in full Ernest Miller Hemingway
born July 21, 1899, Cicero [now in Oak Park], Illinois, U.S.
died July 2, 1961, Ketchum, Idaho
American novelist and short-story writer, awarded the Nobel Prize for
Literature in 1954. He was noted both for the intense masculinity of his
writing and for his adventurous and widely publicized life. His succinct
and lucid prose style exerted a powerful influence on American and
British fiction in the 20th century.
The first son of Clarence Edmonds Hemingway, a doctor, and Grace Hall
Hemingway, Ernest Miller Hemingway was born in a suburb of Chicago. He
was educated in the public schools and began to write in high school,
where he was active and outstanding, but the parts of his boyhood that
mattered most were summers spent with his family on Walloon Lake in
upper Michigan. On graduation from high school in 1917, impatient for a
less-sheltered environment, he did not enter college but went to Kansas
City, where he was employed as a reporter for the Star. He was
repeatedly rejected for military service because of a defective eye, but
he managed to enter World War I as an ambulance driver for the American
Red Cross. On July 8, 1918, not yet 19 years old, he was injured on the
Austro-Italian front at Fossalta di Piave. Decorated for heroism and
hospitalized in Milan, he fell in love with a Red Cross nurse, Agnes von
Kurowsky, who declined to marry him. These were experiences he was never
After recuperating at home, Hemingway renewed his efforts at writing,
for a while worked at odd jobs in Chicago, and sailed for France as a
foreign correspondent for the Toronto Star. Advised and encouraged by
other American writers in Paris—F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein,
Ezra Pound—he began to see his nonjournalistic work appear in print
there, and in 1925 his first important book, a collection of stories
called In Our Time, was published in New York City; it was originally
released in Paris in 1924. In 1926 he published The Sun Also Rises, a
novel with which he scored his first solid success. A pessimistic but
sparkling book, it deals with a group of aimless expatriates in France
and Spain—members of the postwar Lost Generation, a phrase that
Hemingway scorned while making it famous. This work also introduced him
to the limelight, which he both craved and resented for the rest of his
life. Hemingway’s The Torrents of Spring, a parody of the American
writer Sherwood Anderson’s book Dark Laughter, also appeared in 1926.
The writing of books occupied Hemingway for most of the postwar
years. He remained based in Paris, but he traveled widely for the
skiing, bullfighting, fishing, and hunting that by then had become part
of his life and formed the background for much of his writing. His
position as a master of short fiction had been advanced by Men Without
Women in 1927 and thoroughly established with the stories in Winner Take
Nothing in 1933. Among his finest stories are The Killers, The Short
Happy Life of Francis Macomber, and The Snows of Kilimanjaro. At least
in the public view, however, the novel A Farewell to Arms (1929)
overshadowed such works. Reaching back to his experience as a young
soldier in Italy, Hemingway developed a grim but lyrical novel of great
power, fusing love story with war story. While serving with the Italian
ambulance service during World War I, the American lieutenant Frederic
Henry falls in love with the English nurse Catherine Barkley, who tends
him during his recuperation after being wounded. She becomes pregnant by
him, but he must return to his post. Henry deserts during the Italians’
disastrous retreat after the Battle of Caporetto, and the reunited
couple flee Italy by crossing the border into Switzerland. There,
however, Catherine and her baby die during childbirth, and Henry is left
desolate at the loss of the great love of his life.
Hemingway’s love of Spain and his passion for bullfighting resulted
in Death in the Afternoon (1932), a learned study of a spectacle he saw
more as tragic ceremony than as sport. Similarly, a safari he took in
1933–34 in the big-game region of Tanganyika resulted in The Green Hills
of Africa (1935), an account of big-game hunting. Mostly for the
fishing, he purchased a house in Key West, Florida, and bought his own
fishing boat. A minor novel of 1937 called To Have and Have Not is about
a Caribbean desperado and is set against a background of lower-class
violence and upper-class decadence in Key West during the Great
By now Spain was in the midst of civil war. Still deeply attached to
that country, Hemingway made four trips there, once more a
correspondent. He raised money for the Republicans in their struggle
against the Nationalists under General Francisco Franco, and he wrote a
play called The Fifth Column (1938), which is set in besieged Madrid. As
in many of his books, the protagonist of the play is based on the
author. Following his last visit to the Spanish war, he purchased Finca
Vigía (“Lookout Farm”), an unpretentious estate outside Havana, Cuba,
and went to cover another war—the Japanese invasion of China.
The harvest of Hemingway’s considerable experience of Spain in war
and peace was the novel For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940), a substantial
and impressive work that some critics consider his finest novel, in
preference to A Farewell to Arms. It was also the most successful of all
his books as measured in sales. Set during the Spanish Civil War, it
tells of Robert Jordan, an American volunteer who is sent to join a
guerrilla band behind the Nationalist lines in the Guadarrama Mountains.
Most of the novel concerns Jordan’s relations with the varied
personalities of the band, including the girl Maria, with whom he falls
in love. Through dialogue, flashbacks, and stories, Hemingway offers
telling and vivid profiles of the Spanish character and unsparingly
depicts the cruelty and inhumanity stirred up by the civil war. Jordan’s
mission is to blow up a strategic bridge near Segovia in order to aid a
coming Republican attack, which he realizes is doomed to fail. In an
atmosphere of impending disaster, he blows up the bridge but is wounded
and makes his retreating comrades leave him behind, where he prepares a
last-minute resistance to his Nationalist pursuers.
All of his life Hemingway was fascinated by war—in A Farewell to Arms
he focused on its pointlessness, in For Whom the Bell Tolls on the
comradeship it creates—and, as World War II progressed, he made his way
to London as a journalist. He flew several missions with the Royal Air
Force and crossed the English Channel with American troops on D-Day
(June 6, 1944). Attaching himself to the 22nd Regiment of the 4th
Infantry Division, he saw a good deal of action in Normandy and in the
Battle of the Bulge. He also participated in the liberation of Paris,
and, although ostensibly a journalist, he impressed professional
soldiers not only as a man of courage in battle but also as a real
expert in military matters, guerrilla activities, and intelligence
Following the war in Europe, Hemingway returned to his home in Cuba
and began to work seriously again. He also traveled widely, and, on a
trip to Africa, he was injured in a plane crash. Soon after (in 1953),
he received the Pulitzer Prize in fiction for The Old Man and the Sea
(1952), a short heroic novel about an old Cuban fisherman who, after an
extended struggle, hooks and boats a giant marlin only to have it eaten
by voracious sharks during the long voyage home. This book, which played
a role in gaining for Hemingway the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954,
was as enthusiastically praised as his previous novel, Across the River
and into the Trees (1950), the story of a professional army officer who
dies while on leave in Venice, had been damned.
By 1960 Fidel Castro’s revolution had driven Hemingway from Cuba. He
settled in Ketchum, Idaho, and tried to lead his life and do his work as
before. For a while he succeeded, but, anxiety-ridden and depressed, he
was twice hospitalized at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, where
he received electroshock treatments. Two days after his return to the
house in Ketchum, he took his life with a shotgun. Hemingway had married
four times and fathered three sons.
Hemingway left behind a substantial amount of manuscript, some of
which has been published. A Moveable Feast, an entertaining memoir of
his years in Paris (1921–26) before he was famous, was issued in 1964.
