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Case Study of Short Story Authors Hemingway
As Earnest Hemingway got older, his writing got more complex and started to include more of the themes that became important to him over the course of his life. Two of his stories, The Old Man and the Sea and A Clean Well Lighted Place, are representative of the themes of age and wisdom that Hemingway gathered during his time on earth. In both of those stories, old men drive the action. From the actions and thoughts of those older men, the reader learns an awful lot about Earnest Hemingway.
Whether it happened on purpose or sub-consciously, Hemingway allows his own age to color the way he represents the characters in his story.
Santiago is the leading man in Hemingway’s story and many of his experiences are what make the story interesting. When the reader is first introduced to Santiago, he is out on the sea fishing for his livelihood. The problem is that he just is not having the type of success that a veteran fisherman should have.
Even beyond that, he is almost struggling to survive, as he has not caught a fish for almost three months. In this, the reader can understand some of the themes of struggle that Hemingway wants to impart into his characters. He wants to show the reader that being an old man and having lots of life experiences is anything but easy. Even though the old man has been at it for decades, he still has to put in his time and go through his struggles sometimes.
Though there is some debate on whether or not the old man is actually a representation of Earnest Hemingway himself, some evidence does exist to corroborate that line of though. Hemingway himself was an old man in Cuba, who spent much of his time on a boat looking for that one catch. In a way, Hemingway felt that the one big catch was needed in order to make a man’s life worthwhile. Kelley Duplus wrote of this in an essay on Hemingway when she said, “Late in 1948 he wrote an article for Holiday magazine in which he talked about his life there, offering his readers verbal snapshots of cool mornings at the Finca, cockfights and pigeon shoots, but most importantly the incomparable marlin fishing in the Gulf Stream, which he lovingly called “the Great Blue River.” In fact it was not only in journalism but in his often less-than-successful later fictions that Hemingway’s attractions toward this part of the world are apparent” (Duplus). Hemingway had a great affinity for Cuba and that part of the world, which is apparent in how he describes Santiago. Though Santiago has all of the reason in the world to stop fishing during his time of struggle, he has an unbroken spirit and keeps pushing forward because he needed the big catch and because of the beautiful country he was fishing off of.
In addition to that, themes of Hemingway’s own life are represented in the search for the great Marlin. While Santiago is out looking for that last great fish, Hemingway is looking for his last great book. In a way, this symbolism is something that Hemingway associates with old age. When one reaches that stage in their life, it is time to do something meaningful that they can hang their hat on. This is true for both the old man and for Hemingway as an old man.
In A Clean, Well Lighted Place, Hemingway does similar things with an older character, but does not stray from the idea of portraying his own thoughts on old age and wisdom. While the first story of the old man talks about trying to do something meaningful, this story discusses a man who has been through monumental struggle. This man has attempted suicide and he has a drinking problem. In a way, he is doing whatever it takes to cope. Though he has had some problems, people still understand him, though. This is another thing that the reader can draw from Hemingway’s work. He thinks that older men, regardless of what they are going through, should be understood by those around them. He does concede, however, that not everyone has understanding for what old men go through in their quest for a meaningful life. Karen Barnardo gives a great commentary on how the old man is dealt with in this story when she writes, “The older waiter, on the other hand, understands despair only too well.
He is saddened when the young waiter insults the old man (regardless of whether or not the old man heard his remark, it is heartless anyway) and is even more grieved when the young waiter closes the cafe and sends the old man away. As he says to the younger waiter, “You have youth, confidence, and a job. You have everything.” The old man, on the other hand, has nothing — no one to go home to, nothing to look forward to, no pleasure left in life except the small comfort of being able to spend a little time in a clean, well-lighted place” (Barnardo). This can be seen as Hemingway’s reaching out to people for understanding. He has done some great things, but he has also made some mistakes. All that he wants is to be understood.
Hemingway is sure to present the many problems that the old man has had to face in order to get by in life. He does not want the reader to think that the man is there by his own devices. With this, he wants to represent a version of the old man that someone might be able to feel sorry for, at least on some level. For this old man, his primary obstacle is blindness. Elizabeth S. Wall breaks down this factor in her analysis by writing, “Deafness shuts the old man out from the rest of the world. In the day, everything must be a reminder to him of his disconnection from the world. The busy streets, the marketplace, the chatter in the cafes along the street, the animals, and the motor vehicles fill the town with noise all day long. The old man knows this and recognizes that he is completely cut off from the sounds that he probably had not thought much of as a young man” (Wall). Hemingway’s reflection on his own life can be seen here. Though he was not deaf, he did have to overcome obstacles. Sometimes for an old man, those obstacles can be too much to bear, though. That is what Hemingway wants to represent in this passage.
Earnest Hemingway lived a long, complex life that went through lots of different turns. Over the course of his life, he learned lots of things through his experiences. Being married quite a few times, living in many places, and writing many books were only a few of the things that he did during his life. Through these two works, we get a clear picture of his representation of old men and how he believes they should be represented.
Bernardo, Karen. Ernest Hemingway’s “A Clean Well-Lighted Place”. Retrieved February 23, 2008 from http://www.storybites.com/hemingwayclean2.htm.
Dupuis, Kelley. Homing To The Stream :Ernest Hemingway In Cuba. Retrieved February 23, 2008 from http://www.ernest.hemingway.com/cuba.htm.
Wall, Elizabeth S. “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” by Earnest Hemingway”. Retrieved February 23, 2008 from http://www.ocf.berkeley.edu/~ewall/hemingway.html.
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