Review by Shwetha H S
Genre: Fiction, Classic
Imprint: Arrow Books
Ernest Hemingway is an American novelist, short story writer and journalist. Though he has written many acclaimed works like A Farewell to Arms and The Sun Also Rises, it is The Old Man and The Sea that truly brought him fame with Pulitzer Award and later Nobel Prize in Literature.
As the name suggests, The Old Man and The Sea is a story of an old fisherman and his love-hate relationship with the sea. Santiago is an old fisherman who has not caught any fish in a long time. Manolin, a young boy who apprenticed with the old man before he went broke, still cares for the old man but works for another fishing boat. One day, Santiago goes fishing early in the morning into the sea after waking up Manolin. The old man catches a huge fish that starts dragging him and his skiff along with it further away from the mainland for days. When the old man finally kills and ties the huge fish to his skiff to take it back home, he is worried about shark attacks and whether he will be able to ward them off without much damage to his catch in his deteriorated physical and mental condition. Will he survive or die saving his catch? Or will he survive and save his catch? Or will he survive and not save his catch?
The whole story is about the confidence the old man exudes and the love and confidence the young boy has on the old man. The author might have other interpretations. Even the reader might find his or her own interpretations. But reading too much between the lines might strain your brain.
The Old Man and The Sea is yet another classic that you can read to tick-off from your list.
Wondering if it had improved any with age in the forty-five years since I garnered my gentleman’s “C” on a book report from an English teacher likely being generous, I again cracked open The Old Man and the Sea. While my first reading of a fish story about the one that got away bored me to tears, or maybe only to Bonanza that evening, my second left me unsettled for Old Man I see now is Hemingway’s brooding meditation on approaching death.
Like Santiago who catches the biggest fish of his life only to lose it to sharks and in that moment knows his best days as a fisherman are forever behind him, so too Hemingway saw his best days as a writer slipping fast as fish line through his fingers. Old Man proved to be his last novel, and he wrote little thereafter that did not require heavy editing. In its pages he foreshadows his own suicide ten years later on an Idaho mountaintop where, ever the showoff, he unloaded both shotgun barrels into the back of his mouth. A not surprising death for a man whose is father took his own life as did two siblings and at least one grandchild. A death foreshadowed even earlier in The Sun Also Rises, set almost 30 years to the day before his suicide, and later in For Whom the Bell Tolls.
Hemingway leaves us with the question of how should one meet death? Santiago’s answer is by struggling on come what may: A man, he insists over and over, can be destroyed but should never allow himself to be defeated. Old Santiago fought the good fight until he had nothing but a skeleton of a great fish left to defend and sailed home to die dreaming of the lions he once saw in his youth as they played on a beach in Africa.
So what to make of Hemingway in the end giving in to the despair of defeat? His failing in the fight he wanted most to make, feared his whole life he would not make, and in the end did not. Perhaps this final tragedy, of not going down with both fists swinging, is a fate awaiting us all unless we have lived without ideals, which, Hemingway says, would for us be the greater tragedy. Hemingway’s Dilemma tells us that life gives us a choice between two tragedies: Living a life absent of ideals or living one with ideals but in the end failing to live up to them.