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The Old Man and the Sea | Study Guide

Ernest Hemingway

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Ernest Hemingway | Biography


Ernest Hemingway was born in Oak Park, Illinois, near Chicago, on July 21, 1899. In his career as a journalist he often covered wartime hot spots. As a novelist he is acclaimed for works such as The Sun Also Rises, A Farewell to Arms, For Whom the Bell Tolls, and The Old Man and the Sea, for which he received the Pulitzer Prize in 1953.

As a teenager Hemingway began his writing career as a reporter for the Kansas City Star. Rather than go to college, he volunteered in 1918 as an ambulance driver in the Italian army during World War I. He returned to the United States after being severely injured, staying at his family's home in Michigan to recover.

In 1921 Hemingway married his first wife, Hadley Richardson, and within months the couple moved to Paris. While in Paris, Hemingway joined the expatriate artistic community centered around the American writer Gertrude Stein, who hosted a salon where writers and artists frequently met. Hemingway socialized with well-known modernists such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Pablo Picasso, James Joyce, and Ezra Pound; Stein famously referred to this group as the "lost generation." Modernist writers commented on the insecurities and lack of direction in a world that seemed to have lost all meaning after the brutality of World War I.

The Hemingways found Hadley was pregnant with a child, Jack, in 1923, and so they moved to Toronto, Canada (believing the hospitals were better there), where Hemingway worked as a foreign correspondent for the Toronto Star.

Soon after publishing The Sun Also Rises (1926), a novel heavily drawing on what Hemingway learned about bullfighting during frequent trips to Spain, he and Hadley divorced in 1927. Hemingway then married journalist Pauline Pfeiffer later that year and returned to the United States to live in Key West, Florida. In 1928 their son Patrick was born, followed by another son, Gregory, in 1931. During this marriage Hemingway published A Farewell to Arms (1929), a World War I novel.

In the 1930s Hemingway engaged in adventurous outdoor activities such as hunting in Africa, bullfighting in Spain, and deep-sea fishing in the Gulf of Mexico. Always drawn to the sea, Hemingway bought a boat, the Pilar, in 1934. He equipped it to catch big fish and traveled extensively around the Caribbean, gathering the experiences he would later use in his novella The Old Man and the Sea.

In 1937 he covered the Spanish Civil War as a foreign correspondent for the North American Newspaper Alliance. While in Spain he met fellow journalist Martha Gellhorn. In 1939 he sailed on his boat the Pilar to Cuba, where Gellhorn joined him. Pauline then left him, and Hemingway and Gellhorn married in 1940, settling on a farm near Havana, Cuba.

Hemingway served as a war correspondent in Europe during World War II. He met his fourth wife, Time magazine correspondent Mary Welsh, while living in London from 1944 to 1945. Always aiming to be at the center of events, Hemingway witnessed the Normandy landing at Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944; the liberation of Paris on August 25, 1944; and the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944. In 1946 Welsh and Hemingway married in Cuba.

For Whom the Bell Tolls, Hemingway's novel about the Spanish Civil War, had been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in 1941, but he did not win. However, in 1953 Hemingway won the prestigious award for The Old Man and the Sea. Appearing in 1952, the novella is the last complete work published before his death. An immediate commercial and critical success, it became an international best seller, making its author a celebrity after almost 10 years of virtual literary silence. The novella's critical acclaim helped cement Hemingway's reputation as a literary giant, and in 1954 he won the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Hemingway sustained many injuries throughout his lifetime of adventures. He was a heavy drinker who suffered from depression and several chronic ailments, among them liver disease. When Hemingway and his fourth wife moved to Ketchum, Idaho, after buying a house in 1959, his mental health deteriorated. On July 2, 1961, Hemingway committed suicide. He was 61 years old.

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