Research Paper: Ernest Hemingway

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[. . .] This theme is investigated by Robert Jordan as he encounters characters and events which make him recoil from war and wish to isolate himself, but his inherent responsibilities toward his fellow human beings force him to continue to risk his life in the cause of Spanish freedom.

Perhaps Ernest Hemingway's greatest novel was The Old Man and the Sea. This novel parallels events and feelings in Hemingway's own life. At the time when he wrote the book, Hemingway had just finished publishing another book, Across the River and into the Trees, his first in many years, to unfavorable reviews. (Brenner 14) There were many in the world of literature who, in 1950, felt that Hemingway's time had past, that he should retire. This is a major theme of The Old Man and the Sea, which told the story of an old Cuban fisherman named Santiago, who has not caught a fish in 84 days. The other fishermen in his village all think he has past his prime, and is no longer a great fishermen. Santiago refused to give up and went out on the 85th day further than ever before, beyond the sight of the other fishermen. It was there that Santiago caught the biggest fish he had ever caught, but was unable to bring it in quickly, It took most of the next two days to catch this fish but Santiago's effort was only beginning. As he returned to shore with his prize winning catch, he was attacked by sharks who ate most of his catch. When he finally made it back his great fish had been devoured and only the skeleton remained. But the skeleton demonstrated to the other fishermen that Santiago could still bring in the big ones and he was still a great fisherman. The story ended with Santiago no better than when he started, except that his fellow fisherman have renewed their respect for him. (Hemingway)

In a way, Hemingway was Santiago in that like the fisherman, Hemingway had not publish a successful book in a number of years. Like Santiago, many felt that Hemingway was past his prime and could no longer deliver. But like Santiago, Hemingway did not give up, he did not allow himself to become distracted or sloppy. He kept up his work with the hope that today he would get lucky. But as Santiago stated "It is better to be lucky. But I would rather be exact. Then when luck comes you are ready." (Hemingway 29)

When luck finally came for Santiago he had to work very hard. "…fast to the biggest fish that he had ever seen and bigger than he had ever heard of," Santiago struggled for hours to bring it in. (Hemingway 52) He prayed to God, respected the fish's strength and fight, but in the end Santiago proved his greatness as a fisherman. When he thought his struggle had finally come to an end, Santiago then had to fight even more to hold on to what he had. In 1951, when Hemingway was writing The Old Man and the Sea, he too had to fight and pray for the strength to continue, to prove that he was still great. But Hemingway began to explore the meaning of greatness, and if it was tied to accomplishments or efforts. Like Santiago, Hemingway had accomplished much in his past, but had not accomplished much lately. Was Hemingway great because of what he had accomplished, or was he great for having attempted to accomplish it? Was Santiago a great fisherman only when he caught fish, or was he a great fisherman because of his spirit. This was a major theme explored by Hemingway in this novel.

In the end Santiago returned home empty handed, sharks had attacked and devoured his great catch. All he had to show for his effort was a skeleton twice as long as his boat, at which the other fishermen were amazed. While still not catching any fish, Santiago had re-earned the respect of the other fishermen and re-established his place as a great fishermen. Likewise, Hemingway re-asserted his greatness after the failure of Across the River by writing The Old Man and the Sea.

In the Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway discussed the nature of success. In his own life he too had recently experienced a lack of it and came to contemplate the real nature of success. In his book he asserted that the nature of success was not in the accomplishments but in the effort. Ironically, it was his accomplishment of writing The Old Man and the Sea which regained his greatness. While Santiago can claim victory through effort alone, Hemingway received greatness through accomplishments. One wonders if he meant to demonstrate that Across the River was as much of a success as Old Man and the Sea, due to the effort on the part of the author and not the reviews.

It has been demonstrated that Ernest Hemingway's writing have been influenced by his real-life adventures. In some cases, like in For Whom the Bell Tolls, the story parallels events in his life, in others, like The Old Man and the Sea, the story parallels his personal feelings and insecurities. It is this ability to personalize his stories, to connect to the reader and impart feelings and emotions which made Hemingway one of the greatest writers in American history.


Brenner Gerry, The Old Man and the Sea: Story of a Common Man. New York: Twayne Publishers. 1991. Print

Hays, Peter, Ernest Hemingway. New York: Continuum Books. 1992. Print

Hemingway, Ernest. The Old Man and the Sea. New York: Scribner. 1980. Print

Hemingway, Ernest. For Whom the Bell Tolls. New York: Scribner, 1996. Print

Herlihy, Jeffery. "Eyes the Same Color as the Sea." The Hemingway Review. 28:2 (Spring 2009): 25-44.

Huang, Liangguang. "Man is Invincible -- about Hemingway's Humanism." English Language Teaching 3:2 (June 2010).

Josephs, Allen. For Whom the Bell Tolls: Ernest Hemingway's Undiscovered Country. New York: Twayne Publishers. 1994. Print.

Lester, Jennifer, "Reading For Whom the Bell Tolls with Barthes, Bakhtin, and Shapiro." The Hemingway Review 26:2 (Spring 2007).

Putnam, Thomas. "Hemingway on War and it's Aftermath" The National Archives and Records Administration. Web March 29, 2011.

Solow, Michael K,. "A Clash of Certainties,… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Ernest Hemingway.  (2011, March 31).  Retrieved June 16, 2019, from

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"Ernest Hemingway."  31 March 2011.  Web.  16 June 2019. <>.

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"Ernest Hemingway."  March 31, 2011.  Accessed June 16, 2019.