Saturday, October 9, 2010

Life of Ernest Hemingway and Background to the Novel "The Old man and the Sea"

Ernest Hemingway was born in Oak Park, Illinois, on July 21, 1899. He was the second of six children of Dr and Mrs Clarence Hemingway who, although devoted to each other, were temperamentally very different: while Mrs Hemingway was a deeply religious woman with a passion for music, her husband was an outdoors man, fond of hunting and fishing.
Ernest took after his father with a passion for the rough and tumble like fishing, boxing, big game hunting, and later with the dangerous edge of things, reporting from the frontline in the First World War, the Spanish Civil War and the Second World War. Hemingway was seriously injured on the Italian front which left him with a permanent handicap that was reflected in his writings on the cruelty and stoic endurance that war requires.
Most writers begin their careers as reporters and so did Hemingway, first with Kansas City Star and later with the Toronto Star. The newspapers gave him the opportunity to visit the frontlines and meet all the leading European statesmen––Lloyd George, Clemenceau, Mussolini—who were to play a leading role in world politics in the 20s and 30s Hemingway made Paris his base and it was during one of his visits here that he met the American writer, Sherwood Anderson, who gave him a letter of introduction to the critic Gertrude Stein. With this, Hemingway was introduced to the world of writers and artists who visited Stein often. It was Stein who casually commented that all writers of the time were “a lost generation” which Hemingway was to use as a epitaph to A Sun Also Rises.
The “lost generation” was immediately acceptable to readers of the 20s and 30s. They were inheritors of a peace settlement after the First World War that brought worldwide depression and sowed the seeds of Nazism and Fascism and the Second World war. For this generation which believed that the ideals of peace and democracy would be preserved after all the sacrifices made in the First World War the developments of the 20s and 30s were a cruel blow to their aspirations. They were indeed “lost” and did not know where to turn to for an understanding of what had happened. Hemingway addressed this audience with a series of novels that had a background of war, violence and uncertainty: The Sun Also Rises, A Farewell to Arms, Across the River and into the Trees, For Whom the Bell Tolls.
Hemingway’s life was anything if not colourful. He married several times and had affairs with women, but none of them lasted for long. Apart from these relationships, what struck him hard was the suicide of his father who had long been ill with hypertension and diabetes. In 1940, Hemingway married Martha Gelhorn, the photographer, and together they toured China and then bought a house in Cuba which became more or less his home.
Hemingway wrote his work, The Old Man and the Sea in 1952 for which he received the Pulitzer Prize in 1953 and the Nobel in 1954. The citation of the Nobel said that Hemingway was awarded the Prize “for his powerful style-forming mastering of the art of modern narration, as most recently evidenced in The Old Man and the Sea.” In talking about the novel, Hemingway said that he had probably read it two hundred times before giving the manuscript to his publishers. He went on to say, “What many another writer would be content to leave in massive proportions, I polish into a tiny gem.”

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