It has been said that while out with friends Ernest Hemingway placed a $10 wager that he could write a story in six words. His skeptical comrades doubted a novel could be so brief and placed their bets. Hemingway then wrote on a cocktail napkin “For sale, baby shoes, never worn,” with which he won the bet.
The story has been questioned as to whether it was actually Hemingway who penned it, as different versions have been documented earlier in history. Regardless it is still a very potent collection of six words that reveals the arbitrary relationship of words and groups of words (signifiers), and the their meanings (signified).
With this story, an example of a flash novel, the reader immediately jumps to conclusions as to why the baby shoes could have never been worn, and the common conclusion is quite saddening. According to Jacques Derrida, a French philosopher, words do not always posses clear fixed meanings, yet the reader transfixes a meaning to this short story. It may be about someone who didn’t want their baby to wear a certain style of shoes, but instead the reader assumes the baby may not have been alive to wear the shoes. The denotation of the story is that someone is selling baby shoes; the connotation is that the baby who should be wearing the shoes died.
Hemingway was a prolific existentialist author who abandoned common style to form a minimalist narrative all his own. In his writing he uses each word systematically creating a flow of prose that captivates his reader (or at least some, many are not as impressed by his style as I). His use of language often encapsulates the common mindset of the time he was living in. He was part of a society many called the “Lost Generation” because they were post-wartime expatriates who lived life purely to exist, create art, and quite often to drink and enjoy themselves.
Even if the shortest story ever written was not in actuality penned by Hemingway, it is still an excellent example of how arbitrary words can be.
“Prose is architecture, not interior decoration, and the Baroque is over.”
“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”