The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway | Review

I think I’ve been hearing the name Hemingway for pretty much ever.  For goodness’ sake, the name of my blog theme is Hemingway Rewritten!  But I knew hardly anything about him, except that he was a more modern author.  Well, I started my main curriculum for school on Monday, and the first assignment happens to be a triumvirate of modern authors including (of course) Hemingway.  So, since I’m reading it anyway, I might as well review it, right?

The Old Man and the Sea is a novella about the Cuban fisherman Santiago, referred to as the “old man.”  As the story begins, he has gone eighty-four days without catching any fish.  He’s poor, living mostly on food begged by Manolin, a boy he’s taught.  He’s still confident though.  Today is the eighty-fifth day of his ill luck, and he’s certain he will catch a fish – a big one.  So he goes out, far beyond any of the other fishermen, to find it.

And he does.  In fact, the majority of the book is the tale of the old man’s battle with a great fish – a fish bigger than any other he’s even heard of.

Now is time to think of only one thing.  That which I was born for.

~ The Old Man and the Sea

Hemingway’s writing is beautiful in a simple, quiet, straightforward way.  He doesn’t use excess words, and the prose really doesn’t draw attention to itself.  He shows you the details of the sea and the fisherman’s trade in a way no one could unless they had been there.  The flying fish, the poles and lines and baits, the small birds too delicate for the fierce ocean (la mar), the taste of fish filleted and eaten raw.  You can see the sun on the water, feel the pain of the old man’s struggle.

Throughout most of the book the old man is alone.  He talks to himself, but Hemingway also gives us an intimate look inside his head.  You hear and see his intense struggle – not only with the fish, but sometimes with the failures of his own body, even his own thoughts.  It’s a strangely moving and unforgettable experience.

“Fish,” he said, “I love you and respect you very much. But I will kill you dead before this day ends.”

~ The Old Man and the Sea

Since this was for school, I had to figure out what it means – because whatever else this novella is, it’s more than just a fishing story.  SparkNotes helped a little, but I still don’t think I fully understand it.  It’s full of themes and imagery and symbolism, from the old man’s dream of the lions to the recurring mention of Joe DiMaggio and baseball, to some passages reminiscent of the crucifixion.  Themes of pride, endurance, hope, death and life, run throughout.

“I’ll kill him though,” he said. “In all his greatness and his glory.” Although it is unjust, he thought. But I will show him what a man can do and what a man endures.

~ The Old Man and the Sea

The story is about strength, endurance, pride, life and death, victory and defeat.  It’s a sad story, and it was even sadder for me because in the old man’s world, there is nothing beyond man and his struggle and fate.  Victory -and defeat – do not extend beyond this earth.  Hope has no real lasting basis.  Hemingway embraced a worldview that cannot accept God, and therefore sees nothing beyond the suffering and the victory of this world.

It is silly not to hope, he thought. Besides I believe it is a sin. Do not think about sin, he thought. There are enough problems now without sin. Besides I have no understanding of it. I have no understanding of it and I am not sure that I believe in it.

~ The Old Man and the Sea

And yet despite this, The Old Man and the Sea is still a beautiful story.  I’m glad I read it.  Hemingway didn’t believe in God; yet the very existence of writing like this is a testament to His grace and His creative image within us.

The next book on the list is Walden Two, so I guess we’ll see whether B.F. Skinner is as fun (or easy) to read!  Have you read any Hemingway (or other modern authors)?  What did you think?

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