I live in a vacuum that is as lonely as a radio tube when the batteries are dead and there is no current to plug into.” I remember Billy Graham speaking these words during his sermon on the first evening of a 1979 crusade in Tampa, Florida. The confession was not his own, of course. He was quoting the words of another to illustrate the desperation and alienation of twentieth-century man. He was quoting the late Ernest Hemingway.

Knowing details of Hemingway’s life story, I have since that evening wanted to flesh out the bones of Graham’s carefully chosen illustration. Evangelicals or literary critics would wince at the idea of holding Hemingway up to illustrate any practical truth of interest to Christians. Most people, after all, know Hemingway as the animal-killing, bullfighting tough boy; the boozing man of the world, married four times, who trotted the globe and made it his personal oyster, without conscience, without a moral code. They know him as the manic-depressed outpatient from the Mayo Clinic who, on a sunny Sunday morning in Idaho, disintegrated his head with a shotgun blast. There is, however, another Hemingway.

My interest in the writer began regionally. As a boy I spent my summers camping and fishing in the blue-green lake country of northern Michigan. My father and I trolled in the same waters that Hemingway had so exactingly written about in the 1920s. I did not know about Hemingway as a boy, but as a teenager I discovered his Michigan stories and found that through the simple arrangement of short words and lean, terse sentences, I could go back to “the far blue hills that marked the Lake Superior height of land” or gaze down into “the clear, brown water, colored from the pebbly bottom, and watch the trout keeping themselves steady in the current with wavering fins.” Hemingway had captured for anyone who had ever loved this part of the country the precise qualities of color, light, scent, flavor, and touch that make up an environment.

When I reread the same stories today, I can look past the landscape scenes and am not surprised by what I see: strands of Hemingway’s turbulent boyhood mingle with the stunted seedlings of religious confusion. His childhood was nurtured in a rich religious soil, an evangelicalism rooted in the geographical heart of modern evangelicalism—Wheaton, Illinois.

The archives of Wheaton College hold updates of the time-yellowed student records of Ernest’s paternal grandparents, Anson Tyler and Adelaide Edmonds Hemingway, who studied there in the early days of the college—during the 1860s. Anson Hemingway, descended from the first student at Yale University, entered Wheaton fresh after his honorable discharge from the 72nd Illinois Infantry during the Civil War. Adelaide Edmonds, born of a man—John Wesley Edmonds—who had been named after the founder of Methodism, was an intelligent, brown-eyed brunette majoring in botany and astronomy. She paid for her education by teaching school on the side, and when graduation came she gave the valedictory address and class poem at her class’s commencement exercises.

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The couple married and moved to Oak Park, another conservative stronghold near Chicago, where Anson Hemingway joined the YMCA to serve as general secretary. Holding his eating utensils daintily at the YMCA dinner table, his fingernails smoothly manicured and his gray beard trimmed to perfection, he met the shoe-salesman-turned-evangelist, Dwight L. Moody. The two shared a binding friendship that lasted until Moody’s death in 1899, the same year Ernest Hemingway was born.

A living illustration of the biblical axiom—“be fruitful and multiply the earth”—the Anson Hemingways bore six children, each of whom studied at the conservatively Christian and highly academic Oberlin College in Ohio. One might have expected parents who had sat under the umbrella of Wheaton College’s Jonathan Blanchard to encourage their children toward lives of full-time ministry. And, indeed, one son, Willoughby Hemingway, served as a missionary physician in China. Other children entered business and education careers, and Dr. C. E. (Ed) Hemingway, Ernest’s father, set up shop as a general practitioner in Oak Park.

Marcelline Hemingway Sanford, writing after her brother’s suicide in 1961, described her paternal grandparents, commenting especially on the love her grandmother had for nature and how this affection filtered down to Ernest’s father and eventually to Ernest himself. She wrote: “Grandmother explained the reason for the golden pollen. She told how the bees helped to create new plants and flowers by carrying it on their feet as they visited the blossoms of other similar plants. She explained that God had given the bees a special sense so that they never carried the pollen of one variety of plant to a dissimilar one, but always kept to plants of a like variety or to tree blossoms of the same kind when they were on their honey-collecting rounds.”

