Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea: A Huge Success Still Read by Many

Ernest Hemingway was an American novelist and short story writer whose legacy will live forever. Many of his stories came from his own life experiences, especially those that occurred in World War I, the Spanish Civil War and World War II. Hemingway was a fascinating man and his approach to writing has changed American literature eternally. He has had a considerable amount of influence on American literature, particularly in the twentieth century and writers continue to draw inspiration from his style and approach.

Hemingway was born in Oak Park, Illinois, on July 21, 1899. He was the firstborn son of Clarence and Grace Hemingway in a family of six children. His father was a physician and his mother was a homemaker, yet had a considerable talent for singing. Grace Hemingway was trained from her youth to sing opera. She was able to earn money by appearing in recitals and giving both music and voice lessons.

Although his mother would have preferred him to have been interested in music, he was more involved with sports and writing. While he attended Oak Park and River Forest High School he was a boxer and a football player. As well as being involved with athletics, he was also the editor for both his school’s newspaper and their literary magazine. In 1916, at the age of seventeen, Hemingway graduated from high school and although he did not pursue a college education, he earned a position as a reporter for the Kansas City Star. Even though he only remained working at the newspaper for six months, he used the Star’s style guide as a foundation for his writing throughout the rest of his writing career. This way of writing is simple; “Use short sentences.

Use short first paragraphs. Use vigorous English. Be positive, not negative” (Wikipedia). Against his father’s wishes, Hemingway attempted to join the United States Army during World War I. He didn’t pass the medical examination because he had poor vision. As an alternative, he joined the American Field Service ambulance Corps and was sent to Italy. While at war, Hemingway witnessed many fatalities and had to collect human remains on many occasions. This was his first cruel encounter with human death, which left him traumatized. In 1918, Hemingway was wounded by an Austrian trench mortar shell, which left fragments in both of his legs.

As a result, he was discharged from the Italian army and returned to his hometown, Oak Park. Shortly after his return, in 1921, he married Hadley Richardson. After only being married a short time, he had a scandalous affair with Deborah Houston. In 1923, his first book, Three Stories and Ten Poems, was published. In the same year, his first son, John, was born. In 1926, Hemingway wrote The Sun Also Rises and the following year he married his second wife, Pauline Pfeiffer and published a collection of his short stories, Men Without Women.

In 1928, Hemingway’s father, Clarence committed suicide using an old Civil War pistol, which caused his family great grief. The same year of his father’s death, Hemingway’s second son, Patrick, was born in Kansas City. Hemingway published many of his works during the 1930’s, including The Fifth Column, which was his only full-length play, and forty-nine of his short stories.

In 1936, Hemingway went to Spain and served as a war correspondent during the Spanish Civil War. Only five years later, on December 8, 1941, the United States entered World War II, and for the first time in his life, Hemingway is known to have taken an active part in a war. Following the war, he began to work on The Garden of Eden and The Sea in Being, which later became, The Old Man and the Sea. The Old Man and the Sea was published in 1952. This novella earned Hemingway a tremendous amount of success, which probably satisfied and fulfilled him for the last time in his life (Wikipedia). The Old Man and the Sea “earned him both the Pulitzer Prize in 1953 and the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1954, and restored his reputation” (Wikipedia).

Soon after, he was in two plane crashes where he was seriously injured and scarred for life. Along with many injuries, his serious health issues included alcoholism and high blood pressure, which contributed greatly to his depression. As a result of these many issues, he lost his estate outside Havana, Cuba and was forced to leave and remain in Ketchum, Idaho (Wikipedia). In 1960 and 1961, Hemingway developed paranoia due to a great fear that FBI agents would arrest him for gross immorality. In May of 1960, he was unable to publish his novel, The Dangerous Summer.

As a result, he asked his wife, Mary Welsh, to request that one of her friends, Will Lang Jr., who was the head of LIFE magazine, leave Paris and go to Spain. While in Spain, Hemingway and Lang came to an agreement so that the manuscript would be printed along with a picture layout. On September 5, 1960, the first part of the story appeared, and then the other parts followed in various issues of LIFE magazine.

Less than a year later, Hemingway’s health conditions became extremely serious and he was receiving treatment in Idaho for his high blood pressure, liver problems, and depression. Electroconvulsive therapy was used for both his severe depression and paranoia. In the spring of 1961, he attempted suicide and so the doctors ordered that he receive electroconvulsive therapy again. Unfortunately, this did not prevent his suicide on the morning of July 2, 1961, which was of a self-inflicted shotgun explosion to the head.

Although Hemingway had an unfortunate death at the age of 61, his influence and legacy are considerable and continue to currently exist. Hemingway is said to have inspired many writers such as J.D. Salinger, Jack Kerouac, Douglas Coupland, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez (Wikipedia). Hemingway’s works were influenced by the alteration in literature during his time period.
“Change was the norm of the time as new advances in technology, radical new social theories, and two brutal world wars changed the face of the world forever. The violence of both World War I and World War II was unprecedented and terrible, and these two conflicts help to shatter all illusions of the romanticism of war” (UNCP).

During Hemingway’s lifetime there were many changes in the art of literature which affected Hemingway’s writings in various ways. However, he remained using his own writing styles. Hemingway felt that, “For a true writer, each book should be a new beginning where he tries again for something that is beyond attainment. He should try for something that has never been done or that others have tried and failed.

Then sometimes, with good luck, he will succeed” (Multimedia). This approach is what he believed was necessary for the foundation of a worthy piece of work and is portrayed throughout his writings. Hemingway illustrates a series of symbolic patterns and characters that derive their meanings from universal and subliminal messages in our psyches. The major themes that are revealed in Hemingway’s novella, The Old Man and the Sea, are very significant and relate to his personal life experiences.

