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Book Review of The Old Man and the Sea

Published on February 27th, 2016 at 02:05 am

By Brynn Lowry

Ernest Hemingway’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Old Man and the Sea, examines the struggles between youth and age, prey and predator, and love and hate. The story opens on an aging fisherman Santiago, who has gone many days without catching a fish. He grapples with, on one hand, the community and his fellow fishermen telling him that he will soon be too old to catch a thing, and on the other, his own ego and determination to continue doing what he loves. Santiago’s young apprentice Manolin will occasionally help the old man on his ship but Santiago is determined to keep his independence. One day, Santiago heads out on his own into the wild sea, like he does most days, to see what he can catch. He lands a huge Marlin that’s strength is initially too much for Santiago to reel in. But the old man is stubborn and holds on to the marlin as hard as he can. The great fish pulls him farther and farther out to see, for two days and nights he is pulled, injuring himself on the line. Over time, Santiago develops a great respect and admiration for the marlin, he relates the strength of the marlin to the strength he sees in the sea, his one great love. Santigo begins to develop a love for the fish and beings to philosophize on the nature of prey and predator and the beauty in his conquering of this mighty beast. On the third day the old man is nearly beat, in one last triumphant pull, Santiago reels the fish close to the boat and harpoons it. He straps the fish to the side of his boat and feels overcome by his sense of manliness and his pride. As he heads back home, the blood from the dead marlin attracts many predators in the water. Santiago desperately tries to fight them off but they leave with enormous chunks of his prize. Mako sharks come to eat the fish, Santiago manages to kill some of them but when they leave, all that is left of the Marlin is the skeleton tied to his boat. Santiago returns home with nothing but memories of his triumphant prize and great struggle with the sea.

In this work, Hemmingway analyzes the internal battles of an aging man who isn’t ready to give up what he loves. The dominant themes of dedication, perseverance, and respect highlight to the reader that Hemmingway wishes to paint his character Santiago, not as an old man who is spent and weak, but as a man who’s passion gives him strength to fight his internal and external battles. Throughout the novel, images of lions on a beach are mentioned as daydreams of Santiago. The Lions, mighty kings of the desert, represent pride and strength as well as the ultimate hunter; it is clear Santiago sees himself in a similar way. Through his years, Santiago has developed a love and respect for the sea. The sea represents a brooding strength to the old man that ultimately motivates him to keep his strength while fighting the marlin. The old man’s take on the marlin itself is very interesting. Even though he sees himself as the predator, he understands the majesty of the great fish and respects it as a worthy foe.

Hemmingway’s great metaphors and contrasts highlight the real significance of the novel. The great and ageless ocean mirrors the ageless spirit of the old man and the mighty marlin represents the beauty and wildness of the sea, while the struggle of man and beast is a description not only of the inner turmoil of the character and his shortcomings but of the human condition and our quest to conquer all. Santiago mentions that he feels more at home on the wild sea with the great beasts then in his village with his people. He sees himself as part of the great circle of life in the ocean and this is what makes sense to him. Young and old, land lover or lover of the sea, Any reader who wishes to dive into this deep and intriguing novel will be amazed by their connection with the protagonist. Hemmingway captures readers with simple human emotion and reels them in with majesty of something much larger and much more complex.

Works Cited

Hemingway, Ernest. The Old Man and the Sea. New York: Scribner, 1952. Print.