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The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
The Old Man and the Sea

The Black Eel, April 1, 2014

It was not difficult for me to see why The Old Man and the Sea is one of Ernest Hemingway’s most celebrated works. The story combines themes of courage, perseverance, and friendship into a relatively short story. At the same time, it poses many questions dealing with the human experience and teaches readers memorable life lessons. The Old Man and the Sea is much more than a simple tale of a fisherman; it is the story of a man who discovers what really matters in life.

It is hard not to be impressed with the manliness of Ernest Hemingway. Not only was he an author, but he also spent much of his time fighting in the war, big game hunting, deep sea fishing, and drinking profusely. He carried his experiences with him to create several famous pieces of literature, including The Old Man and the Sea. Santiago, the protagonist, is based off of Hemingway’s real life fishing buddy. Hemingway uses very simple language to ensure that readers understand the basic plot of the story. However, the story also poses many questions about the human experience that left me thinking for hours.

For eighty four straight days, an old man by the name of Santiago has gone out fishing but returned to land with nothing to show for it. His fellow fishermen who had once respected him now see him as aged and unlucky. Even Mandolin, a young boy who cares for the old man everyday, is told to stop wasting his time onboard Santiago’s boat. However, the friendship between the old man and the young boy never dwindles. After the old man returns from sea each day, the young boy makes sure the old man has everything he needs. Finally, on the eighty-fifth day at sea, the old man gets what he desires most. A massive marlin takes his bait. The old man is pleased at feeling the weight of the monster on his line, but he can’t help but wish that his best friend was there with him. For the next five grueling days, the old man dedicates himself to an intense battle with the majestic fish until one of them finally gives out.

The efficiency of The Old Man and the Sea is one of the main reasons I found the story to be so remarkable. One of the first ideas it discusses deals with the complex relationship between the hunter and the hunted. The old man constantly sways between feeling sorry for the great fish and then feeling a need to capture it and make it his prize. On one hand, Santiago understands the majesty of the 18-foot long, 1500 pound marlin, so he feels that is not meant to be killed by man. On the other hand he feels as though he must prove himself as a great fisherman in order to regain his sense of accomplishment and youth. Throughout his time on the water, the old man talks to himself to avoid silence. “You did not kill the fish only to keep alive and to sell for food, he thought. You killed him for pride and because you are a fisherman. You loved him when he was alive and you loved him after. If you love him, it is not a sin to kill him. Or is it more?” (105). This poses an important question about hunting and fishing in general. Is it right for humans to kill animals purely for sport?

Hemingway also shows that, in life, the journey is more important than the destination. Although things don’t turn out as planned for the old man, he eventually realizes that the purpose of his struggle was to prove to himself that he was still a tremendous fisherman. His struggle with the marlin proved that the old man was capable of enduring through pain and suffering in order to reach his goals. His battle with the marlin brings him back to his younger days when he was full of energy. In fact, the idea of youth is a recurring theme. “He no longer dreamed of storms, nor of women, nor of great occurrences, nor of great fish, nor fights, nor contests of strength, nor of his wife. He only dreamed of places now and of the lions on the beach. They played like young cats in the dusk and he loved them as he loved the boy” (25). Indeed, the old man doesn’t truly seek the physical prize of having a trophy fish. Instead he craves to live an adventure as he did when he was a young boy. This explains his deep connection with Mandolin and shows why the old man was so relentless in pursuing the great marlin. His mind is still youthful although his body is aging quickly.

As a reader with no previous experience with the work of Ernest Hemingway, I was very pleased with The Old Man and the Sea. It was a quick read, but certainly a good one. Hemingway accomplishes his goal of telling a tale of adventure while incorporating complex ideas despite using very simple language. Especially as a person who loves the outdoors, I was able to appreciate the pride that Santiago takes in fishing. I couldn’t help but imagine myself onboard the boat with Santiago as he fought the great marlin. The language that was used is simple and easy to understand, yet the lessons and values that can be taken away make The Old Man and the Sea very memorable.
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