Grandmother Adelaide Hemingway, whom friends described as “charming,” had prioritized her life, though, and never allowed her affection for nature to become a preoccupation. When one of her Oak Park neighbors—the folks Ernest would refer to one day as part of that “cheap, petty, vacantness of Oak Park”—protested that the Hemingways’ lawn was being chopped up by her sons who were playing ball on it, she replied, “I don’t mind a bit. You see, I’m raising boys, not grass.”

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Anson Hemingway’s attitudes were identical. To his death, Ernest called him “my boyhood hero,” and it was Grandfather Hemingway’s round, bearded face to which Ernest’s own face bore a nearly identical resemblance late in the writer’s life.

If not as much loved as this grandfather was, Ernest’s maternal grandfather was even more revered for his godly spiritual leadership. Indeed, his grandchildren called him “Abba,” as if the Almighty himself were looking at the world through a mortal’s eyes and speaking with a mortal’s tongue.

Ernest Hall, from whom Ernest Hemingway received his name, anchored himself as a pillar of Grace Episcopal Church in Oak Park. Sporting puffy, porkchop sideburns that matched the white of his shirt collar and tie, he knelt each Sunday on the Brussels carpet at church to lead the evening prayer. “God was a person he knew intimately,” wrote Marcelline Hemingway Sanford, who along with her brother Ernest would watch their grandfather gaze upward when he prayed.

With his wife’s passing, Ernest Hall moved into the Hemingways’ home, where he could influence his grandchildren. “After Abba had read the lesson for the day,” Marcelline wrote, “we would all rise, turn, and kneel down on the carpet in front of our chairs, resting our elbows on the black leather seats, while Abba knelt at the center table. But instead of closing his eyes or bowing his head as the rest of us did, he raised his head, his eyes upward, as though he were talking to God right above him.”

He prayed in a thundering voice: “If we expose ourselves to the flaming purity of Jesus, we are forced to admit that we are in need of cleansing. We feel the sharp lash of his rebuke. Our conscience is forced to quiver in pain, in humiliation and in shame. We may turn from his fury and flee but there is no escape.”

I shudder to think of the emotional energy generated in a home where the Word is wielded with such a flaming hand. Apparently, so did the young Hemingways. “It was clear to everyone in the household that they were weak, that because of their weakness they needed the strength which only God could give,” wrote a close friend of Ernest Hemingway. “If and only if they made a true effort to gain strength from God, only then might they prove strong enough to fight sin.”

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Emotional energy flowed, from whatever source, out of Ernest Hemingway, the boy. “He liked action,” a friend wrote of him, and Ernest’s Grandfather Hall was one of the first to recognize the energy of imagination surging from his young grandson. One day, speaking to his daughter Grace (Ernest’s mother), he made a prediction: “Mark my words, dear,” he said, “this boy is going to be heard from some day. If he uses his imagination for good purposes, he’ll be famous, but if he starts the wrong way, with all his energy, he’ll end in jail.” But Ernest Hall never knew how truthfully he had prophesied. Shortly after, on a spring day in 1905, he died.

I doubt, however, if this bit of family prophecy shocked Grace Hall Hemingway. A confident woman, she had high hopes for her brown-eyed boy. She had him baptized at Oak Park’s First Congregational Church, and after the ceremony wrote that Ernest had been given “as an offering unto the Lord, to receive His name and henceforth be counted as one of God’s little lambs.”

