Old Man and the Sea, The
This is my first read of Hemingway. And firstly I've taken a masterpiece. A world class book. Before reading this I was just thinking, what could be in it? Why hype of this book is sky-kissing? But now its proved that this book can teach anyone a great life lesson. This book has shown me the true feelings and powers of a man. It doesn't matter how old you're, but if you have experience of before and have a rigid will of done anything, then trust me anything is possible. Humankind is very tiny to the wildness of mother earth, but human has a good shackle of thinking and a heart full of love and hope. Whether you're a believer or an atheist but you're fate will always drive you towards that situation you'll believe about ”One Above All”. And in the end you'll be a winner. If you have trust enough on fate and yourself.
“Now is no time
to think of what you do not have.
Think of what you can do
with that there is”
– Ernest Hemingway from The Old Man and The Sea
This quote aptly describes the struggle of our protagonist (Santiago) in the book. Santiago is a really old man, old enough to have wrinkles on his neck. The book is set in a small fishing community. Santiago has hit a patch of bad luck that has gone on for eighty-four days wherein he hasn’t been able to catch a single fish. There is another character, Manolin, a boy who accompanies Santiago in his boat whenever he goes out to fish. Santiago taught Manonlin how to fish and they share a mentor-pupil bond. Manolin takes care of Santiago by helping him carry his gear and fetching him coffee in the morning.
The plot advances from the eighty-fifth day with Santiago setting sail early morning with a presentiment of breaking the curse that day. He misses Manolin; whose parents have forbidden him from going fishing with the old man, afraid that the old man might rub off his bad luck on the boy. Santiago dreams about lions and is fond of baseball and keeps himself updated by reading the paper whenever he can get his hands on one. Santiago waits in anticipation of catching a fish when finally his lines start tugging and he realizes that there is a fish that has been hooked. When he tries to catch it by pulling his line and tugging on his ropes, he realizes that the fish that has been hooked is a huge one. The fish is so huge that it pulls the boat with it. The fish keeps swimming tirelessly for almost three days pulling Santiago along. He kills two fishes for sustenance and economically uses the little water he has in his water bottle over the course of the three days. He waits for the fish to give up even when he starts bleeding and his hand gets a cramp. For those three whole days and two nights, he perseveres determined to not let go off of that fish. Santiago’s thinks about baseball, misses the boy, imagines how much money he will make by selling this fish and talks loudly to himself out of boredom and lack of company.
Finally, the fish gives up and he catches it. The fish is ginormous, so Santiago ties the fish outside the boat to take it along with him to the coast. But as the fish is bleeding, it attracts a lot of blood-thirsty sharks by its smell. Santiago fights them off with whatever little energy he has left and ends up killing a few. But each time a shark attacks; he loses a part of his fish. By the time he reaches the coast, he has lost not only majority of his fish except for its head but also all of his strength and energy. The big fish attracts a lot of attention but Santiago goes to his shack and passes out. He wakes up to the boy brining him coffee and telling him how they looked for him with coast guards and planes. The story ends with Santiago dreaming about lions.
This was the last novel of Hemingway that was published. It won the Pulitzer Price for Fiction in 1953 and is claimed to have been the reason behind Hemingway winning the Nobel Prize in 1954. Santiago’s obsession with baseball stems from Hemingway’s own passion for it. The vivid descriptions of how Santiago catches his fish comes from Hemingway’s experience of fishing for years.
With such a background, I had quite high expectations from the book. My first thought after turning the last page was that I was certainly missing something very obvious in the book. I have quite a few issues with the book and its plot. The biggest one is a question that begs to understand what Hemingway tries to tell us through this story. Santiago puts in so much effort to come home with nothing but a fish head and its skeleton. To say the least, it is depressing. Is Hemingway trying to tell us that whatever efforts one puts in to achieve what they want, it will all result in nothing at the end of the day? If that’s the case, then it makes sense for Hemingway to have ended his life by committing suicide.
My second problem is that the descriptions of fishing and the modus operandi of fishermen out in the sea are so vivid, detailed and jargon-heavy that most of us who have no clue about fishing cannot visualize it. Due to this, I kept losing interest in the middle of the book. Even though it is such a short story, I had to really push myself to finish it. Another reason why I slacked off in the middle was that there was no plot advancement except for the fish pulling the boat far far away from the coast.
Hemingway had said that there is no symbolism in the book. But that still doesn’t justify there are certain things that have been included. One example of this would be Santiago dreaming about lions. What I wanted to know as a reader was why did he dream about lions? Was there some incident that happened in the past that led to that? Maybe it’s subtly there in the book and I missed it or Hemingway didn’t give us an explanation for it. Either way, I wish it was done in a more explicit manner.
Other than all of this, I think the story on the face of it seems like a very simple one but when dissected would actually lead to a deeper meaning not just about life but also about the little things that we do everyday. To highlight one and the most obvious one – Santiago’s perseverance to push on and on till he achieved his goal is one that all of us could inculcate in our lives. Another one would be the bond that Santiago and the boy shared. It is an interesting relationship and its heartwarming to see how the boy against his parent’s wishes goes and spends time with the old man.
All in all, I would recommend reading the book atleast once, if not more and would ask you to keep an open mind and look out for the bigger picture. It left me a little sad and disappointed but I personally like stories that end like that. Its more realistic and hey, not all books have happily-ever-after endings.