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The Old Man and The Sea Paperback – May 5, 1995
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Here, for a change, is a fish tale that actually does honor to the author. In fact The Old Man and the Sea revived Ernest Hemingway's career, which was foundering under the weight of such postwar stinkers as Across the River and into the Trees. It also led directly to his receipt of the Nobel Prize in 1954 (an award Hemingway gladly accepted, despite his earlier observation that "no son of a bitch that ever won the Nobel Prize ever wrote anything worth reading afterwards"). A half century later, it's still easy to see why. This tale of an aged Cuban fisherman going head-to-head (or hand-to-fin) with a magnificent marlin encapsulates Hemingway's favorite motifs of physical and moral challenge. Yet Santiago is too old and infirm to partake of the gun-toting machismo that disfigured much of the author's later work: "The brown blotches of the benevolent skin cancer the sun brings from its reflection on the tropic sea were on his cheeks. The blotches ran well down the sides of his face and his hands had the deep-creased scars from handling heavy fish on the cords." Hemingway's style, too, reverts to those superb snapshots of perception that won him his initial fame:
Just before it was dark, as they passed a great island of Sargasso weed that heaved and swung in the light sea as though the ocean were making love with something under a yellow blanket, his small line was taken by a dolphin. He saw it first when it jumped in the air, true gold in the last of the sun and bending and flapping wildly in the air.If a younger Hemingway had written this novella, Santiago most likely would have towed the enormous fish back to port and posed for a triumphal photograph--just as the author delighted in doing, circa 1935. Instead his prize gets devoured by a school of sharks. Returning with little more than a skeleton, he takes to his bed and, in the very last line, cements his identification with his creator: "The old man was dreaming about the lions." Perhaps there's some allegory of art and experience floating around in there somewhere--but The Old Man and the Sea was, in any case, the last great catch of Hemingway's career. --James Marcus
About the Author
Ernest Hemingway did more to influence the style of English prose than any other writer of his time. Publication of The Sun Also Rises and A Farewell to Arms immediately established him as one of the greatest literary lights of the 20th century. His classic novella The Old Man and the Sea won the Pulitzer Prize in 1953. Hemingway was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954. He died in 1961.
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The “old man” is Cuban, whose wife has died, and he lives in a shack, alone, along the beach, still practicing the only real profession he has ever known: being a fisherman. A young boy has “adopted” him, and provides moral and physical support to alleviate his poverty. The “old man” has had his “glory days,” sailing as far away as Africa, where he saw the lions on the beach. He also had immense strength in his youth, beating an opponent in a hand-wrestling contest that lasted all night.
The heart of the novella is when the Old Man “grabbed the Brass Ring,” hooking the largest fish ever, a marlin that is two feet longer that his 16 foot skiff. It is truly an epic struggle to reel the marlin in – and the old man fishing experience allows him to “think like a fish,” knowing instinctively the most likely tactics the fish will use. The old man also instinctively knows – long before the days of GPS and weather forecasts, where he is, and what weather will be forthcoming. Even with all his experience, he rues how unprepared he is, in terms of the omission of certain equipment from his boat, for such a multi-day struggle with The Big One of his life. He can still summon forth some of his youth’s strength, along with his cunning, in order to prevail.
Victory though is bittersweet, as it so often is. On more than one occasion I’ve thought that the bleak outcome of this work might have foreshadowed Hemingway’s decision to commit suicide, at the young age of 61, when so many possibilities still remained.
In terms of “high school assignment books,” this is one that I fully advocate still being assigned, for many a student should appreciate the straightforward narrative, and the clean-cut epic struggle, even though today they might never have heard of Joe DiMaggio, or known that the Dodgers were once in Brooklyn. But if you read it in high school today, please make a modest commitment to read it a half century later, and undertake the steps to improve your chances of making it that half century. For your understanding of it, the second time around, might easily be “3 x” that of your youth. 5-stars.
It fascinates me that the worthless company that sells this copy doesn't just correct the errors.
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It is a testament to life for everyone.