Islands in the Stream, three closely related novellas growing directly
out of his peacetime memories of the Caribbean island of Bimini, of
Havana during World War II, and of searching for U-boats off Cuba,
appeared in 1970.
Hemingway’s characters plainly embody his own values and view of
life. The main characters of The Sun Also Rises, A Farewell to Arms, and
For Whom the Bell Tolls are young men whose strength and self-confidence
nevertheless coexist with a sensitivity that leaves them deeply scarred
by their wartime experiences. War was for Hemingway a potent symbol of
the world, which he viewed as complex, filled with moral ambiguities,
and offering almost unavoidable pain, hurt, and destruction. To survive
in such a world, and perhaps emerge victorious, one must conduct oneself
with honour, courage, endurance, and dignity, a set of principles known
as “the Hemingway code.” To behave well in the lonely, losing battle
with life is to show “grace under pressure” and constitutes in itself a
kind of victory, a theme clearly established in The Old Man and the Sea.
Hemingway’s prose style was probably the most widely imitated of any
in the 20th century. He wished to strip his own use of language of
inessentials, ridding it of all traces of verbosity, embellishment, and
sentimentality. In striving to be as objective and honest as possible,
Hemingway hit upon the device of describing a series of actions by using
short, simple sentences from which all comment or emotional rhetoric has
been eliminated. These sentences are composed largely of nouns and
verbs, have few adjectives and adverbs, and rely on repetition and
rhythm for much of their effect. The resulting terse, concentrated prose
is concrete and unemotional yet is often resonant and capable of
conveying great irony through understatement. Hemingway’s use of
dialogue was similarly fresh, simple, and natural-sounding. The
influence of this style was felt worldwide wherever novels were written,
particularly from the 1930s through the ’50s.
A consummately contradictory man, Hemingway achieved a fame surpassed
by few, if any, American authors of the 20th century. The virile nature
of his writing, which attempted to re-create the exact physical
sensations he experienced in wartime, big-game hunting, and
bullfighting, in fact masked an aesthetic sensibility of great delicacy.
He was a celebrity long before he reached middle age, but his popularity
continues to be validated by serious critical opinion.
The Sun Also Rises
The cynical irony of the title—an oblique reference to narrator
Jake's mysterious First World War wound, and what no longer
rises because of it—sets the tone for this "Lost Generation"
novel. A band of cynical, hard-living expatriates swirls like a
hurricane around a comparatively peaceful eye, Jake. In its
depiction of the group's journey from I'entre deux guerres Paris
to Pamplona for July's fiesta, The Sun Also Rises captures a
war-shaken culture losing itself in drink and drama, and
eschewing all but the occasionally comforting illusion of
meaningful experience. Quixotically irascible, Robert Cohn
dramatizes the romantic hero's final crash into absurdity, as he
cultivates a disruptive infatuation with Jake's former lover,
Brett, who shares neither Cohn's intense affection nor his
fraught-with-significance worldview (though she does share his
bed). Jake, by contrast, forms the spiritual center of the
group, based on his stoic affability and capacity to withstand
even the most intense emotional agitation, merely thinking to
himself that he feels "damned bad." Condemned to be a perpetual
outsider, he experiences a tortured admiration for the cultural
values and aesthetics of Spain.
Hemingway's first major novel represented a stylistic
breakthrough. Though its influence on later writing has slightly
obscured its radical character, comparing the style of The Sun
Also Rises with those more established contemporaries, such as
Ford Madox Ford and Theodore Dreiser, gives a sense of
Hemingway's innovation. The spare, journalistic prose—embodying
the simple spirit of acceptance for which Jake is
revered—creates a language seemingly devoid of histrionics,
allowing characters and dynamics to come through cleanly and
clearly, to a perhaps still unequalled degree.
A Farewell to Arms
A Farewell to Arms is set in Italy and Switzerland during the
First World War. The very sparse and unadorned style of
Hemingway's narrator Frederic Henry provides a realistic and
unromanticized account of war on the Italian front and is
typical of the writing style that was to become the hallmark of
Hemingway's later writing. Henry's descriptions of war are in
sharp relief to the sentimental language of his affair with
Catherine, an English nurse he meets while recovering from an
injury in Turin.
The novel has been particularly praised for its realistic
depiction of war; this has often been attributed to personal
experience. However, while there are strong autobiographical
elements in the novel, the novelist's combat experience was more
limited than that of his protagonist. Hemingway did work as an
ambulance driver on the Italian front but for the Red Cross and
only for a few weeks in 1918. Hemingway also fell in love with a
nurse, Agnes von Kurowsky; but, unlike Frederic Henry,
Hemingway's advances were subsequently rebuffed.
A Farewell to Arms established Hemingway as a successful writer
and also as a spokesman of "The Lost Generation," a group of
American intellectuals who lived in Paris in the 1920s and 30s
and whose outlook—-shaped by the experience of the First World
War—was cynical and pessimistic.
A FAREWELL TO ARMS
Type of work: Novel
Author: Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961)
Type of plot: Impressionistic realism
Time of plot: World War I
Locale: Northern Italy and Switzerland
First published: 1929
This story of a tragic love affair is set on the Italian front
during World War I. Hemingway tells his tale with an abundance of
realistic detail. Rather than a celebration of the "Triumph of victory
and the agony of defeat" the author's vision is uncompromisingly
disillusioned. Not only is war useless, but efforts to maintain any
meaningful relationship with individuals in the modern world are equally
Lieutenant Frederic Henry, an American who has volunteered to serve with
an Italian ambulance unit during World War I. Like his Italian
companions, he enjoys drinking, trying to treat the war as a joke, and
(it is implied) visiting brothels. Before the beginning of a big
offensive he meets Catherine Barkley, one of a group of British nurses
assigned to staff a hospital unit. Henry begins the prelude to an affair
with her but is interrupted by having to go to the front during the
offensive; he is wounded, has an operation on his knee, and is sent to
recuperate in Milan, where he again meets Miss Barkley, falls in love
with her, and sleeps with her in his hospital room. When Henry returns
to the front, he knows Catherine is pregnant. In the retreat from
Caporetto, Henry is seized at a bridge across the Tagliamento River and
realizes he is about to be executed for deserting his troops. He escapes
by swimming the river. At Stresa he rejoins Catherine and, before he can
be arrested for desertion, the two lovers row across Lake Como to
Switzerland. For a few months they live happily at an inn near
Mon-treux—hiking, reading, and discussing American sights (such as
Niagara Falls, the stockyards, and the Golden Gate) that Catherine must
see after the war. Catherine is to have her baby in a hospital. Her
stillborn son is delivered by Caesarian section and that same night
Catherine dies. Lieutenant Henry walks back to his hotel through
darkness and rain. As developed by Hemingway, Henry is a protagonist who
is sensitive to the horrors and beauties of life and war. Many of his
reactions are subtly left for the reader to supply. At the end of the
novel, for instance, Henry feels sorrow and pity for the dead baby
strangled by the umbilical cord, but the full, unbearable weight of
Catherine's death falls upon the reader.