A theme is a fundamental and frequently universal idea that is explored in a literary work (Sparknotes). The honor in struggle, defeat and death is a very large theme in this novella. In the very first paragraph Hemingway characterizes Santiago, an old fisherman, as someone who is struggling against defeat. He has not caught a fish in eighty-four days and yet, he refuses to surrender. Instead, he chooses to sail out beyond all of the other fisherman because the biggest fish is promised to be there.

He catches a marlin and after a brutal three-day fight, he must continue to fight off sharks, so that they don’t steal his prey. He knows that the battle is useless and yet he does not give up and continuously attempts to be undefeated. This is one of the main reasons why some people view a major theme in the novella as man’s battle against the natural world. However, others believe that it is a story of man’s place within nature (Sparknotes). Hemingway illustrates that man may go against the natural world, but that it part of his identity.

“‘âÂ?¦man is not made for defeat,’ he said. ‘A man can be destroyed but not defeated (103).”’ Santiago says and believes this concept to be very true. Defeat is to be disappointingly unsuccessful and to be beaten or overcome (Dictionary). To be destroyed is to be ruined completely or demolished (Dictionary).
Santiago, though destroyed at the end of the novella, is never defeated. Instead, he emerges as a hero. Santiago’s struggle does not enable him to change man’s place in the world. Rather, it enables him to meet his most dignified destiny. (Sparknotes)

Santiago is very brave. Although he is an old man, he remains strong under great mental strain and through incredible physical battle. He must experience the danger and suffering of the experience in order to achieve his goal. Experience is a part of life which gives man his true identity. On the other hand, relationships interpret strength and dignity. Hemingway portrays this through Manolin’s behavior. Manolin is a young boy who follows and listens to Santiago’s wisdom.
Manolin admires Santiago and takes good care of him by making sure that he has food, is warm, and has the basic necessities.

There are two main characters throughout this novella, Santiago and the marlin. Although one is a human being and one is a fish, they have much in common. Not only do they display similar qualities of honor, bravery, and pride, they are also both subject to the same eternal law, which is that they must kill or they will be killed. Santiago believes that no living thing can escape the inevitable struggle that will lead to its death (Sparknotes).

The marlin has much significance in the novella. It is magnificent and glorious. It symbolizes the ultimate opponent and challenge. Santiago feels as though luck is what matched him against such a marvelous creature; a creature that brings out the best in him. His strength, courage, love, respect, and dedication are all conveyed because of this creature.
Although the young boy only appears in the beginning and end of the novella, there is a lot of symbolism that is portrayed through him. The young boy, Manolin, learns how to fish from Santiago. Manolin most probably symbolizes hope and joy for Santiago. Because of this, he and Santiago have a very strong friendship. The boy cares very much for Santiago and has much respect for him. In the story, the anonymous narrator informs the reader that “the old man taught the boy to fish and the boy loved him” (10).

The symbolism of Santiago’s character and personality is portrayed to the reader in a very conspicuous manner.
Santiago’s name derives from San Diego (Saint James), suggesting the old man’s ties to the Christian religion, and he embodies much of that religion. His strong right hand is his salvation, his left a traitor to his body. He carries his mast up the hill to his home and falls under it like Christ bearing His cross, he is resurrected after three days during which he is presumed dead, and finally, in one unmistakable symbolic line, he cries out as a man would “feeling the nail go through his hand and into the wood”. (Literary)

Although it is not blatantly stated in the text, The Old Man and the Sea relates to Hemingway’s personal life in many ways. Santiago’s fight with nature represents the troubles of existence.

Like Santiago, Hemingway had been a notable expert in his field but had seemed to decline as he aged. The long drought that followed the triumph of For Whom the Bell Tolls can be equated with Santiago’s eighty-four days without a catch. Hemingway would make a case for identifying him with Santiago in 1954 when, in his Nobel Prize acceptance statement, he wrote that a writer’s task was to try for something he could not hope to attain, that the writer “is driven far out past where he can go, out to where no one can help him”. With this book, Hemingway had shown that he could still achieve a major triumph, whether or not the reviewers and critics (sharks) or the public (the two tourists at the end of the book) could appreciate the true worth of his achievement. (Literary)

Ernest Hemingway was an American novelist and short story writer whose legacy will live forever. The Old Man and the Sea was the last novel he published in his lifetime. It gave him the satisfaction of being awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the Nobel Prize in Literature. The Old Man and the Sea was not about his experiences in war, which he wrote about in some of his short stories and in his novel, The Sun Also Rises.

The Old Man and the Sea is primarily about his overall life experiences. He included the way he viewed life, but more so, that he believed that man can be destroyed, but not defeated. The Old Man and the Sea is quite different from all of Hemingway’s other works because it discusses the issue of “man’s struggle for triumph in a world that seems designed to destroy him” (Sparknotes).

In the beginning of his career, Hemingway was rather successful but then had a downfall, especially with his novel, Across the River and Into the Trees, which was published in 1950. It was his first novel in ten years and although at the time he claimed to friends that it was his best yet, critics disagreed and called the novel the worst thing Hemmingway had ever written. It seems as though Hemingway wrote a story about what he was experiencing in his own life at the time. His novel, The Sun Also Rises was written only six weeks after he returned from a war and he related much of his experiences in that war to his novel.

In 1952, he published The Old Man and the Sea which was a huge success. Although The Old Man and the Sea was the last novel published in Hemingway’s lifetime, it regenerated his writing career. Hemingway has influenced many writers since his time, and his writings continue to influence today’s writers. Hemingway was a huge success and was able to triumph in a world that he felt was designed to destroy him (Sparknotes).

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