HEMINGWAY, ERNEST MILLER (1899–1961). Ernest Hemingway,
winner of the Pulitzer Prize in fiction (1952) and the Nobel Prize in literature (1954), grew up in Oak Park, Illinois. Except when rough water forced them to go by train, he and his family crossed Lake Michigan every summer
until 1917. In his teens, Ernest sometimes took a separate vessel with a
friend; otherwise, he accompanied the family on the steamer Manitou to
Little Traverse Bay at Petoskey, Michigan, en route to their cottage on
Walloon Lake. His earliest story, “My First Sea Vouge,” was a sixth-grade
exercise (1911) elaborating on a visit to Nantucket* where his maternal
grandfather had been a sea captain. In 1918, as a Red Cross officer bound
for the Italian front on the French liner Chicago, he made the first of nearly
forty ocean crossings.
On a return voyage from France through Havana in 1928, he discovered
Key West.* From then on, using an island by the Gulf Stream as his home
base, first Key West (1928–1939) and then Cuba (1940–1960), he wrote
mornings and fished afternoons when in residence.
In 1932, under the tutelage of Cuban commercial fisherman Carlos Guitierrez, he encountered marlin fishing in the Gulf Stream off Havana, “the
great blue river” in the sea, as the Cubans call the stream, and fishing for
marlin became a preoccupation. In 1934 he also began marlin and tuna
fishing where the stream forks around the Bimini Islands in the Bahamas.
That year he bought his own boat, the Pilar, named after a Spanish shrine
and Hemingway’s pet term for his second wife. A thirty-eight-foot “Playmate” cabin cruiser from the Wheeler Shipyard in Brooklyn, customized into
a fishing machine, she remains one of the world’s most publicized sportsfishing boats.
In December 1939 Hemingway moved to Cuba, beginning the longest
sustained residence of his life. During World War II he interrupted his daily
writing and fishing to embark on far riskier ocean ventures in the Pilar.
Much of the time from June 1942 to March 1944, he was on authorized
patrol north and east of Havana, hoping to report the location of German
submarines. By 1960 his declining physical and mental condition, together
with growing coldness between Castro and the United States, forced him
to relocate to Ketchum, Idaho. On 15 April 1961, the American-assisted
Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba made it politically unlikely that he would ever
again see either his library and unfinished manuscripts or the boat and Cuban sketches of the Gulf Stream so important to his creative imagination.
On 21 April he made the first of several attempts on his life and on 2 July
committed suicide in Ketchum.
In many of Hemingway’s short stories, beginning with “The End of
Something” (1925), “Cat in the Rain” (1925), and “On the Quai at
Smyrna” (1930), in eight of his nine novels, and in three works of creative
nonfiction, marine or Great Lakes* details comment on the relation between
humanity and nature.
The sea is, arguably, a source of spiritual rejuvenation in Hemingway’s
first novel, The Sun Also Rises (1926; film adaptation 1957). Sea episodes in the final chapter can be seen to reinforce the protagonist’s flagging, earlier
sense of unity with nature on a river (ch. 12). For some, River to the Sea,
a title Hemingway had considered for the book, shows his concern to stress
the sequence, from inland water to the ocean, of a developing protagonist’s
reassuring sensations of contact with natural order.
Transformations and/or transitions by inland water are important in
Hemingway’s next novel, A Farewell to Arms (1929; film adaptations 1932,
1957). The title of his story “The Sea Change” (1931) derives from lines
in The Tempest (1611); both story and play exploit ancient myths of the sea
as a medium of magical change, viewed in the story as threatening. Water’s
“strange” capacity to transform is portrayed affirmatively, with marine allusions, in the lake episodes of the story “Summer People” (c.1924, pub.
In “After the Storm” (1932), a pragmatic local fisherman describes his
unsuccessful attempt to loot a submerged ocean liner, run aground near Key
West in a hurricane. In the creative nonfiction work Green Hills of Africa
(1935), the Gulf Stream in the Florida Strait objectifies nature’s abiding
endurance (ch. 8). The main plot of the novel To Have and Have Not*
(1937) focuses on a Key West charter-boat captain’s ill-fated trips across the
strait to Havana. In editing the anthology Men at War (1942), Hemingway
included several descriptions of sea contests among the collection’s stark
accounts of war.
