on March 14, 2002
I feel compelled to write a few words for Hemingway here after reading some of the negative reviews here. It seems that many of the people got bored of the book because there are no sucessive excitements throughout the story; and many just thought that this was merely one of the many books which has murmurred throughout on a boring theme---fishing.
But I think some of the commentators here have missed some important points. Firstly, Santiago is an Old Man as well as an experienced fisherman. It will be quite absurd to expect such an old experienced fisherman to become over-excited and hyper-sensitive because of some petty wounds or expected struggles with the fish. And as we all know one of the most important quality of a fisherman is to stay calm whether one has been waiting in idle for many hours or one is trying desperately to deal with a struggling fish. I think it is just unjust to expect Santiago to behave in a way that a younger college boy would do to make fun of himself and cheer up the audience in a Hollywood comedy. Anyway, you would not really expect to read some exaggerated sensational treatment of the theme by Hemingway, hear Santiago screaming because a few bloods came out of his slightly hurt right hand, or whine helplessly because the big fish was chopped off bit by bit by the sharks, would you?
Furthermore, some remarked that, despite whatever they have said negatively, they were still inspired by the theme, that if you persist on pursuing something, even if others think you are unlucky as well as incapable to achieve that, at the end of the day you will achieve that very goal. But in my opinion that is not the real inspiration of the story; the true inspiration comes from the dramatic plot towards the end that the big fish was eventually totally torn off and eaten by the sharks when Santiago finally came back to the shore. And I think this is where this story of Hemingway has distinguished itself from many of the other petty attempts by others to encapsulate the same theme. The message is that even if one has won something for a while, one may not be able to hold it for long and soon it will reduce to nothing. But one should not be discouraged by that. For the highest virtue and courage lies in doing something purely for something's sake instead of for its other rewards. Even if one fails to achieve something at the end, the very process that one has ever tried and persisted till the last minute alone is enough to justify one's effort. It is this 'attitude of a true man' that has driven us to build up what we refer to as the human civilization. And it is also this attitude that has embodied some of the most admirable elements of humanity.
The crying of the boy also showed that Santiago did not achieve nothing; at least he has inspired a boy, who was obviously much more 'valuable', if one wants to speak in this way, than the big fish. So, by changing one's perspective, one can see that Santiago's 87 days attempt was not futile at all; it has brought about a heart as passionate and courageous as his in his younger friend. Material treasures will not last, and it will have to go anyway when one moves his leg into the grave; But spiritual transformation can endure, and be spread from one to another and yet another, as through Hemingway's account of it, eternally from generation to generations to come.
Aside from a few short stories, "The Old Man and the Sea" is the first Hemingway book that I have read. Of course, I am familiar with his persona, and the idea of the "Hemingway man," and was well aware as his stature as one of the greatest writers of modern times. But I had never read his books.
Wow. I mean, really. Wow. With "The Old Man and the Sea," it is so easy to see why Hemingway was awarded the Nobel Prize, and why he deserves all of his accolades. This short novel is fierce, full of vibrant energy and humanity, all the while being a slave to the realities of finite power, of the inability to struggle against something greater than yourself. Of course, this is the standard "man against nature" story, but it is told with such craft that even cliches ring true.
Santiago is a fully-realized character. His strength of will is all that holds together his failing body. The great marlin that he struggles with is like a true fish, lacking personality or anthropomorphism, but just a powerful beast that does not want to die. There is no Moby Dick animosity, and the fish is under the water for the majority of the struggle. All of it, the sharks, the flying fish, the small boat and the ocean, each is what it is, lacking metaphor and saying that life itself is enough. No need to wax poetic.
I never knew a story a little over 120 pages could pack such a punch.
When Hemingway wrote THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA, he was no longer the writer he had been twenty years earlier. His talent was declining, he had over the past ten years written far more bad books than good ones, and was very much the worse for wear from the hard life he had lived. But somehow, he managed at this late stage in his life to produced one final masterpiece, and one of his very finest novels.