Ernest Hemingway’s mother practiced a sentimental faith that balanced out with her husband’s stern devotion to God and his church. “The robins sang their sweetest song to welcome the little stranger into this beautiful world,” she wrote of Ernest on the day he was born. Her wide, happy face reflected her outlook on life. “She loved the perfume of flowers,” a biographer wrote, “and she loved music; above all she loved them in combination. In her mind certain flowers went with certain operas. The smell of roses reminded her of Romeo and Juliet. The odor of violets reminded her of Aida, and the strong perfume of freesia recalled the great arias of Faust.”

By contrast, Dr. C. E. Hemingway, rigid and piercingly intelligent, was a hunter as well as a doctor, and where his wife was all perfume and flowers, he was sweat and nails—especially concerning his faith. He practiced a devotion to God, said Marcelline Hemingway Sanford, “in which there was no compromise between what he considered right and wrong. Daddy would have his arm around one of us or we would be sitting on his lap, laughing and talking, and a minute or so later—because of something we had said or done, or some neglected duty of ours he suddenly thought about—we would be ordered to our rooms and made to go without supper. Sometimes we would be spanked hard, our bodies across his knee. Always after punishment we were told to kneel down and ask God to forgive us.”

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Dr. Hemingway condemned smoking, dancing, and card playing, warning that such activities led to “hell and damnation.” He forbade using the words “gosh” and “darn,” his strongest expression being “oh rats.” He taught Sunday school and stressed to his children that God had created the world in seven days, although nobody had ever explained how long a day was. And to drive home the unpleasantness of how sin and disobedience affects people, he once carted the Hemingway children off to the state prison in Joliet, Illinois, where they could see firsthand its iron bars, stone walls, and barbed wire fences.

It might appear, then, that Ernest’s later rebellion somehow had rooted itself in his father’s rigorous religious faith. One biographer writes of the boy Hemingway: “Sin scared the life out of Ernest. At night he prayed that he had been a good boy during the day. The trouble was, a boy could never be sure if he had been good; he might have done something bad and not known it was bad. It was so hard to obey every rule, so hard to please his mother, his father, his teachers, his minister, his God; so hard that sometimes it wasn’t worth trying, and a boy felt like giving up.”

But the truth is that Ernest loved his father—loved him more than he loved anyone else. For all of Dr. Hemingway’s hard-line ideas, he loved his children and lived an unhypocritical life. “He believed in doing the right thing,” a friend wrote. “He didn’t talk about good intentions, but he did take care of anyone who needed his help, and if a patient could not pay, Dr. Hemingway did not ask him to. He was a man who never drew the line between an Indian woman living in a shack and a banker living in Oak Park.”

Ernest loved his father for teaching him the rules of nature, and particularly because he made no attempt at softening or disguising technical explanations. “Wherever they went, he told Ernest the name of each thing they saw or touched, not a nursery rhyme name, but the real name. A hawk in the sky was called a hawk, never a birdie, and if it was a chicken hawk, the fact that the bird’s name came from its habit of eating chickens was made clear to Ernest,” a biographer notes.

His mother, on the other hand, chose to guard Ernest from his earliest moments with a sweeter, sheltered kind of life. Until he was three she dressed him in pink gingham dresses and white battenburg lace hoods, called him her little “Dutch Dollie,” and held his hand while they strolled away to society luncheons. When the boy was old enough to feel out of place as a doll, she wrote, “He grows indignant when I call him ‘Dutch Dollie.’ ” She described how he learned to shout that he was “Pawnee Bill,” and how he made his hand like a gun and pretended to shoot his mother.

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He learned to see her as being distinctly different from his father. A biographer wrote: “Grace Hall Hemingway disliked anything which disturbed her beautiful world. She hated diapers. She did not want to see or smell the diarrhea and vomit of her children, and she did not want to clean house or cook. Even though he was a busy doctor, busy paying house calls and operating at Oak Park Hospital, Dr. Hemingway was forced to telephone home and say, ‘Time to put the roast in the oven, Gracie,’ if he wanted his and his family’s dinner served when he got home.”

