Ernest Hemingway – The Old Man & The Sea

Cover of "The Old Man and The Sea"

A short while ago, I decided to take part in at least one reading challenge set by a couple of book reviewers that I follow, The Insatiable Booksluts.

To get started in their Toe-Dippin category, I have been looking to read a handful of Pulitzer Prize winning novels or works by Nobel prize winners.

Having cheated somewhat with the comfortable post-apocalyptic feel of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, I decided that  my next read should be Ernest Hemingway‘s The Old Man and the Sea.

Again I feel as if I am cheating somewhat, of all the available works that have won the Pulitzer or Noble prizes, this short novel from Hemingway has won both.

Still, a work good enough to win both prizes must be worth reading; and the story’s length meant that I could start and finish in the bath – a fitting venue for such a nautical read.

I’ve never read Hemingway before and only recently have I had him recommended to me.

I found the narrative style of The Old Man and The Sea to flow comfortably, easing me gently into the environs of mid-20th century Cuba.

Well paced, the story moves quickly from the poverty and superstition surrounding the luckless Santiago (our titular Old Man) and onto a tale of perseverance and philosophy.

Hemingway shows me a world completely alien to my late 20th century upbringing.

The young “boy” Manolin dotes upon his former mentor with a sense of filial responsibility to put my generation to shame; likewise Santiago, reciprocating with a decorum befitting a man of his age and station without shaming himself with overt acceptance of aid.

After 84 days of unsuccessful fishing, the Old Man ventures out an 85th time, alone; he rows farther out than is usual in hope of landing a “big fish”.

Hemingway opens up Santiago’s inner thoughts to us, as he searches the sea for the right signs; as Santiago’s lines are pulled by potential catches so was my interest in the tale.

Hemingway builds a tangible tension in the reader, plucking at it and thrumming in the same way as the taut line affixed to Santiago’s Marlin.

For a long night and day, Santiago does calm and careful battle with the big fish before finally defeating it and attempting to bring it home.

During the battle, Santiago’s thoughts are of the nobilty of the battle itself; he bestows a level of kinship and honour upon the fish.

Santiago seems to cope well with the ordeals he faces, seeming to anthropomorphise his adversaries; lending them human characteristics.

His left hand betrays him, the big fish is a brother and the sharks filthy thieves stalking Santiago as they would an elderly victim.

He even puts some thought to the feminine and masculine qualities of the sea, which has played such an important role in his life.

Hemingway shows us extremes of both strength and humility in Santiago; giving a clear message of what one can be capable of when one puts one’s mind to it.

Santiago is a definite hero, through his outlook and determination if not in light of any success.

Throughout the narration of Santiago’s ordeals and his eventual return home, I got a real sense of isolation, peace, determination, sorrow and resignation.

Santiago doesn’t really put his circumstances down to bad luck, in the way his fellow sailors semm to; he accepts the simple mistake made in sailing too far from shore without another to help him.

Ernest Hemingway & Henry Strater 1935

In doing so, it seems that his peers accept his efforts as a sign that his run of bad luck has come to an end.

Coming home empty handed is unlucky; returning home safely, with an almost entirely devoured Marlin dwarfing one’s boat is anything but.

There is far more in this short work.

I’ve only touched on the philosophical ramifications and will absolutely have to read through again and again before I process them properly.

All in all, I’m glad I picked this up.

Maybe I’ll try more Hemingway in future.

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2 thoughts on “Ernest Hemingway – The Old Man & The Sea

  1. Hemmingway is one of the very few of last century’s authors who’s hype is more than justified by his material.

    Plus he liked cats.

    Need anything more be said?

  2. Pingback: The Old Man and the Sea: An Alternate History of Pequod « Wandering Mirages

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