Ernest Hemingway with Pauline, Gregory, John, and Patrick Hemingway and four marlins on the dock in Bimini 1935.

Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea was Published on This Day in 1952

It was on this day in 1952, that Earnest Hemingway’s widely popular novel The Old Man and the Sea was published by Charles Scribner’s Sons. It was the last major work that the author would complete and granted him much praise and awards. The book won the Pulitzer Prize in 1953 and had firmly made Hemingway into a celebrity with it’s success.

In many ways, this book redeemed Hemingway in the eyes of readers and critics. His novel Across the River and into the Trees had previously received negative reviews when published in 1950, but The Old Man and the Sea proved to the public that Hemingway was among the literary masters like Melville and Faulkner. The novel is short, 127 pages, but plunges into the the story of Santiago, a fisherman who hasn’t caught a thing in eighty-four days, and his young apprentice Manolin. Because of the many allusions to the bible and religion in general, readers and critics deemed this work proof of Hemingway’s ability to deliver philosophy of a “higher caliber”. In Joseph Waldmeir’s 1957 essay “Confiteor Hominem: Ernest Hemingway’s Religion of Man” he explains why the public regarded the novel with higher esteem:

“ … it may be established that the religious overtones of The Old Man and the Sea are not peculiar to that book among Hemingway’s works, and that Hemingway has finally taken the decisive step in elevating what might be called his philosophy of Manhood to the level of a religion.”

Audiences were still very much concerned with the role of religion in literature and the way in which authors portrayed it. Though this was a common interest among most, not every critic was wild about Hemingway’s newest novel. Robert P. Weeks characterized the novel as being a phony cop out to the kind of prose that Hemingway claimed he was really a proponent for. Citing how much Hemingway condemned the works of Thoreau, W.H. Hudson, Melville, and Faulkner, his 1962 piece “Fakery in The Old Man and the Sea” says it best:

“The work of fiction in which Hemingway devoted the most attention to natural objects, The Old Man and the Sea, is pieced out with an extraordinary quantity of fakery, extraordinary because one would expect to find no inexactness, no romanticizing of natural objects in a writer who loathed W.H. Hudson, could not read Thoreau, deplored Melville’s rhetoric in Moby Dick, and who was himself criticized by other writers, notably Faulkner, for his devotion to the facts and his unwillingness to ‘invent.’”

The Old Man and the Sea remains to be popular among high school English classes, though perhaps we’re no longer sure of the real reason for it. The language is eloquent, the allegories rich, and it is perfect material to exemplify all of those literary devices. But is it Hemingway’s best? Perhaps it’s a matter of opinion or maybe it’s a matter of what sold best in 1952.