He looked across the sea and knew how alone he was now. But he could see the prisms in the deep dark water and the line stretching ahead and the strange undulation of the calm. The clouds were building up now for the trade wind and he looked ahead and saw a flight of wild ducks etching themselves against the sky over the water, then blurring, then etching again and he knew no man was ever alone on the sea.
The Old Man and the Sea – Ernest Hemingway
What It Is
This is the last novel published by Ernest Hemingway before his death in 1961. It was released in 1952, and when Hemingway won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954, the Nobel Committee stated that this book was one of the reasons why.
Santiago, the “old man,” is a fisherman, living in Cuba, who sleeps on newspapers and survives on the kindness of his young friend, referred to in the novel as “the boy,” who brings him bits of food and coffee, and occasionally buys him a beer at the end of the long day.
When we first meet Santiago, he’s gone eighty-four days without catching a fish. He’s lonely, and there’s a heartbreaking reference to his deceased wife.
Once there had been a tinted photograph of his wife on the wall but he had taken it down because it made him too lonely to see it…
On the eighty-fifth day, Santiago decides to go further out into the ocean, far past the point that most of the local fishermen would travel, in order to have a better shot at catching a fish.
The novel follows Santiago as he hooks an extraordinary marlin, facing immense hardships and suffering, and losing much on his way back to his island.
It’s a short book, and a simple one, but it displays courage in the face of suffering and hardship. The book is also an absolute masterpiece, and if you haven’t read it, or if you were forced to read it in school and haven’t picked it up since, now would be a great time to do so.
What I Loved
Only Hemingway could write a book about a lone fisherman trying to catch a marlin, and turn it into such a powerful work of fiction.
The novel essentially has just three characters, Santiago and the boy, and then the marlin. Both Santiago and the boy are immensely lovable characters. Although his parents won’t let him fish with Santiago anymore because they kept coming back empty-handed, he feels sorry for the old man, and feels a sense of responsibility to him, bringing him food and the daily newspaper so he can keep track of baseball and his favorite player, Joe DiMaggio.
It made the boy sad to see the old man come in each day with his skiff empty and he always went down to help him carry either the coiled lines or the gaff and harpoon and the sail that was furled around his mast. The sail was patched with flour sacks and, furled, it looked like the flag of permanent defeat.
I also love the respect Santiago gives to the ocean and the marlin that he’s trying to catch.
“Fish,” he said, “I love you and respect you very much. But I will kill you dead before this day ends.”
By the end of the book, you also find yourself feeling attached to the old man. Throughout everything, he remains positive and brave, and it’s a lesson we all need.
What I Disliked
About the book? Nothing. I love this book.
I read this book for the first time when I was in the tenth grade, and I feel that I wasn’t able to really appreciate it because I didn’t have enough life experience yet to actually understand it. I feel that forcing high schoolers to read it is a great disservice to this classic American novel.
Buy. It’s a short book and a great choice for a lazy day at the beach. It’s a true American classic.