6 Word Story Solemnly Modernized

Ernest Hemingway once penned a six-word story, which reads as follows:

“For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

He later credited this as his life’s best work. Many regard Hemingway’s “Baby Shoes” as the best of its kind. I’d have to agree with that sentiment, even though I’ve limited experience with the art form.

What I want to explore today is how the meaning of that simple six word story has changed over time. The apparent intention of Mr. Hemingway was to depict a sad tale of infant mortality. The obvious intent of a six word story is to be concise, but the mere simplicity in his word choices invoke not only the child’s brief life and the implied grief of the family, but also the utter sadness and power of the tragedy. Unless anyone finds another way to interpret the story, there’s really not much else to ponder.

I’ve been ruminating on this micro-story for some time now, and I keep returning to and pondering the incredible irony and revelation in the work when examined through a modern day lens. At the time of Hemingway’s writing of this story, there was pretty much only one approach to its interpretation. Fast forward to today however, and there seems to be a new way to read his thoughts and intentions.

To explain this train of thought, I need to offer some historical perspective. In “those days”, a family would most likely not purchase or acquire baby shoes (or anything for that matter) without absolute intention in utilizing that item. Weather it be hand me downs, new purchases, or other means; goods were obtained for specific and obvious utility, duration, and function. So the tragedy in this story comes from the fact that these baby shoes were fully intended for use- and when the situation arose that they were not needed and subsequently sold- the grief and sadness becomes apparent. Simple, heartbreaking, true.

When I think of this same story in the context of modern times, I come to very different conclusions. I am aware that todays world is very different. We now live in a society that sometimes urges us to consume for the sake of consuming. We buy much more than we need, live above our means, and often times resort to storage unit space because of this trend. We buy to keep up with the Jones’, we spend to “feel better”, we purchase to “better our lives”, and sometimes we buy/ spend/ purchase because we “need”. What a concept huh!?

So, think of Hemingway’s masterpiece in this aforementioned context. Really- think about it. After having done so, I don’t read his story with the same heartache and sadness. I don’t read the story with the same clarity and vividness. I now read the story with the inflection of a question rather then the assertiveness of a strong statement. Why you ask?

It comes down to a basic premise- one which plays off my original evaluation of Hemingway’s story. As read currently, I have options as to what the story may mean. Could the baby shoes be the wrong size; only to be thrown into a closet and never utilized? Could the parents have bought two different pairs of shoes- one name brand and one generic brand; and then decided to only use one pair, thus relegating the other to the “sale bin”? Could someone else have gotten the shoes for the baby/ family in a gifting manner, and again not be of any use at the present time?

Each of these scenarios could be true, as could several others. Either way, there doesn’t seem to be the same relevance, immediacy, and genuine tug of the heart strings that the original had. I don’t mean to infer that the story can’t stand the test of time (or maybe I am?) I’m more ruminating on the fact that taken into current contexts, it just doesn’t pack the punch it once did. It’s almost as if it’s been sullied by our “progress”, where it now requires thought and context rather then a purely visceral response by the reader.

I don’t quite know how to react to my thoughts on this one? Has the arc of time made us too complicated , to cumbersome in our materialism and consumerism, overly concerned with outlying status quo’s and competition. Are we incapable of describing our worlds in six words anymore? I sure hope not, and I’m fairly certain that Mr. Hemingway would be astonished that someone could read his masterpiece and not come away with a clear and resolute feeling.


One of the reasons I began thinking about this topic is due to a recent chord that was struck in my mind. An NPR radio show (podcast) that I love called “On The Media” recently held their “12 Word Novel Contest“, and it jogged this whole train of thought. While not the 6 word type that Hemingway nailed down, it’s still a rewarding, enjoyable, and enlightening segment. It’s worth checking out, as there is definitely hope for the simple and short form of writing. It’s definitely not lost on today’s world!

Have fun chewing on all this fat I put on your plate!
AM Son


One Response to “6 Word Story Solemnly Modernized”

  1. Great read man! I really enjoyed your perspective on the story. Myself and Breinn had not heard of that story before and i can see/understand your point of view. Nicely done.

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