Ernest Hemingway’s life and authorship


I have finally finished my in- depth project in International English, and the subject I chose was Ernest Hemingway and his book “The Old Man and the Sea”. Hope you like it. 

– Kristin

Ernest Miller Hemingway is a recognized author, maybe even one of the century’s biggest legends when it comes to writing. In 1952 “The Old Man and the Sea” landed him the Nobel Prize in literature.

Ernest Miller Hemingway  

“Every man’s life ends the same way. It is only the details of how he lived and how he died that distinguish one man from another”. (Brainy Cotes)

Ernest Miller Hemingway was born the 21.July 1899 in the Chicago suburb, Oak Park. His older sister, Marceline, was already 18 months old, and during the next 16 years, tree more sisters and one brother followed. They grew up in a home where the mother, due to bad sight, had to give up on a promising opera career, and instead compensated with humiliating her husband and terrorizing her family. At home, pietism and active worshipping of God put a mark on the children, leaving them with little knowledge about the hard facts of life. In return, there was barley anything the young Hemingway did not learn about nature, hunting and fishing. This respect and knowledge about the nature later shone through in his authorship, connecting all of his works. For the most, it is as if he wanted to impart, with his elegiac tone, that nature would win over us humans.

Hemingway started his career writing for the school newspaper. Even though he was tired of school, he very much enjoyed writing, and this probably affected his wish to become a war reporter in Europe. Despite his hopes, he ended as a junior reporter in the paper “Kansas City Star” when he finished high school.  However, the experience was useful, leaving him with more knowledge about how to write meaningful, short sentences using a good language. In 1918 he volunteered as an ambulance driver for Red Cross and found himself at the northern Italian front. There he was injured and admitted to hospital where he met, and fell in love with, the American nurse Agnes von Kurowsky, who later betrayed him. She was the inspiration for the female character in “A Farewell to Arms”

Back in America, Hemingway began to take small jobs, where he excelled as a versatile and good writer. After meeting his future wife and proposing, he moved to Paris in 1922 to work on his language and writing style. When in Paris, he met Ezra Pound who convinced him to remove superfluous words and show his story, instead of just talking about it. In the following years, he worked as a war correspondent in different countries, made his debut as an author and became father to a son. He continued to write novels and poems about brutality, violence, war and honor, and got recognition for his work. His breakthrough came, however, in 1926 when “And the Sun Also Rises”, where not only himself, but also his circle of acquaintances in Paris were made immortal. Hemingway lived an eventful life, and in 1936, he was back in his element as an anti-war correspondent for America during the Spanish Civil War. However, he became exceedingly anti- fascistic, wanting to involve America in the conflict. He also got criticized for mixing fiction with reality in his articles.

One plane crash, several failed marriages later, and with the coverage of two World Wars and one civil war on his sleeve, Hemingway had become a person with an intense fear of death, yet with suicidal thoughts. In the end the loneliness, depression, delusions, alongside drinking problems drove him to commit suicide. “When writing has become your biggest load and you highest pleasure, only death can stop you” The 2.July 1961 he loaded his double-barred shotgun and put an end to his problems. Ernest Miller Hemingway had become a legend.

How did Hemingway’s personal experiences affect his work as an author?

One can say that Hemingway’s childhood and experiences in life highly affected not only his stories, but also his style of writing. Being brought up in a home with a highly valued focus on the nature and its beauty, gave Hemingway a platform for most of his work. For instance, in the book “The Old Man and the Sea” one learns that Mother Nature is in control, yet that her beauty is breathtaking. This message seems to be a recurring matter in his storytelling.

In his early days, Christianity was also a fundamental part of his life. Being brought up with a strong faith might have given him the want to have some allusions in his stories. In the “Old Man and the Sea” there are several hints that Hemingway was a person with a good knowledge of the bible. However, it is not only his childhood that affected his work, Hemingway also met a lot of people who influenced him. In fact, he drew most of his inspiration from his surroundings and experiences. One can easily relate characters to people he have met, and the story itself to happenings that made an impact on him. For instance, many of his novels and short stories are set in a place where war is an important theme. That is easily connected to his interest and experience with war. On the other side, when it comes to the evolution of his writing style, one can say that the people he met were more significant than certain events. In fact, one can assert that his job in the paper “Kansas City Star” and the meeting with Ezra Pound were the most important parts in forming his career, as they helped Hemingway develop a style that would later be his mark.


The “Hemingway man” and other distinctive marks

Ernest Hemingway was an author with a very distinctive writing style. In many ways, the style can be described as minimalism. The core of his authorship, which was both a strength and a weakness, was namely his will to portray the things, everything we perceive with our senses, as they were. With the help of objectivity, without unnecessary reasoning or argumentation, he left it up to the readers to make an up their mind about the situations or places in his stories. Additionally, he worked on telling an interesting story without commonplace adjectives and unnecessary words. His English was powerful, without forgetting to pursue lightness using short, meaningful sentences. This aesthetics is something witch later has been associated with Hemingway and his authorship.

Hemingway also followed a principle called the “iceberg- method”, illustrating that for every part you see, there are seven which are hidden under water. By describing only the superficial in his stories, he leaves the reader with a lot of questions. However, the information can be found if one reads between the lines. An author who uses this principle forces the reader to think, and when he or she does, a whole new meaning appears. The first impression of one of his books can, therefore, be that it is a simple book with, evidently, no deeper meaning than an old man trying to catch a fish. Yet, when one reads more into it, it becomes clear just how duplex the book is.