Catherine Barkley, the nurse whom Frederic Henry nicknames "Cat." She
had been engaged to a childhood sweetheart killed at the Somme. When she
falls in love with Henry she gives herself freely to him. Although they
both want to be married, she decides the ceremony would not be a proper
one while she is pregnant; she feels they are already married. Catherine
seems neither a deep thinker nor a very complex person; but she enjoys
life, especially good food, drink, and love. She has a premonition that
she will die in the rain; the premonition is tragically fulfilled at the
hospital in Lausanne.
Lieutenant Rinaldi, Frederick Henry's jokingly cynical friend. Over many
bottles they share their experiences and feelings. Although he denies
it, Rinaldi is a master of the art of priest-baiting. He is very fond of
girls, but he teases Henry about Catherine, calling her a "cool
The Priest, a young man who blushes easily but manages to survive the
oaths and obscenities of the soldiers. He hates the war and its horrors.
Piani, a big Italian soldier who sticks by Henry in the retreat from
Caporetto after the others in the unit have been killed or have
deserted. With other Italian soldiers he can be tough but with Henry he
is gentle and tolerant of what men suffer in wartime.
Helen Ferguson, a Scottish nurse who is Catherine Barkley's companion
when Frederic Henry arrives in Stresa. She is harsh with him because of
his affair with Catherine.
Count Greffi, ninety-four years old, a contemporary of Metternich and a
former diplomat with whom Frederic Henry plays billiards at Stresa. A
gentle cynic, he says that men do not become wise as they grow old; they
merely become more careful.
Ettore Moretti, an Italian from San Francisco serving in the Italian
army. Much decorated, he is a professional hero whom Frederic Henry
dislikes and finds boring.
Lieutenant Frederic Henry was a young American attached to an Italian
ambulance unit on the Italian Front. An offense was soon to begin, and
when Henry returned to the Front from leave, he learned from his friend,
Lieutenant Rinaldi, that a group of British nurses had arrived in his
absence to set up a British hospital unit. Rinaldi introduced him to
Nurse Catherine Barkley.
Between ambulance trips to evacuation posts at the Front, Henry called
on Miss Barkley. He liked the frank young English girl in a casual sort
of way, but he was not in love with her. Before he left for the Front to
stand by for an attack, she gave him a St. Anthony medal.
At the Front, as Henry and some Italian ambulance drivers were eating in
a dugout, an Austrian projectile exploded over them. Henry, badly
wounded in the legs, was taken to a field hospital. Later, he was moved
to a hospital in Milan.
Before the doctor was able to see Henry in Milan, the nurse prohibited
his drinking wine, but he bribed a porter to bring him a supply which he
kept hidden behind his bed. Catherine Barkley came to the hospital, and
Henry knew that he was in love with her. The doctors told Henry that he
would have to lie in bed six months before they could operate on his
knee. Henry insisted on seeing another doctor, who said that the
operation could be performed the next day. Meanwhile, Catherine managed
to be with Henry constantly.
After his operation, Henry convalesced in Milan with Catherine Barkley
as his attendant. Together they dined in out-of-the-way restaurants, and
together they rode about the countryside in a carriage. Henry was
restless and lonely at nights and Catherine often came to his hospital
Summer passed into autumn. Henry's wound had healed, and he was due to
take convalescent leave in October. He and Catherine planned to spend
the leave together, but he came down with jaundice before he could leave
the hospital. The head nurse accused him of bringing on the jaundice by
drink, in order to avoid being sent back to the Front. Before he left
for the Front, Henry and Catherine stayed together in a hotel room;
already she had disclosed to him that she was pregnant.
Henry returned to the Front with orders to load his three ambulances
with hospital equipment and go south into the Po valley. Morale was at a
low ebb. Rinaldi admired the job that had been done on the knee and
observed that Henry acted like a married man. War weariness was
all-pervasive. At the Front, the Italians, having learned that German
divisions had reinforced the Austrians, began their terrible retreat
from Caporetto. Henry drove one of the ambulances loaded with hospital
supplies. During the retreat south, the ambulance was held up several
times by wagons, guns, and trucks which extended in stalled lines for
miles. Henry picked up two straggling Italian sergeants. During the
night, the retreat was halted in the rain for hours.
At daybreak, Henry cut out of the long line and drove across country in
an attempt to reach Udine by side roads. The ambulance got stuck in a
muddy side road. The sergeants decided to leave, but Henry asked them to
help dislodge the car from the mud. They refused and ran. Henry shot and
wounded one; the other escaped across the fields. An Italian ambulance
corpsman with Henry shot the wounded sergeant through the back of the
head. Henry and his three comrades struck out on foot for Udine. On a
bridge, Henry saw a German staff car with German bicycle troops crossing
another bridge over the same stream. Within sight of Udine, one of
Henry's group was killed by an Italian sniper. The others hid in a barn
until it seemed safe to circle around Udine and join the mainstream of
the retreat toward the Tagliamento River.
By that time, the Italian army was nothing but a frantic mob. Soldiers
were throwing down their arms and officers were cutting insignia of rank
from their sleeves. At the end of a long wooden bridge across the
Tagliamento, military carabinieri were seizing all officers, giving them
drumhead trials, and executing them by the riverbank. Henry was
detained, but in the dark of night he broke free, plunged into the
river, and escaped on a log. He crossed the Venetian plain on foot, then
jumped aboard a freight train and rode to Milan, where he went to the
hospital in which he had been a patient. There he learned that the
English nurses had gone to Stresa.
During the retreat from Caporetto, Henry had made his farewell to arms.
He borrowed civilian clothes from an American friend in Milan and went
by train to Stresa, where he met Catherine, who was on leave. The
bartender of the hotel in which Henry was staying warned Henry that
authorities were planning to arrest him for desertion the next morning;
he offered his boat by means of which Henry and Catherine could escape
to Switzerland. Henry rowed all night. By morning, his hands were so raw
that he could barely stand to touch the oars. Over his protests,
Catherine took a turn at the rowing. They reached Switzerland safely and
were arrested. Henry told the police that he was a sportsman who enjoyed
rowing and that he had come to Switzerland for the winter sports. The
valid passports and the ample funds that Henry and Catherine possessed
saved them from serious trouble with the authorities.
During the rest of the fall and winter, the couple stayed at an inn
outside Montreux. They discussed marriage, but Catherine would not be
married while she was pregnant. They hiked, read, and talked about what
they would do together after the war.
When the time for Catherine's confinement approached, she and Henry went
to Lausanne to be near a hospital. They planned to return to Montreux in
the spring. At the hospital, Catherine's pains caused the doctor to use
an anaesthetic on her. After hours of suffering she delivered a dead
baby. The nurse sent Henry out to get something to eat. When he went
back to the hospital, he learned that Catherine had had a hemorrhage. He
went into the room and stayed with her until she died. There was nothing
he could do, no one he could talk to, no place he could go. Catherine
was dead. He left the hospital and walked back to his hotel in the dark.
It was raining.
Ernest Hemingway once referred to A Farewell to Arms as his Romeo and
Juliet. Without insisting on a qualitative comparison, several parallels
are obvious. Both works are about "star-crossed" lovers, both show
erotic flirtations that rapidly develop into serious, intense, mature
love affairs, and both describe the romances against a backdrop of
social and political turmoil. Whether Ë Farewell to Arms finally
qualifies as tragic is a matter of personal opinion, but it certainly
represents, for Hemingway, an attempt to broaden his concerns from the
aimless tragicomic problems of the expatriates in The Sun Also Rises
(1926) to the fundamental question of life's meaning in the face of
Frederic Henry begins the affair as a routine wartime seduction, "a
game, like bridge, in which you said things instead of playing cards."
