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An Introduction

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Portrait of Hemingway with Gregorio Fuentes, Cuban Fisherman thought to be the inspiration behind The Old Man and the Sea. Photo by Chandler Culotta, Hemingway House, Key West, 2021. 

On this page we are highlighting the exhibit of drawings by Guy Harvey that represent the full narrative of The Old Man and the Sea. These were on display at the Customs House Museum in Key West, 2021.

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"There are many good fishermen and some great ones. But there is only one you" (23).

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"The setting of the sun is a difficult time for all fish" (73).
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“Perhaps I should not have been a fisherman, he thought. But that was the thing I was born for” (50). 

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Context Around when The Old Man and the Sea Takes Place

Although the date of The Old Man and the Sea is never expressly stated, scholars have estimated that the book takes place sometime in September of 1951. By using this rough estimate, historians are able to provide an account of what life was like in Cuba for Santiago and Manolin. Politically, the government was ruled by President Carlos Prio Socarras. Socarras’ presidency created a brief moment for Cuba in which democracy was able to flourish, as it was between the Machado and Batista dictatorships. Though democracy was prevalent in Cuba, the country was still influenced significantly by the United States because of the Good Neighbor Policy and the Treaty of 1903. Additionally, the economy was heavily reliant on trade with the United States -so much so that the U.S. dollar was widely accepted as currency. Since Cuba was under American Occupation for several years, it became reliant on the United States as the United States shaped the Cuban economy to be dependent on the United States. This reliance on the United States led to a majority of Cubans working on worthless sugar plantations to support the United States’ desire for sugar. In fact, by 1950 one-third of Cubans worked on plantations that only provided seasonal work. This led to mass amounts of poverty on the island. Socially, the island was separated by class. In Havana, wealthy Cubans lived a life of luxury similar to any European city. Interestingly, due to American influence, a majority of Havana was segregated by race in order to appease Southern Americans who would often visit the island. In contrast to the rest of the country, the Cuban people lived in abject poverty. Malnourishment and illiteracy were common throughout the country. One thing that was universal throughout the country was religion, because of four hundred years of Spanish Colonialism, Catholicism was followed by a majority of Cuba’s inhabitants – except for American immigrants who practiced Protestantism. In conclusion, during the time that The Old Man and the Sea takes place, Cuba was tied politically and economically to the United States, and a majority of Cuban people lived in poverty. 

Determining the Date The Old Man and the Sea Takes Place 

In the beginning of The Old Man and the Sea, the Old Man – Santiago – and Manolin are heard talking about a series of games in the newspaper with emphasis on the Yankees. Through research and process of elimination, I have found the date of the baseball game Hemingway was referencing in this beginning section. The game occurred on September 7, 1950. In this paragraph, I will explain how I got to the date of the baseball game, and the evidence used. The first piece of evidence I used was looking at when Dick Sisler played for the Philadelphia Phillies, as he is mentioned playing for the Phillies. Upon doing some research, it was found that Dick Sisler played for the Phillies between 1948 and 1951. The second piece of evidence I used was the month the book took place in. Throughout the book there are several references to the month of September, implying that the story takes place then. The third limiting factor does not deal with the Yankees, but the Phillies and the Dodgers. As I looked at when the Dodgers played the Phillies during the month of September between 1948 and 1951. This is due to a Dodgers-Phillies game being mentioned in the book as well. This narrowed the possible games down to nine possible series between 1948 and 1951. After figuring out when the Dodgers played the Phillies, I referenced those games to figure out when the Yankees lost on those dates as that is also mentioned. This narrowed the possible games down to seven possible games. The fifth limiting factor was looking at when both the Detroit Tigers and the Cleveland Indians (now Guardians) were both good but not great as Manolin mentions; he is afraid of the Yankees playing the Detroit Tigers and the Cleveland Indians, but Santiago dismissed him. This eliminated the years of 1948 and 1951 as the Cleveland Indians won the World Series in 1948 and in 1951 the Detroit Tigers were terrible, finishing fifth in the American League out of eight. The sixth eliminator was looking at the records to see if Joe Dimmaggio – who is directly mentioned– played in any of these games. It turns out in 1949 he missed several games. This left two possible games, September 6th or September 7th 1950. In looking at the games, it was found that Joe Dimmaggio went hitless on September 6, 1950 but had a hit on September 7, 1950, eliminating September 6 as a choice as Manolin mentioned Joe Dimmaggio being back to his old self. This is supported by the Old Man mentioning the Yankees having other players as the Yankees scored eight runs in the game, showing they were a complete team. This shows Hemingway was a realist writer who often referenced actual events in his stories, which could allude to larger consequences in the novel or the outside world, by using his iceberg theory.

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