The story is one of Hemingway's simplest. All of his books are simple on the surface. THE SUN ALSO RISES is very simply told, but it contains a wealth of psychological and interpersonal complexity beneath the simple narrative. THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA is truly simple, a story about a simple man, with simple ideas, with a simple life, with a simple, elemental encounter with the natural world: he catches a massive marlin that he battles unsuccessfully to bring to market. It is a tale of success in the midst of failure, of quiet stoicism and courage, and refusing to give in to the challenges the world throws at him. Most of all, it is a story about courage.
The tale that is told is so clearly told that a very young child can understand it. It is so marvelously told that an adult can marvel over it. When my daughter was six, I read this to her, and he loved it (even developing a child's fascination with Joe DiMaggio).
Although the Nobel Prize is given to a writer for his or her work as a whole, and not just one book, it may well be that without this book Hemingway would not have won the Prize. His best work had appeared in the 1920s, and much of his work of the 1930s and virtually all of his work in the 1940s had been far, far below the quality of the early short stories, A FAREWELL TO ARMS, and THE SUN ALSO RISES. THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA was his great comeback, and it is quite likely that it was the book that made the difference in his being chosen as the recipient of the award.
on August 15, 2009
Ernest Hemingway's "The Old Man and the Sea" was almost instantly recognized as a classic when it was published in 1952...and he was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature not long after its publication. Part of this was due to a near panic on the part of the Nobel Prize committee in 1953 after seeing headlines flashed around the world that Hemingway was near death from two separate plane crashes on his safari in Africa- and not wanting to fail to recognize the literary genius who had produced several memorable works. Hemingway also won the Pulitzer Prize around the same time.
"The Old Man and the Sea" shows an older, wiser Hemingway...and it was somewhat of a surprise to many people when they read it. Readers had been used to stories of barroom brawls...fistfights along the waterfront...battling determined enemies who wanted to kill him....yet this story- a novella- tells of an old fisherman who tries for many days to catch a fish to feed himself....and he has gone weeks without catching anything to bring home....The story is apocryphal and supposedly based on a true account of a Cuban fisherman (Hemingway was living in Cuba at the time) who went out to sea and finally caught a huge fish...but by the time he made it back to shore, the fish had been ravaged by sharks and nearly destroyed...The fish of the news accounts would apparently have been one of the largest sailfish on record- if it had survived intact...Hemingway was intrigued by this account and determined to make the story his own....
Hemingway allows us to see through the old man's eyes....sense his emotions...feel the pain in his hands as he tugs on the fishing line that cuts through his well-worn fingers...The old man senses a camaraderie with the huge fish he has just killed...and loves it even though he has taken its life away...Hemingway understood that fight...he had been through it many times...and survived to tell his stories...and this one allows us to sense what is within the mind of the fisherman...and in Hemingway's mind as he enters his later years....The story describes both the outer landscape of the boat on the open ocean...and the fight for the huge sailfish....but also the inner landscape within his mind...truly Hemingway's mind as he faces perhaps his last good fight....The old man knew he had one good fight left in him...so did Hemingway....they both won...as we gain insight into what it means to struggle...to fight against long odds....and succeed....only to be beaten at the last moment....
"The Old Man and the Sea" brings us a new awareness not only of age...and what it means to struggle...but also tells us that we are all in the same struggle...against the grim reaper who will come for all of us someday...and despite our efforts...will win the last fight...However, Hemingway knew that the only way to truly win in life was to create something of value...something that would stand the test of time...and he succeeded with this great work...