He feels mildly guilty, especially after learning about Catherine's
vulnerability because of the loss of her lover in combat, but he still
foresees no complications from the temporary arrangement. It is not
until he is wounded and sent to her hospital in Milan that their affair
deepens into love—and from that point on, they struggle to free
themselves in order to realize it. Yet they are constantly thwarted,
first by the impersonal bureaucracy of the military effort, then by the
physical separation imposed by the war itself, and, finally, by the
biological "accident" that kills Catherine at the point where their
"separate peace" at last seems possible.
As Henry's love for Catherine grows, his disillusionment with the war
also increases. From the beginning of the book, Henry views the military
efforts with ironic detachment, but there is no suggestion that, prior
to his meeting with her, he has had any deep reservations about his
involvement. Hemingway's attitude toward war was always an ambiguous
one. Like Henry, he felt that "abstract words such as glory, honor,
courage, or hallow were obscene." For the individual, however, war could
be the necessary test. Facing imminent death in combat, one either
demonstrated "grace under pressure" and did the "one right thing" or one
did not; one either emerged from the experience as a whole person with
self-knowledge and control, or one came out of it lost and broken.
There is little heroism in this war as Henry describes it. The hero's
disengagement from the fighting is made most vivid in the extended
"retreat from Caporetto," generally considered one of the great
sequences in modern fiction. The retreat begins in an orderly,
disciplined, military manner. Yet as it progresses, authority breaks
down, emotions of self-preservation supersede loyalties, and the neat
military procession gradually turns into a panicking mob. Henry is
caught up in the momentum and carried along with the group in spite of
his attempts to keep personal control and fidelity to the small band of
survivors he travels with. Upon reaching the Tagliamento River, Henry is
seized, along with all other identifiable officers, and held for
execution. After he escapes by leaping into the river—an act of ritual
purification as well as physical survival—he feels that his trial has
freed him from any and all further loyalty to the Allied cause.
Henry then rejoins Catherine, and they complete the escape together. In
Switzerland, they seem lucky and free at last. Up in the mountains, they
hike, ski, make love, prepare for the baby, and plan for their postwar
life together. Yet even in their most idyllic times, there are ominous
hints; they worry about the baby; Catherine jokes about her narrow hips;
she becomes frightened by a dream of herself "dead in the rain."
Throughout the novel, Hemingway associates the plains and rain with
death, disease, and sorrow; the mountains and the snow with life,
health, and happiness. Catherine and Frederic are safe and happy in the
mountains, but it is impossible to remain there indefinitely. Eventually
everyone must return to the plains. When Catherine and Henry descend to
the city, it is, in fact, raining, and she does, in fact, die.
Like that of Romeo and Juliet, the love between Catherine and Henry is
not destroyed by any moral defect in their own characters. Henry muses
that Catherine's fate is the price paid for the good nights in Milan,
but such a price is absurdly excessive. Nor, strictly speaking, is the
war responsible for their fate, any more than the Montague-Capulet feud
directly provokes the deaths of Shakespeare's lovers. Yet the war and
the feud provide the backdrop of violence and the accumulation of
pressures that coerce the lovers into actions which contribute to their
doom. In the final analysis, both couples are defeated by bad luck—the
illness that prevents the friar from delivering Juliet's note to Romeo,
the accident of Catherine's anatomy that prevents normal childbearing.
Thus, both couples are "star-crossed." But if a "purpose" can be vaguely
ascertained in Shakespeare's version— the feud is ended by the
tragedy—there is no metaphysical justification for Catherine's death; it
is, in her own words, "a dirty trick"—and nothing more.
Hemingway does not insist that the old religious meanings are completely
invalid but only that they do not work for his people. Henry would like
to visit with the priest in his mountain village, but he cannot bring
himself to do it. His friend Rinaldi, a combat surgeon, proclaims
atheism, hedonism, and work as the only available meanings. Count Greffi,
an old billiard player Henry meets in Switzerland, offers good taste,
cynicism, and the fact of a long, pleasant life. Catherine and Henry
have each other: "You are my religion," she tells him.
All of these things fail in the end. Religion is only for others,
patriotism is a sham, hedonism becomes boring, culture is a temporary
distraction, work finally fails (the operation on Catherine was
"successful"), even love cannot last (Catherine dies; they both know,
although they will not admit it, that the memory of it will fade).
All that remains is a stoic acceptance of the above facts with dignity
and without bitterness. Life, like war, is absurd. Henry survives
because he is lucky; Catherine dies because she is unlucky. There is no
guarantee that the luck ever balances out and, since everyone ultimately
dies, it probably does not matter. What does matter is the courage,
dignity, and style with which one accepts these facts as a basis for
life, and, more important, in the face of death.
For Whom the Bell Tolls
Set in 1937 at the height of the Spanish Civil War, For Whom the
Bel! Tolls follows the struggles of an American college
instructor who has left his job to fight for the Republicans.
Robert Jordan has been dispatched from Madrid to lead a band of
guerrilleros that operates in a perpetual state of leadership
crisis. Pablo, the ostensible head of the group, has lost his
robust commitment to the hardships of war and wistfully dreams
of living peacefully in the company of his horses. Pilar,
Pablo's superstitious, half-gypsy companion, has kept the group
cohesive with her darkly agitated care for both the guerrilleros
themselves and the fight that has brought them together. Jordan
finds an instant bond with Maria, a young woman who was raped by
Fascist soldiers before being taken in by the Republican camp.
Maria follows Pilar's counsel and explores her attraction to
Jordan, hoping that it will also help to eradicate the memory of
her trauma. Jordan feeis a creeping ambivalence toward the
Republican cause and a more general self-alienation as he
wrestles with his own abhorrence of violence. His inability to
integrate his belief systems is dramatized through his
relationship with Maria, for whom he bears a painfully intense
love, although he shuns her while strategizing the risky
bridge-blowing mission. Ultimately Jordan is forced to reassess
his personal, political, and romantic values as his insistence
on a coherent and orderly hierarchy of beliefs and experiences
FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS
Type of work: Novel
Author: Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961)
Type of plot: Impressionistic realism
Time of plot: 1937
First published: 1940
The novel's title, an allusion to lines from John Donne's poem,
"No Man Is An Island," tells the story of a young American, fighting
voluntarily against Franco's Fascist forces in Spain, who leads a band
of guerrillas in what turns out to be a totally useless military
exploit. The entire novel encompasses only a seventy-two-hour time
period during which Robert Jordan loses his comrades in battle, falls in
love, is wounded too badly to continue, and finally prepares to make a
suicidal stand for his cause.
Robert Jordan, an American expatriate school teacher who has joined the
Loyalist forces in Spain. Disillusioned with the world and dissatisfied
with his own country, Jordan has come to Spain to fight and die, if
necessary, for a cause he knows is vital and worthwhile, that of the
native, peasant, free soul against the totalitarian cruelty of Franco
and his Fascists. He is, however, aware of the contrast between his
ideals and the realities he has found among narrow, self-important,
selfish, bloodthirsty men capable of betrayal and cruelty as well as
courage. He also finds love, devotion, generosity, selflessness in the
persons of Anselmo, Pilar, and especially Maria. The latter he loves
with the first true selflessness of his life, and he wishes to avenge
her cruel suffering and someday make her his wife in a land free of
oppression and cruelty. With bravery, almost bravado, he carries out his
mission of blowing up a bridge and remains behind to die with the sure
knowledge that in Maria and Pilar his person and ideals will survive.
