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This is an opinion question - you need to examine the facts and the situations involved in making that choice and decide for yourself what you believe and what information you can use to support your opinion.
The Nobel Prize for Literature was created to recognize "in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction" produced by a particular author. In this definition, "work" is referring to the whole of an author's written production, not to one specific piece of writing.
Nominations of authors for consideration for the Nobel Prize for Literature are collected from writer's guilds and societies, past Nobel literature laureates and writing instructors. The nominations are evaluated and considered by the Swedish Academy, which makes the final decision regarding who will receive the award in any given year.
Ernest Hemingway, over the course of his lifetime, produced literary masterpieces including For Whom the Bell Tolls, A Farewell to Arms, and The Sun Also Rises in addition to The Old Man and the Sea. The Old Man and the Sea also represented a completely new format of literature - too short to be considered a full length novel, but too long to be a traditional short story.
So, what do you think?
As the previous post notes, some of Hemingway's greatest works--A Farewell to Arms, The Sun Also Rises, and For Whom the Bell Tolls--did not receive the Nobel Prize. Although The Old Man in the Sea may not have been equal to these other masterpieces, it was a fine novel. His award includes the following:
"for his mastery of the art of narrative, most recently demonstrated in The Old Man and the Sea, and for the influence that he has exerted on contemporary style".
The Nobel Prizes are often awarded long after authors have done their best work. The most recent work is usually a pretext for recognizing many years of achievement. In fact, this is probably as it should be. If Hemingway had been given the prize for a very early work, the prize committee could not have been sure that his later work would truly justify such a prestigious honor. Indeed, sometimes prize winners of all sorts are crippled, creatively, by receiving major prizes too early. Certainly Hemingway should have won the Nobel Prize before his death. He was one of the most influential writers of the twentieth century.
I must admit I do think this is a very important book in terms of Hemingway's writing, but I do not think it is the most important, and certainly some of his longer novels allow him to develop and establish his recurring themes in much more compelling and convincing ways. I just wonder whether part of the genius of this work, however, is the way in which he manages to encapsulate some of his themes in such a simple and accessible form.
It's my understanding that the Nobel, unlike the Pulitzer, is awarded for an author's body of work, not for one particular work. Hemingway's Nobel was awarded after the publication of The Old Man and the Sea, but it honored his overall achievement in literature. His most critically acclaimed novels were the first three: The Sun Also Rises, A Farewell to Arms, and For Whom the Bell Tolls. During his lifetime, he produced a large volume of works, both fiction and nonfiction, but many critics have taken the position that after For Whom the Bell Tolls, the quality of Hemingway's writing declined. Some have gone so far as to say that toward the end of his career, he seemed only to imitate his earlier work. Such criticism aside, Hemingway no doubt deserved the Nobel. His work stands as a major contribution to American literature, and his literary themes and unique writing style strongly influenced the development of twentieth century realism in literature.
If the Nobel Prize is awarded for an author's "body of works" why is it specified which work is being awarded? According to one source, the Nobel Pirize is, indeed, awarded for a specific work, but as mentioned in Post #5, often an author is given the prize for a lesser work than for the one for which he/she should be awarded--a ludicrous idea which mitigates the prestige of the award.
However, this procedure has indeed been done more in recent times in which "everyone gets a trophy" anyway. The Old Man and the Sea, albeit a worthy novella, is not the best work of Ernest Hemingway.
While the Nobel Prize in Literature is for a writer's life work, there are nine Literature Laureates for whom the Swedish Academy singled out a specific work for particular recognition.
The Nobel Prize in Literature 1954 was awarded to Ernest Hemingway "for his mastery of the art of narrative, most recently demonstrated in The Old Man and the Sea, and for the influence that he has exerted on contemporary style".
I read this as a corroboration of the generally understood principle that this Prize was awarded to Hemingway for more than just one book. Citing his influence on contemporary style, it seems the committee was awarding Hemingway the prize for his career achievements as much as for this book, which also won the Pulitzer Prize.
It could be that this book, fresh in the public mind, was the catalyst for the committee's decision to give Hemingway the award.
Though The Old Man and the Sea is not Hemingway's best book, it does demonstrate his strengths with clearly drawn drama, complex emotion, and clean prose style. (There is at least one unbelievable bit toward the beginning when Manolin describes his first fishing experiences. It's too stylized, too odd, and too forced to get a pass. The rest of the novel though is quite readable, compelling, interesting, and nicely open to interpretation.)
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