Hemmingway’s ‘Old Man and the Sea’

Ernest Hemmingway was an American novelist, short-story writer and journalist. He has written several best-seller classics and has also received the Nobel prize for literature in the year 1954. He was noted and admired both for the intense masculinity of his writing and for his adventurous and widely publicized life. His powerful prose writing style made an impact on the world in 20th Century. He served as an ambulance driver for American Red Cross during World War 1. His novel, The Sun Also Rises published in the year 1926 earned his first solid success. His other famous books include A Farewell to Arms, For Whom the Bell Tolls, A Moveable Feast etc.  

Old Man and the Sea is one of Hemmingway’s most famous books and the last major work of fiction that he published. Published in the year 1952, it received the Pulitzer Prize and is said to be one of the main reasons for gaining favour while being considered for the Nobel Prize. Set in the coastal regions of Cuba, it contains most of the themes that preoccupied Hemmingway as a writer and a man. It is a short heroic novel that entails the voyage of an old fisherman who ventures out into the vast sea for one last adventure. The old man is named Santiago and he sails across the sea, engaging in an epic battle to catch a large Marlin.

“But man is not made for defeat. A man can be destroyed but not defeated.”

The novel begins with Santiago mulling over his continues streak of misfortunes. Once a splendidly talented fisherman, he used to be considered the luckiest in catching fishes and selling them. But as old age started to haunt him, he was slowly overtaken by the younger folks who made fun of him for being out of luck lately. So much so that the parents of the young boy Manolin who assists him have forced him to desert the old man in favour of a more prosperous boat. In an attempt to regain his younger glory, on the eighty-fifth day of his unlucky streak, Santiago follows a large Marlin across the sea for more than forty-eight hours.

“Every day is a new day. It is better to be lucky. But I would rather be exact. Then when luck comes you are ready.”

Compared to the weakening old man, the Marlin tows Santiago’s boat into the ocean until it gets tired. Despite wanting to kill the Marlin, over the course of the journey, Santiago feels connected to the fish. He suffers hunger, sleeplessness and fatigue but feels that the Marlin has kept him company throughout. With great difficulty, he manages to kill the Marlin in a long-drawn-out duel. But as he proceeds to back home with the dead Marlin, it leaves a trail of blood into the sea attracting all sorts of sharks along the way. They attack him one after the other and he is finally left with nothing but a large skeleton of his prized fish. “The essential physicality of the story—the smells of tar and salt and fish blood, the cramp and nausea and blind exhaustion of the old man, the terrifying death spasms of the great fish—is set against the ethereal qualities of dazzling light and water, isolation, and the swelling motion of the sea.” (Britannica) Filled with symbols, allusions and strong poetic verses, the Old Man and the Sea is definitely worth the read.

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Categories: Book Review, Literature