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The Old Man and the Sea Study Guide

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Get lit in a whole new way with the LitCharts study guide to Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea. Started by the guys who created SparkNotes back in the distant past, LitCharts are made for today’s students.

Brief Biography of Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway grew up outside a suburb of Chicago, spending summers with his family in rural Michigan. After high school, he got a job writing for The Kansas City Star, but left The Star after only six months to join the Red Cross Ambulance Corps during World War I, where he was injured and awarded the Silver Medal of Military Valor. Afterward, he lived in Ontario and Chicago, where he met his first wife, Hadley Richardson. In 1921 they moved to Paris, where he began a long friendship with F. Scott Fitzgerald and other ex-patriot American writers of the "lost generation." After the 1926 publication of his first novel, The Sun Also Rises, Hemingway divorced Hadley, married Arkansas native Pauline Pfeiffer, and moved to Florida. Hemingway's father committed suicide in 1928, shooting himself. During the Spanish Civil War, Hemingway moved to Spain to serve as a war correspondent, a job which inspired his famous 1939 novel For Whom the Bell Tolls. After its publication, he met his third wife, Martha Gellhorn. In 1946 Hemingway married his fourth and final wife, Mary Hemingway, and the couple spent the next 14 years living in Cuba. After a final move to Idaho, Hemingway took his own life in 1961, leaving behind his wife and three sons.

Historical Context of The Old Man and the Sea

Living in Cuba in the late 1940s, one of Hemingway's favorite pastimes was fishing in his boat, The Pilar. This simple pastime contrasted greatly with the turbulent events of his life that preceded his time in Cuba. Hemingway served in World War I and World War II and witnessed the liberation of Paris and the 1945 schism within the Cuban Communist party. Having viewed death and hardship in many forms, Hemingway's feeling of disillusionment was only magnified by his 10-year struggle with writing that preceded the publication of The Old Man and the Sea.

Other Books Related to The Old Man and the Sea

In Paris, Hemingway became part of the "lost generation" of American writers who had relocated to Europe after World War I. In the company of writers like Ezra Pound, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Gertrude Stein, Hemingway infused his work with a sense of emptiness, disillusionment, and rebellion against patriotic ideals. In this way, his work can be considered related to novels like Ulysses and The Great Gatsby, which describe the sadness and hardship of the human condition.

Key Facts about The Old Man and the Sea

  • Full Title: The Old Man and the Sea

  • When Written: 1951

  • Where Written: Cuba

  • When Published: 1952

  • Literary Period: Modernism

  • Genre: Fiction (novella); Parable

  • Setting: Late 1940s; a fishing village near Havana, Cuba, and the waters of the Gulf of Mexico

  • Climax: When Santiago finally harpoons and kills the marlin; when Santiago fights off the final pack of sharks

  • Antagonist: The marlin; the sharks

  • Point of View: Third-person omniscient, although largely limited to Santiago's point of view

Extra Credit for The Old Man and the Sea

Awards: The Old Man and the Sea was the last major work of fiction Hemingway wrote. It won the Pulitzer Prize in 1953 and contributed to Hemingway's selection for the Nobel Prize in 1954.

Criticism of the Critics: Hemingway's novel Across the River and Into the Trees, published in 1950, met with severe negative criticism, although Hemingway said he considered it his best work yet. When The Old Man and the Sea was published to great acclaim, some viewed the story as Hemingway's symbolic attack on literary critics—the elderly master fighting and triumphing over his long-time adversaries.