She had sacrificed a career in opera to marry Dr. Hemingway and raise his children, and this gesture, she felt, gave her the right to demand her way and to expect that her demands be met. Holding to the glitter of Chicago’s opera scene, she refused to go to Guam with her husband when he told her he felt called to serve there as a medical missionary. And later, when he wanted to practice medicine in Nevada to escape city life, her answer was the same: “No.” Dr. Hemingway became the family cook and housekeeper as well as its breadwinner, and Ernest bitterly resented that his father had to take on domestic chores while his mother waltzed about the house in long dresses, performing her music for anyone who would listen. She designed a music room with a balcony, and neighbors were invited in to listen to Grace Hall Hemingway in person.

Though the Hemingway parents could not see eye-to-eye on foreign missions work, they did agree that each of their six children should grow up immersed in the evangelical churches of Oak Park. And with straight brown bangs, dimples, and a flowing white choir robe, young Ernest Hemingway fit into the mold of piety that had been stamped out for him.

He received an allowance of one penny per year of age each week and gave out of that a tithe to the Sunday school. Entering a Bible reading contest, he read every word of his King James Version and passed a comprehensive examination. When he was 14, the Third Congregational Church featured a Sunday school play with Ernest in the starring role. And after the Hemingways transferred their membership to First Congregational Church, Ernest assumed the duties of program chairman, treasurer, and speaker for the church’s Plymouth League youth group. Once, a man named Lloyd Harter asked Ernest to tell some of the younger boys of the church about the deeper truths of the faith. “Put your soul into it,” Harter urged, “and bring them a message they will never forget.”

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I find it difficult at times to believe that this conservatively bred Oak Park boy actually grew up to be the man who equated his emptiness with a disconnected radio tube. But it was true enough. He would rebel against his Christian upbringing to such a degree as to castigate it one day as “that ton of s___ we are all fed when we are young.”

He had a normal adolescence and an uneventful life as a teenager. After high school, however, instead of entering college as was expected of the Hemingway children, he left home for Missouri, to work for the Kansas City Star. Away from Oak Park for the first time, he stopped attending church, complaining to his mother in a letter that he worked Saturday nights and was too tired to get up on Sunday. “Don’t worry or cry or fret,” he wrote, “about me not being a good Christian. I am just as much as ever, and I pray every night and believe just as hard.… You know I don’t rave about religion but am as sincere a Christian as I can be.… I believe in God and Jesus Christ, have hopes for a hereafter, and creeds don’t matter.” Strangely, though, as if he were protecting himself from future embarrassment should anyone but his mother read the letter, he added a postscript: “Don’t show this to anyone, and please get back to a cheerful frame of mind.”

His stint with the Kansas City Star ended a few months later when he enlisted as an ambulance driver in the Italian army during World War I. In Italy he witnessed Caporetto, the battle front where the Italians lost 320,000 men, and was shot up himself. After returning to Oak Park during the summer of 1919 he was shell-shocked and could not sleep without a light on. He walked with a cane, his legs wobbly and ripped up by hundreds of tiny mortar shell fragments.

He stayed with friends of the family in Toronto, Canada, for a short time, but when he returned to the States, he seemed aimless and without motivation. Lying in bed day after day, he kept bottles of liquor stashed where his parents would not see them. He told his sister, Marcelline, that the whiskey helped to ease the pain of his wounds. When he offered her a drink one day and she refused, he told her not to be afraid to taste all of what the world has to offer just because Oak Park had labeled it sinful and off-limits.

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Meanwhile, Dr. and Mrs. Hemingway grew restless, then impatient, when Ernest would not settle down to a job. His ambition to write seemed a cop-out from responsibility to them, and, feeling the pressure increase, Ernest took off for northern Michigan where he had spent his boyhood summers. But it was winter this time, and he spent the long months working on his writing in a freezing upstairs flat. He banged out short stories on a typewriter, sent them to magazines, and received rejection slips in return. When summer came he was still without a steady job, and this infuriated his parents even more. The Hemingways heaped upon him words of condemnation laced with biblical overtones.

