For such a short little novella, The Old Man and the Sea packs something powerful that I found lacking in the other pieces I have read by Hemingway.
In short, an old man who is down on his luck goes out to sea fishing. He lands a great fish, a marlin, and battles with it for three days before he succeeds in killing it. By that time he is far at sea and must race back to land while sharks attack his catch and destroy the fish he has come to love and respect.
It’s clear that there are a lot of themes and metaphors in these 126 pages. The old man represents the old way of thinking and doing; the young boy the up and coming who are trying to learn from the old but improve on their techniques; and the marlin is the challenge, the essence of what both the old man and young boy are trying to attain—grandeur.
I read this in one sitting, while Matt was playing Guitar Hero and Hemi the cat (not named after Hemingway, but after the car engine) refused to cuddle on my lap. I think the only way to read this is in one sitting. It’s too hard to break away from the old man’s struggle.
I liked Hemingway’s writing style, which I knew from my previous readings of some of his short stories. It’s simplistic and to the point, a far cry from some other things I have read so far (*cough* Dostoevsky). The story is moving, sad, but really full of all the things that we have to find in ourselves at different times.
The old man has a lot to teach us: hope, faith, courage, conviction, passion, triumph, and loss. He faces this battle knowing that the fish must die, or he must die. He respects his enemy and victim, and thanks him for a worthy fight. And even though the sharks take away his victory when he finally pulls into shore, the skeleton of the great fish is a reminder to everyone who sees it of the strength of the old man.
Much like a scar, the skeleton of the marlin tells a story that only the owner can fully understand and appreciate.
And because Hemingway wrote down this story of courage and strength, we too can learn from the old man’s scar and see the skeleton for what it really is: a test of a person’s strength when all odds are against them.
I leave you with some favorite portions:
“Then he was sorry for the great fish that had nothing to eat and his determination to kill him never relaxed in his sorrow for him. How many people will he feed, he though. But are they worth to eat him? No, of course not. There is no one worthy of eating him from the manner of his behaviour and his great dignity.
I do not understand these things, he thought. But it is good that we do not have to try to kill the sun or the moon or the stars. It is enough to live on the sea and kill our true brothers,” (75).
“I must hold his pain where it is, he thought. Mine does not matter. I can control mine. But his pain could drive him mad,” (88).
“You are killing me, fish, the old man thought. But you have a right to. Never have I seen a greater, or more beautiful, or a calmer or more noble thing than you, brother. Come on and kill me. I do not care who kills who,” (92).
“Then his head started to become a little unclear and he thought, is he bringing me in or am I bringing him in? If I were towing him behind there would be no question. Nor if the fish were in the skiff, with all dignity gone, there would be no question either. But they were sailing together lashed side by side and the old man thought, let him bring me in if it pleases him. I am only better than him through trickery and he meant me no harm,” (99).