Ernest Hemingway was born on July 21, 1899, in Oak Park, Illinois, the son of Grace and Clarence Edmonds Hemingway. Hemingway first published his writing in the Oak Park High School newspaper, and he began his journalistic apprenticeship as a teenage reporter for the Kansas City Star in 1917. Although his family expected him to attend college, Hemingway was drawn instead toward the excitement of World War I. In the spring of 1918 he volunteered with the American Red Cross as an ambulance driver on the frontline in Italy; in July 1918, two weeks shy of his nineteenth birthday, he was wounded in battle.
The Old Man and the Sea is one of the most popular and moving works of the twentieth century. When The Old Man and the Sea first appeared in the September 1, 1952, issue of Life magazine, millions of people stood in line at newsstands to purchase a copy; 5,300,000 copies were sold in two days. The excitement generated by the novella, rare for such a serious piece of literature, can be traced to its unforgettable portrait of the old fisherman, Santiago, and its vivid presentation of the novella’s other principal presence: the sea.
The small cast of characters in The Old Man and the Sea consists of Santiago, the old fisherman, and Manolin, the boy who has fished with him for years. Though the old man hits a run of bad luck, Manolin still wishes to fish with him. But Manolin’s parents demand that he fish with a more successful boat.
Hemingway focuses on Santiago’s consciousness in this quest story. Very much in the way that a traditional soliloquy or an interior monologue serves to reveal character, this novella functions as one long exploration of the old man’s character.
Few writers have been more sensitive to nature, to the depths and the strengths of human character, and to the tragedy and the glory of human experience than Hemingway. All of his work is grounded in basic timeless values: courage, precision, skill, honor, honesty, and dignity. Much of his writing is profoundly religious, deeply spiritual but never preachy. Hemingway always examines the truth of experience, however dark or violent it may be; he does not deny the reality of evil and suffering and death, but he is equally concerned with the human struggle to transcend difficulty through the values and conduct that provide redemption.
VII TOPICS FOR DISCUSSION
1. Discuss the baseball imagery in the book. What does the “great DiMaggio” symbolize? What does the “bone spur” symbolize?
In a general sense, all of Hemingway’s work is related to The Old Man and the Sea because as his last important work it represents a kind of final credo, a culmination and crystallization of the major themes that inform all his work. More specifically, Hemingway’s very early work “Big Two-Hearted River: Parts I&II,” written some three decades before The Old Man and the Sea, explores related material and themes: in the course of the story about a young man alone in the north woods of Michigan fishing for trout in a small wilderness stream, Hemingway examines the important themes of humankind’s relationship with nature and the question of human suffering and endurance. But strictly speaking, “Big Two-Hearted River” should be seen as the final chapter in the story-cycle In Our Time, which deals primarily with the growth of Nick Adams. Many other Hemingway stories and novels examine related subject matter and themes: nature and people’s place in nature; fishing and hunting; relationships between a young protagonist and an older, wiser character. Examples of these works include “Indian Camp,” “The Battler,” “My Old Man,” and “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber.”