-by Gene Pisasale
Author of "Vineyard Days"
on July 10, 1999
10 July, 1999 A.D./2542 B.E. Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand
THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA, Hemingway's greatest work, leads to a reading of THE EPISTLE OF JAMES and to the entire BIBLE. Santiago means St. James in Spanish. Remember, Hemingway had first heard the story of a fisherman's struggle for four days at sea from his good friend Carlos Guiterrez in Cuba in 1934. Hemingway waited sixteen years to write THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA in Dec., 1950-early Feb., 1951. In the years between his first knowledge of the story and his own lyrical rendering of it, Hemingway took Mass in Spanish in Cuba on far more than one occasion. Examine, for instance, the fact that all the characters in THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA are named after Catholic saints or Apostles. "La Carta de Santiago" is from the Spanish New Testament; its English translation is "The Epistle of James." Like THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA, "The Epistle of James" focuses on themes of patience in the face of adversity, of enduring life's struggles for the sake of a greater good, and of gaining inner peace. Manolin, the Cuban boy's nickname, is the Spanish nickname for Manuel, a name derived from the prophecy of the Christ child Emmanuel in "The Book of Isaiah" in THE OLD TESTAMENT. Perico is the Spanish nickname for Pedro, which means Peter in English. Peter, of course, is another of Christ's apostles. Intrigues me that Santiago is the name of two vital figures in Christianity, Santiago del Zebedeo/St. James of Zebedee (whom Christ first met as a fisherman) and Christ's brother, Santiago/St. James the Martyr, who was stoned to death in Jerusalem. Martin, the owner of The Terrace bar who is generous to the impoverished Santiago, is also the name of two famous Catholic saints who were extraordiarily helpful to the poor, St. Martin of Tours of France and St. Martin de Poores. St. Martin of Poores is regarded as the patron saint of Afro-Cubans due to his incredibly generosity and sacrifice for African slaves in South America in the 1600s. And from the time he returned from Spain in 1939 to the time he wrote THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA at the Finca Vigia, Hemingway attended Spanish Mass in Cuba. Readings from "La Carta de Santiago"/"The Epistle of James" figure prominently in the Catholic Liturgical Calendar Year B, Ordinary Time(normally, in the September of every B cycle year). Santiago makes his journey for his marlin in September, "the month when the big fish come." September is hurricane season in Cuba, by the way, meaning Santiago knows he is risking his life. No, it's not too bad that this is Hemingway's shortest novel. In many ways, it is his richest and deepest work, and moreover, truest to his aesthetic. Five stars are not enough! Rock hard and ride free, Cool Papa H.! Hemingway evidences an incredible understanding of Cuban culture in THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA as he tells a story of one man's struggle to carry his dream at high sea in the face of death. Ultimately, his journey is spiritual at its core: Santiago's ability to accept the butchering of the marlin by the sharks, and his resolution at the end to continue going out to sea, teach us volumes on how to carry our own dreams in the seas we sail in our time. Santiago's story is timeless as love and endures with all the grace of every wave hitting all the shores of all the beaches of all the world. Reviewer: Mike Tucker
on May 23, 2006
call me a throwback, but this slender novel contains more wisdom than entire libraries of self-help books. hemingway tells the story of an old cuban fisherman on his most memorable trip with characteristic simplicity. the man's respect for the fish, courage and inner battle are a fitting finale to hemingway's career. there is more here about character and what life is about than a thousand self-help books.
i listened to the audio version and donald sutherland's performance is the best reading i've heard.
on March 13, 2002
The Old Man and the Sea
Though extremely well-written, The Old Man and the Sea is a depressing and boring story. Sometimes I read a book and love it. Sometimes I start a book and can't finish it. And sometimes I read a book and wish that I hadn't. The Old Man and the Sea is one of those "I wish I hadn't read that" books. Hemmingway, the author with the infamous depressing style of writing, has crafted a very sad story with a disappointing ending. Nevertheless, the descriptions are absolutely wonderful the author not "telling", but "showing".
In example, when Santiago says that "he wished that he had splashed the water in the boat and made salt", I couldn't help but see a rickety wooden boat with finely-grained salt on one of the seats. Little facts like that pop up all over the book, astonishing the reader that they can actually see what he wanted them to see! Like when Santiago is telling the boy about the lions in Africa, Hemmingway uses such fine explanation to show everyone what he means. I saw golden-brown lions lying on a sunny beach, snoring and keeping track of their cubs by instinct. The depression is still there, yes, but Hemmingway crafts his main character so wonderfully that he seems very real to the one reading the novel. Hemmingway describes ever aspect of everything he says; a sentence can't be read without a graphic description hanging on there somewhere. He paints a picture in the reader's mind better than any artist could have done, showing off his amazing ability of storytelling that is much envied by writers all over. The character "Santiago" is an n example of Hemmingway's descriptive novel-writing.