Exerpts from letters exchanged between the parents while Grace was on vacation read: “I think Ernest is trying to irritate us in some way.… I have written him that I wanted him to get busy and be more self-supporting and respectful.… It is a great insult that he should take it for granted that he can lay down on the family as he has been doing.… I shall continue to pray for Ernest, that he will develop a sense of greater responsibility, for if he does not the Great Creator will cause him to suffer a whole lot more than he ever has so far.… We have done too much. He must get busy and make his own way, and suffering alone will be the means of softening his Iron Heart of selfishness.”

Ironically, while they were praying so hard for him, he was just beginning to put together stories that reflected bitter disillusionment about life, culminating in faith wounds that seemed tied up in war, Christianity, and family. In one story a wounded veteran has returned from the first world war; he is a Methodist, but his faith has been shattered and his motivation extinguished. The soldier’s mother, begging him to get busy and work at something, says:

“God has some work for everyone to do. There can be no idle hands in His Kingdom.”

“I’m not in His Kingdom,” the soldier says.

“We are all of us in His Kingdom,” she insists.

The soldier feels resentful and embarrassed.

“Would you kneel and pray with me, Harold?” his mother asks.

They kneel down beside the dining room table and the soldier’s mother prays.

“Now you pray, Harold,” she says.

“I can’t.”

“Do you want me to pray for you?”


The mother prays for her son, but he is not touched by any of it.

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In another story a similar mother figure is portrayed, but this time she is short on empathy for her husband, a doctor, who has been humiliated by a patient who owes him money. The doctor confesses this to his wife, and she says:

“Oh, I hope you didn’t lose your temper, Henry.”

“No,” says the doctor.

“Remember,” she adds piously, “that he who ruleth his spirit is greater than he that taketh a city.” She has been reading her Sunday school quarterly and studying the Bible.

By the time Ernest had celebrated his twenty-first birthday, the pressure between himself and his parents built until it split them apart. While Dr. Hemingway did not reject him entirely, Grace Hall Hemingway decreed from her personal cottage on Lake Walloon, Michigan, that Ernest, his loafing, and his present attitude about life were no longer welcome in her presence. Dr. Hemingway felt that her judgment was too harsh, but by that time his son’s wavering self-esteem had been flattened. What hurt the most was that Dr. and Mrs. Hemingway still did not understand or approve of Ernest’s one ambition—to be a great writer.

Another year passed, Ernest married Hadley Richardson from Saint Louis, and together they sailed for Europe where Ernest had been told it would be easier for a young writer to find his way into print.

It was in Paris that he published his first books, which shocked his parents by their uncompromising portrayal of worldly people. When he sent his first book of short stories home to his family, Dr. Hemingway shipped it back to the publisher because “he and Mrs. Hemingway would not have it in the house”, a biographer wrote. In one story Ernest had written about a person who had contracted venereal disease, a matter Dr. Hemingway felt never should be discussed outside the privacy of a medical clinic.

Then, when his novel The Sun Also Rises hit Oak Park, Dr. and Mrs. Hemingway assumed that Ernest had approved of the drunken, trashed-out characters in the story. They could not see that the novel—while far from being a positive Christian statement—had attempted to contrast the paganistic Paris crowd with the permanence of biblical Creation. Both sides of the contrast stare out from the book’s two opening epigraphs:

You are all a lost generation.

One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh; but the earth abideth forever. The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to the place where he arose.…


“The point of the book,” Ernest wrote to his publisher, “was that the earth abideth forever—having a great deal of fondness for the earth and not much for my generation.”

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After the pressure had eased somewhat, he sent similar signals to his parents in Oak Park, hoping to win some approval. It was to no avail. Grace Hall Hemingway wrote back that her life was a “heaven on earth” because she had dedicated her life to beauty. That Ernest had written this “filthy book” shocked her; why would he choose to write about sin rather than virtue?