Successful for the first time in his life, in love and war, he awaits
death as an old friend.
Maria, a young and innocent Spanish girl cruelly ravaged by war and
men's brutality. Befriended by Pilar, a revolutionary, Maria finds a
kind of security in the guerrilla band and love in her brief affair with
Robert Jordan. As his common-law wife almost all memory of her rape and
indignities disappear, and at a moment of triumph for their forces it
looks as if they will live to see their dreams of the future fulfilled.
Elemental in her passions and completely devoted to her lover, she
refuses to leave him and must be forced to go on living. The embodiment
of Jordan's ideals, she must live.
Pilar, the strong, almost masculine leader of the guerrilla group with
whom Jordan plans to blow up the bridge. Although a peasant and
uneducated, Pilar has not only deep feeling but also a brilliant
military mind; she is somewhat a Madame Defarge of the Spanish Civil
War. Her great trial is her murderous, traitorous husband whom she loves
but could kill. Without fear for herself, she has sensitive feelings for
Maria, who is suffering from her traumatic experiences as the victim of
Fascist lust and cruelty behind the lines. Greatly incensed by
inhumanities, Pilar valorously carries out her mission in destroying the
bridge, the symbol of her vindictiveness.
Pablo, Pilar's dissolute, drunken, treacherous husband, a type of
murderous peasant for whom nothing can be done but without whom the
mission cannot be successfully carried out. A hill bandit, Pablo feels
loyalty only to himself, kills and despoils at random, is given to
drinking and whoring at will. Nevertheless he displays a kind of
generosity, even after he has stolen the detonators and peddled them to
the enemy, when he comes back to face almost certain death and to go on
living with the wife whom he loves and fears. This admixture of cunning,
cruelty, and bravado finally leads the band to safety. Pablo represents
that irony of ways and means which war constantly confuses.
Anselmo, the representative of peasant wisdom, devotion to duty,
high-minded, selfless love for humanity, and compassion for the human
condition. Hating to kill but not fearing to die, Anselmo performs his
duty by killing when necessary, but without rancor and with a kind of
benediction; He dies as he lived, generously and pityingly. While the
others of the guerrilla band are more of Pablo's persuasion, brutally
shrewd and vindictive in loyalty, Anselmo tempers his devotion to a
cause with a larger view. Aligned with Pilar and Jordan in this larger
vision, he displays disinterested but kind loyalty that is almost pure
idealism, all the more remarkable for his age, background, and
experience. The benign, almost Christlike Anselmo dies that others may
live and that Robert Jordan may know how to die.
El Sordo, a Loyalist guerrilla leader killed in a Fascist assault on his
General Golz, the Russian officer commanding the Thirty-fifth Division
of the Loyalist forces.
Karkov, a Russian journalist.
Andres, a guerrilla sent by Robert Jordan with a dispatch for General
Andre Marty, the commissar who prevents prompt delivery of the dispatch
intended for General Golz.
Rafael, a gypsy.
Agusti'n, Fernando, Primitivo, and Eladio, other members of the
guerrilla band led by Pablo and Pilar.
At first, nothing was important but the bridge, neither his life nor the
imminent danger of his death—just the bridge. Robert Jordan was a young
American teacher who was in Spain fighting with the Loyalist guerrillas.
His present and most important mission was to blow up a bridge that
would be of great strategic importance during a Loyalist offensive three
days hence. Jordan was behind the Fascist lines, with orders to make
contact with Pablo, the leader of the guerrilla band, and with his wife
Pilar, who was the strongest figure among the partisans. While Pablo was
a weak and drunken braggart, Pilar was strong and trustworthy. She was a
swarthy, raw-boned woman, vulgar and outspoken, but she was so fiercely
devoted to the Loyalist cause that Jordan knew she would carry out her
part of the mission regardless of her personal danger.
The plan was for Jordan to study the bridge from all angles and then to
make final plans for its destruction at the proper moment. Jordan had
blown up many bridges and three trains, but this was the first time that
everything must be done on a split-second schedule. Pablo and Pilar were
to assist Jordan in any way they could, even in rounding up other bands
of guerrillas if Jordan needed them to accomplish his mission.
At the cave hideout of Pablo and Pilar, Jordan met a beautiful young
girl named Maria, who had escaped from the Fascists. Maria had been
subjected to every possible indignity that a woman could suffer. She had
been starved, tortured, and raped, and she felt unclean. At the camp,
Jordan also met Anselmo, a loyal old man who would follow orders
regardless of his personal safety. Anselmo hated having to kill but, if
he were so ordered, faithful Anselmo would do so.
Jordan loved the brutally shrewd, desperate, loyal guerrillas, for he
knew that their cruelties against the Fascists stemmed from poverty and
ignorance. But he abhored the Fascists' cruelty, for the Fascists came
largely from the wealthy, ambitious people of Spain. Maria's story of
her suffering at their hands filled him with such hatred that he could
have killed a thousand of them, even though he, like Anselmo, hated to
The first night he spent at the guerrilla camp destroyed his cold
approach to the mission before him, for he fell deeply in love with
Maria. She came to his sleeping bag that night, and although they talked
little, he knew after she left that he was no longer ready to die. He
told Maria that one day they would be married, but he was afraid of the
future—and fear was dangerous for a man on an important mission.
Jordan made many sketches of the bridge and laid his plans carefully.
There his work was almost ruined by Pablo's treachery. On the night
before the blowing up of the bridge, Pablo deserted after stealing and
destroying the explosives and the detonators hidden in Jordan's pack.
Pablo returned, repentant, on the morning of the mission, but the damage
had been done. The loss of the detonators and the explosives meant that
Jordan and his helper would have to blow the bridge with hand grenades,
a much more dangerous method. Pablo had tried to redeem himself by
bringing another small guerrilla band and their horses with him.
Although Jordan despised Pablo by that time, he forgave him, as did
At the bridge, Jordan worked quickly and carefully. Each person had a
specific job to do, and each did his work well. First Jordan and Anselmo
had to kill the sentries, ajob Anselmo hated. Pablo and his guerrillas
attacked the Fascist lines approaching the bridge, to prevent their
crossing before the bridge was demolished. Jordan had been ordered to
blow up the bridge at the beginning of a Loyalist bombing attack over
the Fascist lines. When he heard the thudding explosions of the bombs,
he pulled the pins and the bridge shot high into the air. Jordan got to
cover safely, but Anselmo was killed by a steel fragment from the
bridge. As Jordan looked at the old man and realized that he might be
alive if Pablo had not stolen the detonators, he wanted to kill Pablo.
Yet he knew that his duty was otherwise, and he ran to the designated
meeting place of the fugitive guerrillas.
There he found Pablo. Pilar. Maria, and the two remaining gypsy
partisans. Pablo. herding the extra horses, said that all the other
guerrillas had been killed. Jordan knew that Pablo had ruthlessly killed
the other men so that he could get their horses. When he confronted
Pablo with his knowledge, Pablo admitted the slaughter, but shrugged his
great shoulders and said that the men had not been of his band.
