Last week, I popped my Hemingway cherry with The Old Man and the Sea*. I’ve had an earnest desire to read Ernest for quite some time and this was a short, easy starting point, as my copy is only 127 pages. Additionally, this particular novel received the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and led to the bestowment of the Nobel Prize in Literature to Hemingway. Thankfully, he was a very gentle author for a first timer.
The Old Man and the Sea is about an old man and the sea. Specifically, it revolves around a weathered fisherman named Santiago as well as a big ass fish. Santiago is a simple man, shockingly disciplined and well versed in his trade. Seriously, his determination to successfully catch and reel in this big ass fish is astonishing. He’s also refreshingly resourceful and methodical; I would not have lasted a tenth of the time that he did (nor would I have really cared). But Santiago holds an admiration and respect for these majestic creatures that balances alongside his visceral need to eat and his emotional demand for pride. Quite literally, he says, “‘Fish…I love you and respect you very much. But I will kill you dead before this day ends’” (Hemingway, 54). Clearly Hemingway hadn’t seen Finding Nemo; this poor guy is probably just headed to P Sherman, 42 Wallaby Way, Sydney to find his son.
Interestingly, the book barely has to work to characterize Santiago. Instead, it modestly presents readers a main character whose endurance is tested and lets us sit back and see how he reacts. Some times, it is painful to see the man’s agony; at others, it is heartening to witness his resilience. The sea is his home and the fish are his brothers, which is a hippie-esque statement that speaks to me and makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. He also sees the sea as a woman, capable of both beauty and capriciousness. Perhaps that is a reflection of Hemingway’s own relationship with females, seeing as he plowed through 4 wives and never really mastered the whole marriage thing.
Thematically, the book portrays a seemingly insurmountable obstacle and an inherently good, kind man thwarted by fate. Hemingway was a minimalist who often employed the “Iceberg Theory”--a writing style that exposes *just the tip* of an event without explicitly giving away too much. Consequently, you won’t find any overt discussion of what the man’s struggle against the sea and its inhabitants means. Open-ended novels are good for the soul in that they incite rumination. But be warned—you won’t find any categorical “how to’s” or a formulaic means of interpretation here.
As a diehard fan of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, I wish this book had been The Old Man and the Turtles in the Sea. Instead, I got this. It didn’t disappoint me but it also didn’t wow me. In general, I’m more inclined towards engaging narration that reads like a conversation between the reader and the narrator. This was a pleasant and poignant story that unfortunately did not fully resonate with me despite its timeless voice. That being said, I appreciate his writing style and I plan on trying For Whom the Bell Tolls. Overall, I give it 3 out of 5 camel humps. So short and easy to read that there’s no excuse to pass it by, but don’t immediately hit up Amazon and capitalize on their one-click ordering system.
*Hemingway, Ernest. The Old Man and the Sea. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1952. Print.