month before the end of WWII, she wrote this article of a Collier’s girl flying over Germany.
The most evident structural element she embodies is the contrast between description and dialogue. This is immediately noticeable from the first scene: “In the daytime the field was ugly as all forward airfields are, with the improvised buildings of the Ninth Air Force squadrons and a tent hospital outlining its edges” (1). After describing the scene of the squadron headquarters Gellhorn counteracts the descriptions with great dialogue from the commanding major: “‘Lady,’ he said earnestly, ‘everyone shoots at us. Friendly bombers and friendly flak and enemy flak and enemy fighters. . .'” (1). Following this is again, the pattern of description followed by dialogue that Gellhorn embodies throughout this entire article. This is an effective way to keep her readers’ attention by contrasting these two elements successfully.