Of Hemingway’s four novels composed after World War II, Across the
River and into the Trees (1950; film adaptation 1987) was the first published
and the first of three in which the sea is central. In the novel, set at the end
of the war, an American colonel dying of a heart condition goes to Venice,
a city seeming to rise out of the sea, to spend three final days with the love
of his life, a precocious young Venetian heiress. He finds enchantment and
spiritual rebirth in Venice, envisioning his beloved as Venus in Botticelli’s
celebrated painting, rising out of the sea as do her surroundings. The colonel
has three mystical experiences, each occurring as he observes the play of
sunlight on the seawater of a canal reflected onto the ceiling of an ancient
building. These epiphanies are thus a coefficient of the timeless sea and the
enduring monuments of human effort, as is Venice itself.
An aged Cuban fisherman’s epiphany marks the thematic climax of The
Old Man and the Sea* (1952; film adaptation 1958): the moment when
humanity and sea are in ultimate contact as the old man, Santiago,* kills a
huge marlin he has fought for two days in the Gulf Stream.
The novel Islands in the Stream* (1970; film adaptation 1977), entitled
and published posthumously, consists of three narratives about a painter of
seascapes. In “Bimini,” he attempts to control remorse over failed marriages
and struggles to capture the sea in his painting. In “Cuba,” depressed by
the death of his sons and unable to paint, he searches obsessively for German submarines. In “At Sea,” however, while he is pursuing escaped German
sailors, his intuitive observation of sea scenes partially frees him emotionally
and creatively, shortly before he is fatally wounded.
In the posthumously published editorial condensation The Garden of Eden
(1986), the novel’s opening mise-en-sce `ne is a paradoxical merging of sea
and land. Bordering a French seaside resort, a tidal canal runs inland to the
city of Aigues Mortes, while next to the canal’s entrance a jetty projects into
the Atlantic. A young American at the hotel with his bride hooks a sea bass
at the juncture of canal, sea, and jetty. In an episode symbolically relevant
to the couple’s cross-sexual role-playing, the fish runs out along the jetty to
strain beyond its tip toward the open sea before being forced back to the
base of the phallic structure and led into the adjacent canal. Later, thematically related diving and swimming scenes indicate the alienation of husband
and wife while defining a superior balance of aggression and submission
between the husband and a woman with whom he finds an idyllic symbiosis.
Another swimming episode recalls the spirit of Santiago’s voyage and Hemingway’s Nobel acceptance remarks, as the lovers go out where neither has
gone before and view the coastline from a perspective not seen by other
Hemingway’s many journalistic articles on marine subjects are listed in
the following bibliography. The revealing logs he kept of activities aboard
the Pilar in 1934–1935 and 1936 are unpublished at this writing but may
be examined at the JFK Presidential Library, Boston.
FURTHER READING: Baker, Carlos. Ernest Hemingway: A Life Story. New York:
Scribner’s, 1969; Baker, Carlos. Hemingway: The Writer as Artist. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1963; Hanneman, Audre. Ernest Hemingway: A Comprehensive Bibliography.
Princeton: Princeton UP, 1967; Miller, Linda. “The Matrix of Hemingway’s Pilar
Log, 1934–1935,” NDQ 64, no. 3 (Summer 1997): 105–23; Reynolds, Michael.
Hemingway: The Final Years. New York: Norton, 1999; Samuelson, Arnold. With
Hemingway: A Year in Key West and Cuba. New York: Random, 1984; Sylvester,
Bickford. “Hemingway’s Extended Vision: The Old Man and the Sea,” PMLA 81
(March 1966): 130–38; Sylvester, Bickford. “The Cuban Context of The Old Man
and the Sea,” The Cambridge Companion to Hemingway. Ed. Scott Donaldson. New
York: Cornell UP, 1996, 243–68.