Wednesday, 15 July 2015

A Journey of Freedom: The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

Book Review of Hemmingway's The Old Man and the Sea.

When I read Hemingway’s famous short story, The Old Man and the Sea, two things entered my mind. The first, “This is a pretty long short story”. The second plunged a little deeper, suggesting this wasn’t entirely a poignant tale but was one of freedom. The story was published in 1951, and won the Pulitzer Prize. It has been said that Hemingway wrote about subject matter he had experience of. For whom the Bell Tolls was written after he had visited Spain during the Civil War. Hemingway fought in World War I and later wrote The Sun always Rises, a book which explored post-war disillusionment of his generation. In his spare time he enjoyed deep-sea fishing and it seems likely that it was during a fishing excursion he became inspired to write The Old Man and the Sea. It is clear, however, this masterpiece of his is not just a tale of an old man fishing for marlin.

the old man and the sea

The Old Man and the Sea is, undoubtedly, poignant. It starts with an old solitary fisherman who has gone eighty-four days without catching a fish. It is a story about destitution; one that tells the account of a poor old man bounded by bad “luck”. The reader turns each page to learn the hardships and personal struggle between this old man and the roaring sea. Painted on the fisherman, Santiago’s, face are the deep wrinkles and the “benevolent skin cancer the sun brings from its reflection on the tropic sea”. It is a story that questions the meaning of life; one which shows the suffering and pain that people go through for survival. It touches on the nature versus nurture debate, as the old man believes he was born to be a fisherman. He is married to sea; it is all he knows.

However, for every negative aspect of this man’s life that Hemingway writes, there is an underlying theme which seems to contradict it. On land, Santiago is bounded by the constraints of society. He is alone, with no friends or wife; his only human contact is with a boy, Manolin, who is forbidden to go on fishing excursions with him because of his bad luck. Portrayed as a poor man, highlighted by his squalor living-conditions, he is deemed useless by society and in turn by the reader.  He has not caught a fish in eighty four days. Manolin’s, manager is the one who supplies him with food and a beer. The boy also gets him sardine-bait for the following morning.  He is, undoubtedly, a helpless character, yet, this vanishes once we see him out on the sea.

It is as though the old man has the freedom of the sea; once he breaks from the land, he is seen in a different light. In the second paragraph Hemingway paints the description of the old man’s haggard face and then says “everything about him was old except his eyes and they were the same colour as the sea and were cheerful and undefeated.” Perhaps, it is a hint, alluding to the freedom of the old man’s soul. Later, Santiago and Manolin have a conversation about a baseball player, whom Manolin informs Santiago was playing with the Sisler’s “when he was my age.” Santiago informs the young boy that when he was his age he was on a ship “that ran to Africa and I have seen lions on the beaches in the evening”.  This contrasts largely with the life that Manolin leads, ordered by his father not to fish with the old man and find a luckier boat, the boy is not free as Santiago is now, nor was at his age.

Throughout the short story Hemingway plays with this idea of freedom. On the sea, the man has only nature around him to think about and the fish under his boat. It is of course, a story of survival. But it is clean and free, set apart from the land, Maolin, his father and the other fishermen of the village. On land he is deemed useless, unworthy. On the sea, the reader sees him as a strong man, navigating the Gulf Stream in a small boat. He is a part of nature, his brothers the stars and the marlin, his wife the sea.

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