His mother’s rejection came as no surprise, but his father’s hurt him more, and Ernest worked at trying to patch up old wounds and win back Dr. Hemingway’s respect. “I know you don’t like the sort of thing I write, but that is the difference in our tastes,” he argued. “I know that I am not disgracing you in my writing but rather doing something that someday you will be proud of.… I feel that eventually my life will not disgrace you either.”

But Dr. Hemingway was slow to respond, and when Ernest’s marriage broke up, it upset his aging father even more. “Divorce was almost unknown in Oak Park,” a biographer wrote. “It was unchristian, a tool the devil used to destroy families.” Ernest was destroying his own life and disgracing his family in Oak Park, his father believed. Where had things gone wrong? What was happening to this family that had dedicated every ounce of toil and energy to the Lord? If Anson and Adelaide Hemingway, and dear Grandfather Hall, were still alive, how embarrassed and disgraced would they feel? What were the good Oak Park families thinking? What was being said in church about Ernest, about the Hemingway family?

To compound matters, Dr. Hemingway was sick and increasingly depressed. He had never managed his finances well, and now he was approaching bankruptcy. He had grown gray and thin, his body fidgeting nervously in clothes that once fit but now hung loosely like a monk’s robe.

Shortly thereafter, in despondency, Dr. C. E. Hemingway, a diabetic who had spent his life saving other lives, shot himself in his upstairs bedroom, using the pistol his father—the Wheaton College alumnus—had passed down to him.

The suicide crushed Ernest. “What makes me feel the worst is that my father is the one I cared about,” he wrote to his New York friend and editor, Maxwell Perkins. A few years later he published a story about his father, writing:

“Like all men with a faculty that surpasses human requirements, his father was very nervous. Then, too, he was sentimental, and, like most sentimental people, he was both cruel and abused. Also, he had much bad luck, and it was not all of it his own. He had died in a trap he had helped only a little to set, and they had all betrayed him in their various ways before he died. All sentimental people are betrayed so many times.”

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I believe that Ernest felt he had been a part of the betrayal of his father, and the knowledge of this was something too painful to deal with. It wrought a change in his life for the worse, and from that point on he tried to divorce himself completely from Oak Park and everything it represented—home, family, and his Christian heritage.

He decided to fight Oak Park,” a friend wrote. “He fought with every word he wrote. Oak Park closed his eyes; Ernest opened his. Oak Park demanded obedience; Ernest made his own rules. Oak Park said flesh is evil; Ernest said enjoy.… But Ernest found it painful to fight Oak Park; it was like fighting against himself; Oak Park existed not only in Illinois but also in Ernest.”

The trouble was that he never stopped fighting. Over the next 30 years the sadness of his uprooted, disconnected life moved toward its eventual crescendo, increasing yearly until his own suicide in 1961. He married three more times—there probably would have been more had his last wife not been so devoted to him even amid his bullying. His drunken antics became the subjects of newspaper and magazine stories. His obsessions with war, hunting, and bullfighting fueled a disgusting lust for killing that seemed ritualistic in its intensity. And instead of ever trying to make peace with his mother, he chose to disparage her with a constant modifier—“that b___.” “She drove my father to suicide and I will not see her,” he excused himself bitterly. “I hate her guts and she hates mine.” He blamed his bad luck on her, and once, when she had mailed him a birthday cake with the pistol his father had used to kill himself, he told people her gesture was for him to do the same.

If any conscious religious practice survived, it was packaged in the form of a heavily diluted kind of secular humanism, summarized in a letter: “It seems as though we were all on a boat now together, a good boat still, that we have made but that we know now will never reach port. There will be all kinds of weather, good and bad, and especially because we know now that there will be no land-fall we must keep the boat up very well and be very good to each other. We are fortunate to have good people on the boat.”

