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Teaching Hemingway and Fitzgerald with Michael Ortiz: Into the Writer’s Workshop

In the opening paragraph of his Confessions, St. Augustine writes, “our hearts are restless until they rest in You.”  For many, the first half of this famous line is a well-known feeling; it is, in many ways, “the feeling of actual life,” to put it in Hemingway’s own terms. Indeed, there lives deep down a desire in all of our hearts for some mysterious reality — a green light across the bay — which seems to forever escape our grasp. Many are dreamers; fewer have found an object worthy of the greatness of their yearning. 

What do we do about a situation such as this? And what, if anything, can modern literature do to help us?

This week, we sit down with Mike Ortiz to discuss one of the Upper School’s new courses in the English Department. The course we discuss considers two men who, though both great American authors of the first half of the twentieth century, differed greatly in both their lifestyles and their styles of writing.  The authors are the effervescent and romantic F. Scott Fitzgerald and the macho, realist Ernest Hemingway.  

For all their differences, however, both men shared at least one trait: a taste for the tragedies of life. Although their styles may diverge syntactically and verbally, the substance of what they express hits the reader with an equally direct force.  

In this episode, Mike helps us approach some of the darker aspects of these two men’s lives and literature, seeing their works in the broader context of their lives and their lives in the broader context of our liberal arts curriculum at The Heights. 

It’s difficult, Mike’s interlocutor reminds us, to be truly a man fully alive and not feel much pain, for to have lived fully is to have loved with a full heart; and, on this side of paradise, to have loved means to have suffered much. But, as we hear in the episode, reading and studying great authors such as these and, what is more, learning to see the tragic characters of their works in a broad context may be more than a little help in preparing our students to face the many tragic romances of a dreamer and encounter the realism of true Romance.


  • 2:17 Background to Hemingway’s Good Friday
  • 5:55 A New Model for English Classes
  • 10:44 The Great Contrast: A Romantic and A Realist
    • 16:05 The Iceberg Theory 
  • 23:13 How to Read Modern Literature without Becoming a Cynic
    • 26:35 The Danger of Cynicism
    • 28:00 To Get the Feeling of Actual Life
  • 30:05 From The Sun Also Rises
    • 35:04 The Loneliness and Inadequacy of Promiscuity 
  • 37:38 From The Great Gatsby 
    • 41:14 A Dreamer without an Object
  • 43:30 From My Lost City 
    • 44:30 Called Back to Love: Dante and Fitzgerald
  • 45:40 From Troubled live to Decline and Death
  • 50:15 The Tragedy Behind the Tragedy

Further Reading

Today is Friday by Ernest Hemingway

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway

This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald 

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

My Lost City by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Hemingway’s Brain by Andrew Farah

On Stories by C.S. Lewis

The Troubled Catholicism of Ernest Hemingway by Robert Inchausti

Also on The Forum

Hemingway’s Good Friday by Mike Ortiz

Modern Literature: On Curating the Contemporary with Mike Ortiz

Exploring and Expressing the Human Condition through Literature with Mike Ortiz

About the Guest

Michael Ortiz


Mike Ortiz teaches twelfth grade AP English. He is a recipient of three National Endowment for the Humanities fellowships, including participation in the Independent Summer Scholar Program. He holds a B.A. in English from Saint Anselm College and an M.A. in English from Georgetown University. He began teaching at the School in 1985. His children’s novel Swan Town: The Secret Journal of Susanna Shakespeare (HarperCollins) was published in 2006. His latest book, Like the First Morning: The Morning Offering as a Daily Renewal (Ave Maria Press) was released in April 2015.

He and his wife, Kathleen, have two sons, David, ‘11 (UNC Chapel Hill, BA, University of Virginia, JD) and Daniel, ’14 (University of Chicago, AB, MSt, University of Oxford), and two daughters, Sarah (Notre Dame, BA,, M.Ed), and Caroline (Princeton, AB) who are graduates of Oakcrest School in Virginia.

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