The problem now was to cross a road that could be swept by Fascist
gunfire, the road that led to safety. Jordan knew that the first two
people would have the best chance, since probably they could cross
before the Fascists were alerted. Because Pablo knew the road to safety,
Jordan put him on the first horse. Maria was second, for Jordan was
determined that she should be saved before the others. Pilar was to go
next, then the two remaining guerrillas, and last of all Jordan. The
first four crossed safely, but Jordan's horse, wounded by Fascist
bullets, fell on Jordan's leg. The others dragged him across the road
and out of the line of fire, but he knew that he could not go on; he was
too badly injured to ride a horse. Pablo and Pilar understood, but Maria
begged to stay with him. Jordan told Pilar to take Maria away when he
gave the signal, and then he talked to the girl he loved so much. He
told her that she must go on, that as long as she lived, he lived also.
But when the time came, she had to be put on her horse and led away.
Jordan, settling down to wait for the approaching Fascist troops,
propped himself against a tree, with his submachine gun across his
knees. As he waited, he thought over the events that had brought him to
that place. He knew that what he had done was right, but that his side
might not win for many years. He knew, too, that if the common people
kept trying, kept dying, someday they would win. He hoped they would be
prepared when that day came, that they would no longer want to kill and
torture, but would struggle for peace and for good as they were now
struggling for freedom. He felt at the end that his own part in the
struggle had not been in vain. As he saw the first Fascist officer
approaching, Robert Jordan smiled. He was ready.
In 1940 Ernest Hemingway published For Whom the Bell Tolls to wide
critical and public acclaim. The novel became an immediate best-seller,
erasing his somewhat flawed performance in To Have and Have Not (1937).
During the 1930s, Hemingway enjoyed a decade of personal publicity that
put most American authors in his shade. These were the years of his
African safari which produced Green Hills of Africa (1935) and his
Esquire column (1933-1936). Wherever he went, he was news. In 1940, he
was divorced by his second wife, Pauline Pfeiffer, and then married
Martha Gellhorn. He set fishing records at Bimini in marlin tournaments.
He hunted in Wyoming and fished at Key West, where he bought a home. In
1937, when the Spanish Civil War broke out, Hemingway went to Spain as a
correspondent with a passionate devotion to the Spain of his early
years. Not content merely to report the war, he became actively involved
with the Loyalist Army in its fight against Franco and the generals. He
wrote the script for the propaganda film The Spanish Earth (1937), which
was shown at the White House at a presidential dinner. The proceeds of
the film were used to buy ambulances for the Loyalists. In 1939, with
the war a lost cause, Hemingway wrote For Whom the Bell Tolls just as
World War II was beginning to destroy Europe.
In order to understand Hemingway's motive in writing For Whom the Bell
Tolls, it is necessary to know the essence of the quotation from John
Donne, from which Hemingway took his theme: "Any man's death diminishes
me, because I am involved in Mankinde; And therefore never send to know
for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee." Hemingway wanted his
readers to feel that what happened to the Loyalists in Spain in 1937 was
a part of that crisis of the modern world in which everyone shares.
Even more than A Farewell to Arms, Hemingway here has focused the
conflict of war on a single man. Like Frederic Henry, Robert Jordan is
an American in a European country fighting for a cause that is not his
by birth. Henry, however, just happened to be in Italy when World War I
broke out; he had no ideological commitment to the war. Robert Jordan
has come to Spain because he believes in the Loyalist cause. Although
the Loyalists have Communist backing, Jordan is not a Communist. He
believes in the land and the people, and ultimately this belief costs
him his life. Jordan's death is an affirmation. One need only compare it
with the earlier novels to see this novel as a clear political statement
of what a man must do under pressure.
For Whom the Bell Tolls is a circular novel. It begins with Robert
Jordan belly-down on a pine forest in Spain observing a bridge he has
been assigned to destroy. At the conclusion, Jordan is once again
belly-down against the Spanish earth; this time snow covers trie pine
needles, and he has a broken leg. He is carefully sighting on an enemy
officer approaching on horseback, and "he could feel his heart beating
against the pine needle floor of the forest." Between the opening and
closing paragraphs, two hundred thousand words have passed covering a
time period of only seventy hours. At the center of all the action and
meditation is the bridge. It is the focal point of the conflict to which
the reader and the characters are drawn back again and again.
In what was his longest novel to that point, Hemingway forged a tightly
unified plot: a single place, a single action, and a brief time—the
classical unities. Jordan's military action takes on other epic
qualities associated with the Greeks. His sacrifice is not unlike that
of Leon-idas at the crucial pass or Thermopylae, during the Persian
Wars. There, too, heroic action was required to defend an entry point,
and there, too, the leader died in an action that proved futile in
military terms but became a standard measure of courage and commitment.
Abandoning somewhat the terse, clipped style of his earlier novels,
Hemingway makes effective use of flashbacks to delineate the major
characters. Earlier central characters seemed to exist without a past.
Yet if Robert Jordan's death was to "diminish mankind," then the reader
had to know more about him. This character development takes place
almost within suspended time. Jordan and Maria try to condense an entire
life into those seventy hours. The reader is never allowed to forget
time altogether, for the days move, light changes, meals are eaten, and
snow falls. Everything moves toward the time when the bridge must be
blown, but this time frame is significant only to Jordan and the gypsy
group. It has little reference to the rest of the world. Life, love, and
death are compressed into those seventy hours, and the novel becomes a
compact cycle suspended in time.
The novel has more fully developed characters than the earlier Hemingway
novels. In the gypsy camp, each person becomes important. Pilar is often
cited as one of Hemingway's better female characters, just as Maria is
often criticized as being unbelievable. However, Maria's psychological
scars are carefully developed. She has been raped by the Fascists and
has seen her parents and village butchered. She is just as mentally
unstable as were Brett Ashley and Catherine Barkley. Jordan, too, is a
wounded man. He lives with the suicide of his father and the killing of
his fellow dynamiter. The love of Jordan and Maria makes each of them
The bridge is destroyed on schedule, but, through no fault of Jordan's,
its destruction is meaningless in military terms. Seen in the context of
the military and political absurdities, Jordan's courage and death were
wasted. However, the bridge was more important for its effect upon the
group. It gave them a purpose and a focal point; it forged them into a
unity, a whole. They can take pride in their accomplishment in spite of
its cost. Life is ultimately a defeat no matter how it is lived; what
gives defeat meaning is the courage that a man is capable of forging in
the face of death's certainty. One man's death does diminish the group,
for they are involved together. Jordan's loss is balanced by the purpose
he has given to the group.
Just as the mountains are no longer a safe place from the Fascists with
their airplanes, Hemingway seems to be saying that no man and no place
are any longer safe. It is no longer possible to make a separate peace
as Frederic Henry did with his war. When Fascist violence is loose in
the world, a man must take a stand. Jordan does not believe in the
Communist ideology that supports the Loyalists, but he does believe in
the earth and its people. He is essentially the nonpolitical man caught
in a political conflict that he cannot avoid. He does the best he can
with the weapons available to him.
