History of Literature

Ernest Hemingway


Ernest Hemingway



Ernest Hemingway

American writer
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 to forget.

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 Depression.

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 collection.

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.

Philip Young



The Sun Also Rises

Ernest Hemingway

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

Ernest Hemingway

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.


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 doomed.


Principal Characters

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 goddess."
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.


The Story

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 room.
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.


Critical Evaluation

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 Л 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 human mortality.
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

Ernest Hemingway

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 is shattered.


Type of work: Novel
Author: Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961)
Type of plot: Impressionistic realism
Time of plot: 1937
Locale: Spain
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.


Principal Characters

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 mountain hideout.
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 Golz.
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.



The Story

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 kill.
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 Pilar.
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.


Critical Evaluation

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 whole again.
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

Ernest Hemingway

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.


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.


Principal Characters

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.


The Story

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 dark water.
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 omen.
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.


Critical Evaluation

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 endeavors.
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.



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