Warning – some spoilers below:
I’ve been on a Hemingway kick lately and The Old Man and the Sea is another great way to experience a writing style that is deceivingly simple but has deeply thoughtful and powerful themes. I have always enjoyed books that feature man versus nature. It is one of the primary themes in this classic, studied each year by a new crop of both students and leisure readers. And because I love stories about hope and overcoming adversity, another important idea in the book, this one is on the top of my list.
The Old Man and the Sea is the story of Santiago, an old Cuban fisherman who has not caught a fish in eighty-four days. Every day, he goes out to sea in his fishing skiff, and returns empty-handed. His companion, a boy, no longer fishes with him, sent by the boy’s parents to a more successful fishing boat. From the beginning, despite this bad luck streak, there is something enduring in Santiago’s being. In the first pages, Hemingway writes, “Everything about him was old except his eyes and they were the same color as the sea and were cheerful and undefeated.”
When Santiago hooks a giant marlin, he knows he has a big challenge ahead. Strength, patience and resolve sustain him as the fish pulls him far out into the ocean. For two days, the fish pulls the fisherman before finally slowing. But much will test Santiago’s resolve in a series of triumphs and losses. In the end, the old man remains undefeated in spirit, despite returning with a much lighter haul. Instead, Santiago simply notes how well the boat sails now that it is lighter.
Santiago’s respect for nature and the power of his opponent make him much more than a fisherman. He is part of a bigger scheme and he knows his place. He feels deeply for the fish, the birds and the life around him. Santiago’s connection to nature is most evident when he finally faces the marlin. “Never have I seen a greater, or more beautiful, or a calmer or more noble thing than you, brother,” he says.
And when he finally returns to his village, Santiago may discover how much he is revered by the other villagers and most of all, by his fishing companion, the boy who so tenderly cares for him.
The Old Man and the Sea was published in 1952 and was a huge success. Hemingway won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1954. Check it out and see what I mean!
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