The Old Man and the Sea
Critical opinion tends to differ over The Old Man and the Sea,
which moves away from the style of Hemingway's earlier works.
Within the frame of this perfectly constructed miniature are to
be found many of the themes that preoccupied Hemingway as a
writer and as a man. The routines of life in a Cuban fishing
village are evoked in the opening pages with a characteristic
economy of language. The stripped-down existence of the
fisherman Santiago is crafted in a spare, elemental style that
is as eloquently dismissive as a shrug of the old man's powerful
shoulders. With age and luck now against him, Santiago knows he
must row out "beyond other men," away from land and into the
deep waters of the Gulf Stream. There is one last drama to be
played out, in an empty arena of sea and sky.
Hemingway was famously fascinated with ideas of men proving
their worth by facing and overcoming the challenges of nature.
When the old man hooks a marlin longer than his boat, he is
tested to the limits as he works the line with bleeding hands in
an effort to bring it close enough to harpoon. Through his
struggle he demonstrates the ability of the human spirit to
endure hardship and suffering in order to win. It is also his
deep love and knowledge of the sea, in her impassive cruelty and
beneficence, that allows him to prevail.
The essential physicality of the story—the smells of tar and
salt and fish blood, the cramp and nausea and blind exhaustion
of the old man, the terrifying death spasms of the great fish—is
set against the ethereal qualities of dazzling light and water,
isolation, and the swelling motion of the sea. And the narrative
is constantly tugging, unreeling a little more, pulling again.
It is a book that demands to be read inasinglesitting.
THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA
Type of work: Novella
Author: Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961)
Type of plot: Symbolic romance
Time of plot: Mid-twentieth century
Locale: Cuba and the Gulf Stream
First published: 1952
On the surface an exciting but tragic adventure story, The Old Man
and the Sea enjoys near-perfection of structure, restraint of treatment,
and evocative simplicity of style. On a deeper level, the book is a
fable of the unconquerable spirit of man, a creature capable of
snatching spiritual victory from circumstances of disaster and apparent
defeat: On yet another level, it is a religious parable which
unobtrusively utilizes Christian symbols and metaphors.
Santiago, an old Cuban fisherman. After more than eighty days of fishing
without a catch, the old man's patient devotion to his calling is
rewarded. He catches a marlin bigger than any ever brought into Havana
harbor. But the struggle to keep the marauding sharks from the fish is
hopeless, and he reaches shore again with only a skeleton, worthless
except as a symbol of his victory.
Manolin, a young Cuban boy devoted to Santiago, with whom he fishes
until forbidden by his father after Santiago's fortieth luckless day. He
begs or steals to make sure that Santiago does not go hungry.
For eighty-four days, old Santiago had not caught a single fish. At
first a young boy, Manolin, had shared his bad fortune, but after the
fortieth luckless day, the boy's father told his son to go in another
boat. From that time on, Santiago worked alone. Each morning he rowed
his skiff out into the Gulf Stream, where the big fish were. Each
evening he came in empty-handed.
The boy loved the old fisherman and pitied him. If Manolin had no money
of his own, he begged or stole to make sure that Santiago had enough to
eat and fresh bait for his lines. The old man accepted his kindness with
humility that was like a quiet kind of pride. Over their evening meals
of rice or black beans, they would talk about the fish they had taken in
luckier times or about American baseball and the great DiMaggio. At
night, alone in his shack, Santiago dreamed of lions on the beaches of
Africa, where he had gone on a sailing ship years before. He no longer
dreamed of his dead wife.
On the eighty-fifth day, Santiago rowed out of the harbor in the cool
dark before dawn. After leaving the smell of land behind him, he set his
lines. Two of his baits were fresh tunas the boy had given him, as well
as sardines to cover his hooks. The lines went straight down into deep
As the sun rose, he saw other boats in toward shore, which was only a
low green line on the sea. A hovering man-of-war bird showed him where
dolphin were chasing some flying fish, but the school was moving too
fast and too far away. The bird circled again. This time Santiago saw
tuna leaping in the sunlight. A small one took the hook on his stern
line. Hauling the quivering fish aboard, the old man thought it a good
Toward noon, a marlin started nibbling at the bait, which was one
hundred fathoms down. Gently the old man played the fish, a big one, as
he knew from the weight on the line. At last, he struck to settle the
hook. The fish did not surface. Instead, it began to tow the skiff to
the northwest. The old man braced himself, the line taut across his
shoulders. Although he had his skill and knew many tricks, he waited
patiently for the fish to tire.
The old man shivered in the cold that came after sunset. When something
took one of his remaining baits, he cut the line with his sheath knife.
Once the fish lurched suddenly, pulling Santiago forward on his face and
cutting his cheek. By dawn, his left hand was stiff and cramped. The
fish had headed northward; there was no land in sight. Another strong
tug on the line sliced Santiago's right hand. Hungry, he cut strips from
the tuna and chewed them slowly while he waited for the sun to warm him
and ease his cramped fingers.
That morning the fish jumped. Seeing it leap, Santiago knew he had
hooked the biggest marlin he had ever seen. Then the fish went under and
turned toward the east. Santiago drank sparingly from his water bottle
during the hot afternoon. Trying to forget his cut hand and aching back,
he remembered the days when men had called him El Campeon, and he had
wrestled with a giant black man in the tavern at Cienfuegos. Once an
airplane droned overhead on its way to Miami.
Close to nightfall, a dolphin took the small hook he had rebaited. He
lifted the fish aboard, careful not to jerk the line over his shoulder.
After he had rested, he cut fillets from the dolphin and also kept the
two flying fish he found in its maw. That night he slept. He awoke to
feel the line running through his fingers as the fish jumped. Feeding
line slowly, he tried to tire the marlin. After the fish slowed its run,
he washed his cut hands in seawater and ate one of the flying fish. At
sunrise, the marlin began to circle. Faint and dizzy, he worked to bring
the big fish nearer with each turn. Almost exhausted, he finally drew
his catch alongside and drove in the harpoon. He drank a little water
before he lashed the marlin to the bow and stern of his skiff. The fish
was two feet longer than the boat. No catch like it had ever been seen
in Havana harbor. It would make his fortune, he thought, as he hoisted
his patched sails and set his course toward the southwest.
An hour later, he sighted the first shark. It was a fierce Mako, and it
came in fast to slash with raking teeth at the dead marlin. With failing
might, the old man struck the shark with his harpoon. The Mako rolled
and sank, carrying the harpoon with it and leaving the marlin mutilated
and bloody. Santiago knew the scent would spread. Watching, he saw two
shovel-nosed sharks closing in. He struck at one with his knife lashed
to the end of an oar and watched the scavenger sliding down into deep
water. He killed the other while it tore at the flesh of the marlin.
When the third appeared, he thrust at it with the knife, only to feel
the blade snap as the fish rolled. The other sharks came at sunset. At
first, he tried to club them with the tiller from the skiff, but his
hands were raw and bleeding and there were too many in the pack. In the
darkness, as he steered toward the faint glow of Havana against the sky,
he heard them hitting the carcass again and again. Yet the old man
thought only of his steering and his great tiredness. He had gone out
too far and the sharks had beaten him. He knew they would leave him
nothing but the stripped skeleton of his great catch.
