Ernest Hemingway is known for his short, declarative style of writing. In this lesson, you'll learn more about his writing style and how it applies to his story 'The Old Man and the Sea.'
Hemingway's Writing Style
Ernest Hemingway is one of the most widely-read and well-known authors of the 20th century. His more famous works, The Sun Also Rises, For Whom the Bell Tolls, and The Old Man and the Sea, helped cement Hemingway's place among the best writers of his day.
One of the things that sets Hemingway's works apart is the way in which he writes. Ever since his writing career started in the 1920s, Hemingway has been known for his short, straightforward style that is both simplistic and unadorned. His writing style stood out among his peers who were writing at the time in a very flowery, complex way.
Hemingway's style is remarkably similar to the writing style of a journalist, and for good reason. His early background included journalistic training, a style of writing that relies heavily on presenting the facts in a crisp and clear way and allowing dialogue or conversations to shine through; and a stint at the newspaper, Kansas City Star. In short, Hemingway wrote the way people really talked or experienced things, rather than embellishing them for a more ornate style of prose. The author himself once said that a writer's style should be direct and personal with wording that is simple and vigorous.
Hemingway's writing style is sometimes referred to as the iceberg theory. The general idea of the iceberg theory is that a writer should focus on a minimalistic style without explicitly stating the underlying issues or themes. Essentially, the importance of a story lies beneath the surface and cannot be directly seen. This is like an iceberg in that you may notice a small portion of the ice above the water line, but cannot see the larger structure beneath.
The style of Hemingway's writing is on clear display in his most well-known work, The Old Man and the Sea. Let's look at a few examples.
The Style of the Story
History tells us that Hemingway wrote and revised his most famous novella hundreds of times before it was ready to be published. The day he finished writing, he called his publisher, telling him it was the best work he had ever done. Still, it followed Hemingway's general theory of writing in a number of ways:
First, it is simple. What could be simpler than a story about a fisherman attempting a great catch? Simplicity is not in the story alone, but also in the way the novella is structured. Short, simple sentences help to make the work a very quick read. When short sentences are not used, Hemingway is fond of using 'and' to connect thoughts together.
For example: ''He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish.''
This is the first sentence in Hemingway's book and shows immediately the simplicity with which he plans to tell this story. There is no fancy language or emotion conveyed - just simple facts.
Second, it is direct. Hemingway's style is effective because of the uncomplicated choice of wording he uses in writing his piece. In short, he uses very specific and direct word choice that contributes to his overall style of writing that is direct and unbothered.
For example: ''The clouds over the land now rose like mountains and the coast was only a long green line with the gray blue hills behind it. The water was a dark blue now, so dark that it was almost purple.''
In this example, Hemingway paints a picture of what the old man is seeing, describing the landscape as clouds rising like mountains and water that is so dark it is almost purple. It is an easy and direct description that readers can easily relate to.
Third, it is conversational. Much of Hemingway's novel concerns conversation between the old man and his apprentice. Rather than working that information into paragraphs or letting us into the heads of the characters, he uses regular dialogue we might hear any day on the subway or in a restaurant.
For example: '''Do you want coffee?' the boy asked.
'We'll put the gear in the boat and then get some.'
They had coffee from condensed milk cans at an early morning place that served fishermen.
'How did you sleep old man?' the boy asked.''
And fourth, it is realistic. The Old Man and the Sea is more than a story; it is also a factual representation of a fishing expedition that feels based on a real-life experience. The representation of the fishing experience is vivid and precise, but also true.
For example: ''Each bait hung head down with the shank of the hook inside the bait fish, tied and sewed solid and all the projecting part of the hook, the curve and the point, was covered with fresh sardines. Each sardine was hooked through both eyes so that they made a half-garland on the projecting steel. There was no part of the hook that a great fish could feel which was not sweet smelling and good tasting.''
The thorough but realistic description of a fisherman baiting a hook helps to place the reader in the boat with the fisherman and lends credibility to the story.
Hemingway's writing style in The Old Man and the Sea and beyond, is concise, straightforward, and realistic, a departure from other writers of his time. Many have referred to this style as the iceberg theory, a simple style of writing that reveals minimal detail on the surface, with deeper meaning hiding below. Hemingway follows a pattern of writing style that incorporates the following ideas: simple, direct, conversational, and realistic.