“Marlin off the Morro: A Cuban Letter” by Ernest Hemingway (1933)

Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961) was one of the most influential writers of the 20th Century. Better known for his fiction, which garnered him the Nobel and Pulitzer prizes, Hemingway was also an active essayist and reporter throughout his life. Many attribute his tight prose to his early work for the Kansas City Star and Toronto Star Weekly. His contributions to the Toronto Star were essays and articles often about life and war in Europe. From the 1930s-50s, he published essays, letters, and war correspondences widely in magazines such as Esquire, The New Republic, Collier’s, and Life. Hemingway only published two books of nonfiction during his lifetime, but since his death, his articles and essays have been collected in books such as Byline and Dateline: Toronto. In 1964 A Moveable Feast was published. This memoir, a collection of essays about life in Paris in the 1920s, is considered a masterpiece, and was rereleased in a restored edition in 2009.

Essay’s Form

Hemingway takes a complex narrative stance in this essay, incorporating first person singular, first person plural, and second person points of view. The latter is rare in his work.

As the second person narration advances, Hemingway positions himself in the essay as a guide for the reader through a day of Cuban fishing.

He shows the reader his boat and itemizes what “we” (Hemingway and his group) would do on a normal day. The reader is at once welcomed into this world and cast as an outsider of Hemingway’s Cuba.

“You” fades in favor of “I” or “we” when Hemingway begins expertly to convey his knowledge of marlins and fishing. Once again, the reader feels he or she is a foreign observer of Hemingway’s group of strong, tough fisherman.

The competition-like atmosphere comes to a climax with the final sentences, in which Hemingway prods the reader, daring him to imagine a giant marlin on the line.

Essay’s Immediate Context

“Marlin off the Morro” was published in the first issue of Esquire, a magazine which “aims to be the common denominator of masculine interests. . .” (Esquire 1). The table of contents lists articles centered around, as the cover states, sports, fashion, (often sexual) humor, and the arts.

The first page of Hemingway’s “Marlin off the Morro” is relatively clean, even, and simple. It is more prominently displayed than most of the pieces in this issue of Esquire, giving the first article of the magazine a strong, domineering look (Esquire 8).

Hemingway himself was a masculine writer, this article being a prime example. Although it is short, the essay is the first to appear in the magazine—the perfect stamp of manliness for Esquire readers. It is separated into three sections throughout the issue, which required the reader to flip through the entire magazine while searching for the highlighted author.

Still, while Esquire seems to be tailor made for Hemingway, he was sometimes criticized for his opulent lifestyle, particularly around the time this essay was published, during the Great Depression.

Although the Depression isn’t specifically mentioned, many of the articles in this issue seem either a response to the ongoing crisis or a temporary escape from it. Writing ranges from the “poor man’s” night club to the Princeton experience; ads vary from Barbasol to upscale New York hotels. Gender takes precedence over socioeconomic status for the audience of Esquire.

Essay’s Subsequent Appearance

“Marlin off the Morro” is not a widely anthologized or studied essay. Since first appearing in Esquire, it has retained its original form in subsequent publications.

It is republished solely in Hemingway Collections, such as By-Line: Ernest Hemingway, and Hemingway On Fishing.

Associations between Hemingway and fishing grew strong after this piece. In his book, The Well-Tempered Angler, Arnold Gingrich, the founder and editor of Esquire, devotes a chapter to his fishing experiences with Hemingway.

The essay’s importance lies not in its anthologization, but as a launching point for Esquire, and as the beginning of Hemingway’s association with large-circulation magazines as a writer of nonfiction. Hemingway went on to write twenty-five more articles for Esquire in the 1930s, and dozens more for other highly-read periodicals up until the last published work of his lifetime appeared in Life in 1960.

Appearances of “Marlin off the Morro: A Cuban Letter”

Hemingway, Ernest. “Marlin Off The Morro.” Esquire. Autumn. 1933. 8-9, 39, 97. Print.

Hemingway, Ernest. Hemingway On Fishing. New York: Scribner, 2000. Print.

Hemingway, Ernest, et al. By-Line: Ernest Hemingway; Selected Articles and Dispatches of Four Decades. New York: Scribner, 1967. Print.

Selected Bibliography

Earle, David M. All Man! : Hemingway, 1950s Men’s Magazines, and the Masculine Persona. Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 2009. Print.

Esquire. Autumn. 1933. Print.

Gingrich, Arnold. The Well-Tempered Angler. New York: Knopf, 1965. Print.

“Hemingway and the Magazines.” University Libraries Rare Books and Special Collections. University of South Carolina Library, 1 Feb. 2011. Web. 16 Mar. 2011.

Hemingway, Ernest, and William White. Dateline, Toronto : The Complete Toronto Star Dispatches, 1920-1924. New York, NY: Scribner’s, 1985. Print.

Joost, Nicholas. Ernest Hemingway and the Little Magazines: The Paris Years. Barre, Mass: Barre Publishers, 1968. Print.

While poking fun of the Communist movement, this cartoon also has a more serious undertone than many of those which can be found in this issue of Esquire. It takes serious political issues of the time as the subject, attempting to combat the fear of many Americans with humor (Esquire 38).

Text and images: Justin Reed.