All lights were out when he sailed into the little harbor and beached
his skiff. In the gloom, he could just make out the white backbone and
the upstanding tail of the fish. He started up the shore with the mast
and furled sail of his boat. Once he fell under their weight and lay
patiently until he could gather his strength. In the shack, he fell on
his bed and went to sleep.
There the boy found him later in the morning. Meanwhile other fishermen,
gathered about the skiff, marveled at the giant marlin, eighteen feet
long from nose to tail. When Manolin returned to Santiago's shack with
hot coffee, the old man awoke. The boy, he said, could have the spear of
his fish. Manolin told him to rest, to make himself fit for the days of
fishing they would have together. All that afternoon, the old man slept,
the boy sitting by his bed. Santiago was dreaming of lions.
The Old Man and the Sea is one of the true classics of its generation.
The qualities of Ernest Hemingway's short novel are those that readers
associate with many great stories of the past: near perfection of form
within the limitations of its subject matter, restraint of treatment,
regard for the unities of time and place, and evocative simplicity of
style. Also, like most great stories, it can be read on more than one
level of meaning. First, it is an exciting but tragic adventure story.
On another level, the book is a fable of the unconquerable spirit of
man, a creature capable of snatching spiritual victory from
circumstances of disaster and material defeat. On still another, it is a
parable of religious significance, its theme supported by the writer's
unobtrusive handling of Christian symbols and metaphors. Like
Coleridge's Ancient Mariner, Hemingway's Cuban fisherman allows the
imagination of his creator to operate simultaneously in two different
worlds of meaning and value, the one real and dramatic, the other moral
and devotionally symbolic.
Hemingway began his career as a journalist with the Kansas City Star in
1917, and later he was a wartime foreign correspondent for the Toronto
Star. His first important collection of short stories, In Our Time,
appeared in 1925, to be followed, in 1926, by what many consider to be
his finest novel, The Sun Also Rises. During his long stay among other
American expatriates in Paris, Hemingway was influenced by Gertrude
Stein, Ezra Pound, and James Joyce. From their models, from his
journalistic background, and from his admiration for Mark Twain,
Hemingway developed his own characteristic style. The Hemingway style,
further expressed in A Farewell to Arms (1929), then gradually sinking
toward stereotypical styl-ization in Death in the Afternoon (1932), The
Green Hills of Africa (1935), and For Whom the Bell Tolls (where it
reaches its lowest point of self-caricature, undermining his most
ambitious novel), is marked by consistent elements: understatement
created by tersely realistic dialogue; use of everyday speech and simple
vocabulary; avoidance of the abstract; straightforward sentence
structure and paragraph development; spare and specific imagery;
objective, reportorial viewpoint; and emphasis on "the real thing, the
sequence of emotion and fact to make the emotion." This last,
Wordsworthian, technique accounts for Hemingway's position as the most
gifted of the Lost Generation writers.
Accompanying these stylistic traits is a set of consistent thematic
concerns that have become known as the Hemingway "code"; obsession with
all outdoor pursuits and sports; identification with the primitive;
constant confrontation with death; fascination with violence, and with
the skillful control of violence; what he calls "holding the purity of
line through the maximum of exposure." The typical Hemingway hero,
existential in a peculiarly American way, faces the sterility and
failure and death of his contemporary world with steady-handed courage
and a stoical resistance to pain that allows him a fleeting, but
essentially human, nobility and grace.
After a decade of silence, while Hemingway was preoccupied with the
turmoil of World War II, he published Across the River and into the
Trees (1950)—an inferior book that led many to believe his genius had
dried up. Two years later, however, drawing from his experiences in
Cuba, The Old Man and the Sea appeared. It was awarded the Pulitzer
Prize and led to a Nobel Prize for Literature (1954) for his "mastery of
the art of modern narration." As a kind of ultimate condensation of the
Hemingway code, this short novel attains an austere dignity. Its extreme
simplicity of imagery, symbolism, setting, and character stands in stark
contrast with the epic sprawl of Herman Melville's masterpiece Moby
Dick— a work with which it nevertheless has much in common.
Hemingway displays his genius of perception by using, without apology,
the most obvious symbolic imagery; in fact, he creates his desired
impact by admitting the ordinary (in the way of Robert Frost, whose "An
Old Man's Winter's Night" resembles this book). An example is the
statement that the old man's furled sail each evening "looked like a
flag of permanent defeat." Here the admission of the obvious becomes
ironic, since the old man is not, as he himself declares,
defeated—although he is "destroyed." Aside from the two overt
image-symbols of the lions on the beach and of "the great DiMaggio"
("who does all things perfectly even with the pain of the bone spur in
his heel"), the implicit image of Christ stalks through the work until
the reader understands that it is not, after all, a religious symbol,
but a secular one that affirms that each man has his own agonies and
crucifixion. As for setting, three elements stand out: the sea itself,
which the old man regards as feminine and not as an enemy but as the
locus in which man plays his little part, with security and serenity
derived from acceptance of her inevitable capriciousness; the intrusions
of the outside world, with the jet plane high overhead and the tourist
woman's ignorant comment at the end that shows total insensitivity to
the common man's capacity for tragedy, and the sharks, which make
"everything wrong" and stand for the heroic absurdity of human
The old man's character is revealed in two ways: by the observations of
the narrator and by his own monologue. The latter device might seem
theatrical and out of place if Hemingway had not taken pains to set up
its employment openly: "He did not remember when he had first started to
talk aloud when he was by himself." The words he says to no one but
himself reveal the old man's mind as clearly as, and even more
poignantly than, the narrator's knowledge of his thoughts. He is seen as
the unvanquished (whose eyes are as young as the sea); with sufficient
pride to allow humility; with unsuspected, though simple, introspection
("I am a strange old man"); with unquestioning trust in his own skills
and in the folklore of his trade; with almost superhuman endurance; and
with a noble acceptance of the limitations forced upon him by age.
Before the drama is over, the old man projects his own qualities onto
the fish—his strength, his wisdom—until his initial hunter's
indifference turns to pity, and the fish becomes "friend" and "brother."
"But I must kill him," the old man says; "I am glad we do not have to
try to kill the stars. ... It is enough to live on the sea and kill our
true brothers." Killing with dignity, as it done also in the bullring,
is an accepted part of the human condition. Only the graceless,
undignified sharks (like the hyenas in "The Snows of Kilimanjaro") are
abhorrent, diminishing the tragic grandeur of the human drama.
The Old Man and the Sea is a direct descendant of Moby Dick. The size,
strength, and mystery of the great marlin recall the presence of the
elusive white whale; similarly, the strength, determination (like Ahab,
the old man does not bother with eating or sleeping), and strangeness of
Hemingway's hero may be compared to the epic qualities of Melville's.
Yet the differences are as important as the similarities. In Melville,
both the whale and Ahab have sinister, allusive, and unknown
connotations that they seem to share between them and that are not
revealed clearly to the reader—in the fashion of Romanticism. In
contrast, Hemingway's realism does not present the struggle as a
pseudosacred cosmic one between forces of darkness but as an everyday
confrontation between the strength of an ordinary man and the power of
nature. Hemingway's fish is huge, but he is not solitary and unique; the
old man is not the oldest or the greatest fisherman. Finally, neither
the old man nor the fish is completely victorious. The fish does not
kill the old man; neither does the old man become older or wiser; the
fish only makes him very tired.