The Old Man and the Sea a sad account about the struggle between a man and his fate. For example, Santiago's struggle with the fish leaves the reader feeling anxious and sad. I found myself cracking my knuckles and wanting to scream at the old man, "Hurry up and pull that fish in! This is driving me crazy!" Hemmingway tugs with the reader's emotions and knots them up like a fishing line, causing the reader to feel exactly what Santiago is feeling. Suspense is built throughout the story, and the reader will feel discontented and apprehensive until he or she has finished it. I wouldn't read the book more than once, nor would I recommend anybody else to. One will just feel miserable and wish that they hadn't.
Finally, I'd like to remind anybody who is reading this that The Old Man and the Sea is a quality novel, and worth reading-but only once. That is, unless one likes reading sad, depressing novels that you wish they'd never read, go for it. But, warning...Hemmingway will leave the reader unsatisfied with the ending and eager to know what happened to the old man. Happy reading! (Or should I say, "Good luck"?)
on June 8, 2004
This book is a triumph of the bare necessities. The old man goes far out to sea in a flimsy wooden boat, fishing with only a hook, line and bait. Alone, he manages to catch a thousand-pound, eighteen-foot marlin. A life and death struggle ensues as the old man works the fish for days trying to bring it in, but his struggle has only begun as he has to battle the sharks in order to keep his prize.
Like the old man in his story, Hemingway uses only the bare necessities. This is a textbook example of how to write a short story--not one wasted word. The conflict of man versus nature is a timeless one, but Hemingway's is a classic because he does so much with so little.
Could a story like this one be written today? And if it were, would any publishing house print it? What--no sex, no violence, no angry young men showing how tough they are by threatening and swearing at one another, no liberal idealists purveying an underlying political message, no sorcerers, magic or monsters. Where's the entertainment in that?
The beauty of The Old Man and the Sea is its pure and simple realism. No fluff, no filler material, no publisher's formula fiction, just a timeless classic told by a master of the short story.
on March 2, 2002
The Old Man and The Sea is perhaps one of Ernest Hemingway's finest achievements. Here you will find the lean descriptive prose that made him one of the finest writer's of the twentieth century.
It tells the story of a fisherman who is down on his luck, but whose spirit is strong as the tropical winds that have tanned his skin and the sun that has made weak his eyes. He is devoted to the sea and knows all of its wildness and subtle moods. He goes out alone one day without his sidekick boy companion, because the boy's family has forbidden him to help his teacher for he has bad luck.
He hooks a Marlin, a huge mythical Marlin, the kind that fishermen only dream of catching. And the fish drags him out deeper and deeper into the ocean, farther than he's ever traveled. The battle is fierce and his hands are even bloodied as he ties himself to the rope and the fish in a struggle that is somehow symbolic of man's eternal quest to gain control over natural forces.
I would say more, however, Hemingway has done such a fine job that I suggest you read and read this wonderful tale. The ending is of course classic Hemingway. And it was for this book that Hemingway won the Nobel Prize for literature.
Ernest Hemingway's short novel "The Old Man and the Sea" received the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1953, and undoubtedly played a role in his being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954. The book tells the story of an elderly Cuban fisherman and of his epic struggle with a gigantic marlin.
This is a simple, straightforward story of courage and endurance. For most of the book, the old man is totally alone (aside from the animals he encounters) on his boat. Hemingway fills the book with memorable details about marine life and the fisherman's trade. An interesting touch is the invocation, throughout the book, of U.S. baseball player Joe DiMaggio as an iconic figure.
Hemingway's style has been justly celebrated over the decades, and his writing in this book is remarkable. In "The Old Man" he achieves a purity, clarity, and stark beauty that remind me of the poetry of Stephen Crane. This book is an enduring classic, and Hemingway's old man is one of the most memorable characters in American literature. If you like this book, also try "The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor," by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.