THINGS TO KNOW BEFORE READING HEMINGWAY
One of Hemingway's typewriters, on display in the Key West Customs House museum. Photo by UT students, 2021.
Hemingway's uniform, on display at the Key West Customs House Museum. Photo by UT students, 2021.
Hemingway’s Writing Style:
Ernest Hemingway’s writing style is seen mostly as short, precise sentences, and this terseness brought about a new style of prose for the modern writer (Xie). His characters are noted for speaking more like real people than characters found in the works of other authors, because he does away with the use of elaborate adjectives and adverbs. He tends to primarily use one- or two-syllable words to keep his sentences flowing nice and simply; to make up for this, Hemingway’s characters are usually multilayered and complex. Hemingway’s style was most likely influenced by his work in journalism, where his articles would have been short and concise to keep readers entertained. Hemingway also carries this same discipline over into his fiction work. One of these colloquial techniques Hemingway uses is parataxis: the placing of clauses one after another (Random House Unabridged Dictionary.) Though it’s generally defined by short, quick clauses, such as “I came, I saw, I conquered.” One example of an asyndetic parataxis in Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises is “the steer was down now, his neck stretched out, his head twisted, he lay the way he had fallen” (144).
In addition to this, the Iceberg theory, also called the theory of omission, is a minimalistic writing technique associated with Ernest Hemingway. This style involves keeping the deeper details of the story such as character background information beneath the surface of the page. Hemingway claimed that he came up with this idea after working as a journalist, specifically, writing newspaper articles about current events. The most classic example of this is the story “Hills Like White Elephants,” which centers around a couple discussing an abortion, but the word is never used.
“The Spirit of Place,” is a term originally coined by D.H. Lawrence. Hemingway frequently uses colloquial diction, foreign words, and literal translations rather than their English equivalents to convey the flavor of unfamiliar language.
Hemingway’s use of free-indirect prose style:
The free-indirect style is the integration of first-person thoughts and speech into third-person narration. The term originated in the French language, where written quotation marks are less common than in English; Hemingway was familiarized with the idea during his time as a journalist. In The Old Man and the Sea, free-indirect style is used often as a vehicle for Santiago’s thoughts, to the point that entire paragraphs go by in this way without a single quotation mark. A perfect example of this can be found on page 46:
"Then he looked behind him and saw that no land was visible. That makes no difference, he thought. I can always come in from the glow of Havana. There are two more hours before the sun sets and maybe he will come up before that. If he doesn’t maybe he will come up with the moon. If he does not do that maybe he will come up with the sunrise."
Free-indirect passages like these appear often in the book, about once every two pages. They increase in length and regularity as the story continues; the vast bulk of these are Santiago’s thoughts directed at the marlin. Commenting on its strength, planning his next moves to best it, or contemplating the nature of such a strong fish in such a vast ocean.
Anthropomorphism in “Old Man and the Sea:”
Anthropomorphism, the act of attributing human characteristics to non-human entities, is a key element of Santiago’s way of thinking. We see this first on page 29: Santiago thinks of the sea as la mar, a feminine term, and refers to it exclusively as “her.” While other fishermen call the sea el mar, masculine like an enemy or contestant, Santiago sticks to the feminine. He even goes so far as to say of the sea that “...If she did wild or wicked things it was because she could not help them. The moon affects her as it does a woman.” He also anthropomorphizes his own cramped hand on page 59, speaking encouragement to it, and calls a Portugese man-of-war a “whore.” He speaks to a small bird, asking it how old it is. His way of relating to the world is to relate to and compromise for living things, even if they are not actually alive.
Santiago also anthropomorphizes the marlin throughout the story. He gives the pronoun “he” to it and exclusively refers to it this way; speaks to it several times; thinks to himself that he must convince the marlin to believe it is weak, as though it has any concept of weakness or strength. On page 53, when night has fallen over our protagonist, Santiago even addresses the marlin as an opponent, as though in a race: “I can do it as long as he can.” Later in the book, Santiago comes to repeatedly refer to the marlin as his “brother,” even accepting the potential of being killed by this beast which he loves (92, 105). His anthropomorphication of the marlin goes so far that Santiago comes to define the events of the book as a fight between equals.