Concerning characters, the “Hemingway man” developed during his lifetime to become a distinctive feature in his books. This character can be seen as a personal description of himself, focusing on different aspects of his personality. The usual “Hemingway man” is tough, worn out, stoic and laconic with all of his despair hidden behind a sophisticated appearance. (Landro, 1993) In other words, the male characters were very much masculine men, yet they all had problems complicating their lives. In the book “The Old Man and the Sea”, however, there was a significant difference, separating the main person from the normal “Hemingway man”. The fear for the unknown, bothering the main person, was no longer present. This can be seen as a change in Hemingway’s perception of himself, as if he had become more at ease with his problems and his future.

The Old Man and the Sea

The book “The Old Man and the Sea” came out in 1952 and is amongst the most well- known books written by Hemingway. It landed him the Pulitzer Prize in 1953, as well as the Nobel Prize in literature the year after for his “powerful mastership, which has been important in shaping the present art of narration”.

“The Old Man and the Sea” is about Santiago and his apprentice Manolin, who gets separated due to Santiago’s lack of luck on the sea.  As the story begins, the old man has gone 84 days without a catch, and the fishing has turned into an ascetic penitential exercise as he barley brings food or water. The following day, the fish bites- the biggest fish Santiago has ever gotten on the hook. He accepts the challenge that turns in to a 4 days long combat in endurance. Whilst on the sea, the fight develops into something more than the question of victory or loss, it becomes a matter of life or death.  The battle between the big fish and the old man is amongst the best descriptions of an ordeal. Exhaustion, hunger, thirst, pain in his arms and back, as well as the loss of his apprentice and guilt for the fish, are some of the things that brings Santiago close to insanity and death. However, he wins in the end, only to be confronted with his hubris, he went too far out. On his way back, the sharks eat his catch, and the old man is left with nothing.


There is much more to “The Old Man and the Sea” than what first meets the eye. This is a tale about the power of the nature and how it conquers everything. Even though the old man catches his beloved fish, nature steps in and brings him back to earth. His strength is simply nothing compared to the strength of the ocean. The defeat, and the old man’s reasoning afterwards, allows Hemingway’s optimism to show through. “A human can be destroyed, but not defeated” is something which Hemingway emphasized during his life. When the old man realized that he had lost, however, he stated the opposite, namely “A human can be defeated, but not destroyed.” The quote focuses on the strength people have, meaning even though the old man had lost the fish and was defeated, it would take more to destroy him. In this book, Hemingway not only honors the entirety of the nature, he honors the love between the hunter and its prey, which is, according to him, one of the basic conditions for allowing humans to take care of our planet.

In fact, connections can be seen as an important theme in the book. First, the bond between the apprentice and his master is evident throughout the whole book.   Even though they were separated by force, Manolin remains an important person in Santiago’s life. He does his best to help the old man, as Santiago is his role model. The relation goes both ways, so when the old man is alone on the sea, thinking of the young boy helps him and motivates him to fight. When they were separated, it became clear for the old man that his days on the sea were numbered. Secondly, the old man develops a strong connection with his prey during their battle. He sees the fish as his friend and appreciates its beauty and power. Even after it is killed, he does his best to protect it from the sharks, not only for his own benefit, but for the sake of the fish, as the fish’s pain is his own.  The fact that he feels guilty for killing the fish, seeing it being eaten as a punishment, shows just how strongly he is connected to the prey.

Composition and literary means

Even though Hemingway wrote in a minimalistic way, it does not mean that there are few literary means in his books. On the contrary, “The Old Man and the Sea” is filled with metaphors, similes, descriptions and allusions. The first simile comes as soon as on the first page. “But none of these scars were fresh. They were as old as erosions in a fishless desert”.  By comparing the old man’s skin and scars to a fishless desert, he creates an image that is easy to picture for the reader. In fact, all of his descriptions work that way. There are no unnecessary adjectives, but those which are used are very powerful. “The brown blotches of the benevolent skin cancer the sun brings from its reflection on the tropic sea were on his cheeks”.  Another recurring part of his descriptions is the use of smell. When he portrays the ocean, the smell adds another dimension, making the reader feel that he or she is on the sea with the old man.

However, the literary means are not only connected to describing the old man and the ocean. If one looks at the bigger picture, Hemingway has used several allusions to God and Jesus in the book. “He only dreamed of places now and of the lions on the beach”. Lions are often mentioned by the old man, and can be seen as an allusion to God. A lion has become a symbol of God and can be seen in other books, for instance in “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” by C. S. Lewis. Furthermore, the name Santiago is a version of Saint Jacob, who left his net to follow Jesus, the human fisherman. Lastly, when the old man returned from having been on the ocean for four days, he shouldered the mast and walked home. This can be seen as a parallel to Jesus walking with the cross before he was killed.

Structure- vise, the book is very similar to Hemingway’s former masterpiece “The Undefeated”. In “The Old Man and the Sea”, the story is non- chronological, as there are several retrospects where he looks back at his life. The perspective is told mostly from the old man’s side, yet his apprentice also present, and one gets to know his thoughts as well. This contributes to painting a more varied picture of the old man.

To conclude, Ernest Hemingway was a person who drew inspiration from his surroundings and experiences. By absorbing different information, he developed as a writer and set his mark in the history of literature. “The Old Man and the Sea” is one of many books that shows his talent and characteristic style of writing. His love and respect for nature shines through as he debates around the relation between hunter and prey, one of the big ecological paradoxes. There is always more than what meets the eye, and “The Old Man and the Sea” is a perfect example of why one should never judge a book by its cover. Remember that you might only see what is above the water.


Brainy Cotes. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Hemingway, E. (2004). The Old Man and the Sea. Arrow Books .

Landro, J. H. (1993). Ernest Hemingway. Århundrets Bibliotek, pp. 3- 24.


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