Hemingway's six words

A couple people suggested that Hemingway’s (allegedly) six word story need not be interpreted as tragic. Here it is, again: For Sale. Baby shoes, never used.

Some of you came up with far more interesting six word stories, but for the moment let’s stick with this one, which I called melodramatic and overwrought. My first read on this (and I’m not alone) is that the baby in question did not live to wear the shoes. Of course you could approach it differently. A lot of possibilities come to mind, some of them grizzly: baby born without feet or with deformed feet; really ugly baby shoes received as a gift, and the mother needs every penny she can scratch together; the mother received perfectly fine baby shoes as a gift, but she belongs to a religion which requires its faithful to go barefoot until the age of two; shoes were made in China, and parents won’t buy or accept gifts from China because they are protesting civil rights violations in that country.

You could go on like this for a long time, but the fact remains that if you only have six words, there is no space for explanations. The most obvious interpretation is the one you have to bank on. You could play with the six words you’ve got:

For sale: ugly unused baby shoes.

Need food. Selling extra baby shoes.

Buy booties: Proceeds fund reconstructive surgeries.

These certainly get a more nuanced message across, but do they work? I would say that they don’t, because the original’s problem is also its strength. It’s overwrought, but it also works at capturing the reader’s imagination.

So one final question. What do you take away from an exercise like this? Maybe it’s just a party trick, like balancing a plate on a stick. Is there something to be learned?