Ernest Hemingway was born in Oak Peak – a suburb of Chicago, in 1898 as the son of a physician. He spent part of his childhood in the forests of Michigan. During World War I. he served as a voluntary ambulance driver and was seriously injured. Like other writers of the group that called „Lost Generation“ (John Dos Passos, Scott Fitzgerald) he was deeply affected by the horrors of the war.
He began his career with short stories which he wrote in Paris – his first book of stories In Our Time was published in 1925. His heroes are virile and fond of sports (Hemingway was a great lover of hunting, fishing and bull fighting) but they are maimed either physically or mentally. Such is his novel The Sun Also Rises (from Spain), whose hero Jake Barnes lives a miserable life falling in love with an English woman, Brett Ashley. His injury makes sexual life impossible.
His world famous novel A Farewell to Arms is an epic description of World War I. and thus a protest against any war. But it is also a moving love-story of an American lieutenant in the American Ambulance Service and an English nurse. They go off to Switzerland to avoid the horror. But the beloved girl dies during child-birth. During this time Hemingway lives in Florida, goes watching bull-fighting in Spain, hunting wild animals in Africa, fishing, using these topics in his books Death in the Afternoon and Green Hills of Africa.
His novel To Have and Have Not shows the impacts of the great economic crisis. Its hero Harry Morgan lives miserably; at last he contrabands goods and money and dies. In his famous novel For Whom the Bell Tolls , which is a psychological picture of war, Robert Jordan, a young American, comes to Spain as a volunteer to help in the fight against fascism. Jordan succeeds in blowing up a bridge but only at the cost of his life. His creed is: “You can do nothing for yourself but perhaps for another.“
Hemingway took part also in World War II. as a war reporter and proved to be dauntless again, especially during the taking of Paris. After the war he was dangerously sick. This inspirated him to write another love story – the novel Across the River and into the Trees. It is the story of an American colonel – Cantwell, who is seriously sick. He loves a young Italian noble-woman and knows he must die in a short time. He dies of a heart attack.
The Old Man and the Sea seems to be the most famous of Hemingway‘s novels. Santiago, a poor Cuba fisherman, used to go fishing with a boy who loved Santiago for his skill and endurance. But they had incredible bad-luck, they could not catch any fish. So the old man started going to sea alone but again in vain. Only in September he went very far in his boat and caught a huge fish. But he was forced to fight against sharks. Before he returned exhausted to death he had dragged only a skeleton which was longer than his boat. „But man is not made for defeat“, he said. „A man can be destroyed but not defeated!“ However, it was the love of the boy and the boy’s love of the old fisherman that supported him at the moment he thought he would lose his fight against sharks. The boy was waiting for Santiago, brought food for him and helped him to recover quickly.
This tiny book is a masterpiece giving a most detailed picture of doing, thinking and feeling of quite plain men and passionate fishermen. It is also a poem about the sea and about the eternal fight between nature and man which must lose if he fights alone.. For this book Hemingway was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1954.
During his last years he suffered from a depression leading to his suicide in 1961. In this time he wrote two works published posthumously, the last of them is Islands in the Stream. These are autobiographical memoirs linked by the person of a successful painter Thomas Hudson.