You’d better be fearless and confident yourself, old man…”
So I begin the next of my sea themed reads with a classic. I devoured this novella is a day – completely swept up in Hemmingway’s tight, impactful and moving prose.
This book holds a special place in my heart. Both my dad and my granddad read The Old Man and the Sea a few years ago and loved it. As keen fishermen they obviously loved this tale of one man’s quest to catch a giant marlin. I think they, like me, found something else in it though – this a story of beauty, grief, human perseverance, and ultimately love and respect between generations.
Think that’s a lot for a novella about an old man going fishing? Not with Hemmingway! There is not one surplus word or description. This is a lesson in the power of good writing.
As you can imagine this isn’t plot heavy. My dad summed it up well “not a lot happens – but you just want to keep reading.” Told by an out of luck, aging fisherman who goes out to seek the catch which will make up for his misfortune. Over the course of two nights and three days he engages in a battle of wills with a mighty marlin.
The most striking thing about the story is the voice of the old man Santiago, much of the story is his stream of consciousness or conversations with the fish. He is eloquent, musical and his voice seems to echo the ebb and flow of the sea.
He always thought of the sea as la mar which is what people call her in Spanish when they love her …. They spoke of her as a constant or a place or even an enemy. But the old man always thought of her as feminine, as something that gave or withheld great favors”
Ultimately though this is, in every sense of the term, a love story. An ode to the sea, to fishing (Hemmingway’s great passion), to nature, to the wife he lost and the adoration of a young man for an older and wiser fisherman. The language is evocative of this love:
Fish,’ he said, ‘I love you and respect you very much. But I will kill you dead before this day ends.'”
There is a powerful theme of human resilience and determination. The old man has such self belief. He is so at one with nature that he thinks of the fish as his brother.
Final Thoughts: In my opinion The Old Man and the Sea is Hemmingway at his finest – his prose is compact, at times sparse yet he conveys so much emotion and paints such vivid images. The characters feel undeniably “real” and that is where the power of this bitesized beauty comes from.
Have you read much Hemmingway? If so what are your favourites?