Friday, February 26, 2010

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

This story was published in 1952 and is one of the most beautiful stories Hemingway ever created. It is about an old Cuban fisherman and his battle against a marlin far out in the Gulf Stream. The old man’s name is Santiago and his only friend is a young boy called Manolin, who also lives in the small fishing village near Havanna, Cuba. The boy used to go fishing with the old man until his parents stopped him because Santiago was regarded as "unlucky". Having not caught a fish for the last 84 days, Santiago sets out alone one morning… 

When he leaves the harbour it is still dark and he rows so far away that he cannot see the coast anymore. He starts talking to himself about nature and the beauty of the sea. He admits: "If the others heard me talking out loud they would think that I am crazy…But since I am not crazy, I do not care." While he thinks or even meditates he sees that a fish is taking the bait on one of the lines. After a while he starts to pull the fish up, but this is not really possible because the fish is too heavy; but very surprisingly the fish starts to pull the boat further and further out to the sea. The fish continues pulling for hours until the sun goes down and during the whole night; it seems to be a very strong fish. Just before sunrise on the second day Santiago begins to pity the fish: "He is wonderful and strange and who knows how old he is." The old man is uncertain whether he should kill the fish or whether he should leave it. He also calls the fish "his brother" and reveals that he loves and respects the fish.

Suddenly Santiago notices that the fish slows its speed; it finally jumps out of the water and he sees that it is a marlin, which is even longer than his boat. The fish is 5.40 m long and 340 kg heavy. The old man wishes that the boy were there to help him by killing the fish because his health is deteriorating. He repeats: "If the boy were here, if the boy were here." He feels very lonely and recognizes that the fish is much, much stronger than he himself is: "Man is not much besides the great birds and beasts. Still I would rather be that beast down there in the darkness of the sea. Unless sharks come. If sharks come, God pity him and me." And by saying this the old man reveals that he is afraid of sharks. 

It is evening and the old man sleeps a bit, but he is wakened because the fish jumps out of the water for more than 12 times. When the sun rises, the third day has started and the fish begins to circle the boat. The old man’s state of mind deteriorates, because he has not eaten anything for a long time. He feels dizzy and he is close to a physical and mental breakdown. Finally, when the fish is close enough, the old man takes his harpoon and kills it. Having killed the fish Santiago attaches the marlin to the outside of the boat and starts to sail home.

But only a short time afterwards sharks come, attracted by the blood from the heart of the fish. Santiago tries to defend the fish, but the sharks are much stronger. They eat up the flesh of the fish. In this situation Santiago is described in the following way: "He did not like to look at the fish anymore since he had been mutilated. When the fish had been hit it was as though he himself were hit." This description shows how proud he was to have caught such a beautiful and big fish; a parallel could be drawn between Santiago and the fish. The old man identifies with the fish and with his "death". Nothing of the fish is left except its skeleton. The few tools the old man had broke during his fight against the sharks. So there was absolutely no way of defending the fish.
The old man finally arrives at the harbour at the third day of his journey. It is night and the old man goes to bed. The next morning Manolin comes and visits him, but before that the boy had already been to the harbour and he had also seen the skeleton of the big fish. When the boy sees the old man he starts to cry. He tells Santiago that the coast guard and even airplanes had been searching for him. The boy also promises that they will go fishing together again.

Themes in the story
As the story is very complex many different ways of interpreting it are possible. I am going to discuss some possible themes which can be found within the story. The story is about an eternal combat. The old man represents the human race and the sea represents nature. The story could be regarded as a metaphor of the struggle that takes place between human beings and nature; but the story also proves that nature is always superior and that the human race is not able to win this fight. To support this thesis on could apply a statement made by the old man. " It is good that we do not have to try to kill the sun or the moon or the stars. It is enough to live on the sea and kill our true brothers." Santiago knows that mankind is always inferior; he admits that he is happy that he does not have to try and kill the moon or the stars because he knows that they are much stronger and that he would always lose a fight against them.

Another possible theme of the story is courage. It is about the courage necessary to get through the triumphs and tragedies that the sea represents. The sea could be regarded as a metaphor of life. So the story encourages you to be brave and to go through the ups and downs that life presents to us. So one can conclude that the story is also about endurance, heroism and the fact that one should never give up. The old man knows how important it is not to give up, because he repeats: "I must not give up now." 

It follows that another possible theme of the story is triumph. But as the fish was totally eaten up by sharks it also becomes clear that triumph is never final and that one has to fight a lot in order to keep it; but it is also shown that we cannot influence how long our personal "triumph" is going to last for.

The story is also about pride and it is also explained where pride comes from and what it can lead to: It is the old man’s pride that makes him travel to a dangerous place, far out in the sea, "beyond all people in the world." It is also mentioned that "he knew that he was going very far out…" Santiago knows exactly how dangerous it is so far out in the sea, but he undertakes all this because he is very proud. He wants the other fishermen to see that he is not too old and too weak to catch fish, even though he has not caught anything for a very long time.

Success is another possible theme of Hemingway’s story; but the author makes a difference between two types of success. First of all there is the "material" success; Santiago does not have "material" success because he lost all the material value of the fish which he would have sold if sharks had not eaten it up. And secondly there is the "inner" success: I think the old man can be regarded as successful even though he has lost the "material" fish. He is very successful because he has overcome his physical problems like hunger, thirst, wounds, a broken harpoon and a broken knife; this makes him undefeatable and in a certain way even more successful.
Finally the story is also about fate. Hemingway points out that we are never going to be able to influence or to foresee our fate; the author makes clear that there must be a power greater than ourselves who decides what is going to happen to us.
Many people have tried to interpret the symbols that can be found throughout the whole story. For example a parallel is drawn between the bleeding hands of Santiago and the suffering of Jesus Christ, whose hands were equally wounded by the nails used to crucify him.

The "great DiMaggio" is said to be a symbol of courage, endurance and success.But, nevertheless, we should also have a look at the statement made by Hemingway himself about the symbolism of that story. He says: "There isn’t any symbolism. The sea is the sea. The old man is an old man. The boy is a boy and the fish is a fish. The sharks are all sharks no better and no worse. All the symbolism that people say is shit. What goes beyond is what you see beyond when you know." And I personally think that we have to accept what the author says about symbolism, because he knows best what he wanted to say when he wrote this story.

Hemingway´s literary style
It is also important to look at the language that Hemingway uses in order to fully understand the author’s intention of this book. The author uses language to produce a realistic picture of the human beings that appear in the story. When the old man sits in his boat, he talks in monologues. They make the reader experience his long path through life as he often digresses to the time when he was young; the monologues also show that he is not only very lonely, but that he also tries to overcome his permanent loneliness. He longs for contact; that is the reason why he talks to the sea, the moon and the stars.

Santiago speaks in short, uncomplicated and very simple sentences; this is due to his job as a fisherman. He dos not have to make long speeches in front of many people as he spends most of his time fishing in the ocean all by himself.

This way of talking, namely the preference of talking in short sentences could be described as
"staccato-style" compared to long, complicated sentences used by many other authors that could be named "legato-style".

The old man often repeats sentences ("If the boy were here, if the boy were here…") which seems to be quite typical of him. Language here is a very important indication of the social class and the background Santiago comes from.

What I like most about the story "The Old Man and the Sea" is its simplicity. I think this is one of the reasons why it has become so successful and word famous. Hemingway doesn’t try to impress the reader with an artificial, complicated and unrealistic story. It is the fact that every word of the story is essential and none is superfluous or meaningless. This is the reason why the story is so beautiful and unique within the literary world.

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