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It was said by close friends of Hemingway that in his late years he grew distant from everyone. He would not stand up straight, and he stopped communicating verbally. He lived inside bad dreams, said one friend, and every hour was filled with the pain of being truly lost and alone.

Hence the quotation by evangelist Graham.

Though Hemingway’s sad story evokes equal proportions of pity and awe, it certainly is not by its nature unique to our country’s literary heritage. Since Puritan times our best writers—Franklin, Emerson, Hawthorne, Melville, Twain, James, Hemingway, Faulkner, O’Connor, Updike, and others, grew up in homes where the Christian faith stood as solidly as a ticking grandfather clock. In some cases, such as Hemingway’s and Mark Twain’s (the dominant literary figures of their centuries), the clock was forsaken for odd reasons; but the ticking remained deeply if unconsciously ingrained.

One only has to go to Hemingway’s last great work, The Old Man and the Sea, to witness this.

While the old man in the story is a fisherman, he is also a teacher. His name, Santiago, is extracted from the Spanish translation of Saint James, a fisherman himself and brother of Christ. A young boy looks to this teacher not only for instructions on how to fish, but also on how to live a life of humility and sufferance. “If I cannot fish with you,” he says, “I would like to serve in some way.”

The old fisherman hooks the great marlin at noon, and precisely at noon of the third day he kills it by thrusting a harpoon into its heart. During the struggle the fishing line scourges his back; he gets a stabbing thorn-of-crowns type headache; and during the first shark attacks on the fish, Santiago cries out “Ay,” a sound which Hemingway defines as “just such a noise as a man might make, involuntarily, feeling the nail go through his hand and into the wood.”

After the struggle is over and the old man has returned to shore, Hemingway gives a very moving portrait of the long climb back to the old man’s shack. The suggestions of Christ climbing toward Calvary are unmistakable:

He unstepped the mast and furled the sail and tied it. Then he shouldered the mast and started to climb. It was then he knew the depth of his tiredness. He stopped for a moment and looked back and saw in the reflection from the street light the great tail of the fish standing up well behind the skiff’s stern. He saw the white naked line of his backbone and the dark mass of the head with the projecting bill and all the nakedness in between.

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He started to climb again and at the top he fell and lay for some time with the mast across his shoulder. He tried to get up. But it was too difficult and he sat there with the mast on his shoulder and looked at the road.

Finally he put the mast down and stood up. He picked the mast up and put it on his shoulder and started up the road. He had to sit down five times before he reached his shack.

Inside the shack he leaned the mast against the wall. In the dark he found a water bottle and took a drink. Then he lay down on the bed. He pulled the blanket over his shoulders and then over his back and legs and he slept face down on the newspapers with his arms out straight and the palms of his hands up.

Like many of the stories and novels that preceded it, the book overflows with Christian images and meanings, and it shows that Hemingway could never divorce himself completely from the Christian truths that were his heritage.

When The Old Man and the Sea was released in 1952, Hemingway’s publisher wrote: “One cannot hope to explain why the reading of this book is so profound an experience. Somewhere between its parabolical and its Christian meaning lies the book’s power to move us.” Other praises included those by novelist William Faulkner, who wrote: “Hemingway has discovered God the Creator. Until now, his men and women had made themselves, shaped themselves out of their own clay. But this time he wrote about pity: about something somewhere that made them all and loved them all and pitied them all.”

The details of Hemingway’s life make such a discovery of God seem dubious. But I have no trouble believing that no matter how far he traveled, nor how violently he disparaged his Oak Park upbringing, he never totally uprooted the theological seeds that were planted in his youth.

There ought to be some theologian or Christian expositor to quote here. But more appropriate still are the words of Hemingway’s friend and fellow writer F. Scott Fitzgerald, who seemingly spoke for so many American writers when he suggested: “We beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

Tim Stafford is a free-lance writer living in Santa Rosa, California. He is a distinguished contributor to several magazines. His latest book is Do You Sometimes Feel Like a Nobody? (Zondervan, 1980).

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