The Old Man and the Sea

This week I participated in a read-along of Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea hosted by hamlettethedame over at The Edge of the Precipice.  In her discussion questions, she presented an interesting quote by Hemingway:

There isn’t any symbolysim [sic].  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.

In reading the short novel, I have to take Hemingway at his word.  From the cuts on the old man’s hands to the slamming of his face against the floor of his skiff to the powerful jumps of the mighty fish, the physical world takes center stage – and for this story, that’s more than enough.  The beauty and ferocity of the ocean come from its physicality.  The reader understands Santiago’s old age through his physical pain during his struggle with the fish.

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Some of Santiago’s struggle does manifest itself in more mental and emotional characteristics; however, I would still have to say the friendship between Santiago and Manolin, the young boy, is a friendship.  As the old man continuously wishes for the boy’s presence, the reader understands Santiago’s loneliness – but it’s loneliness, not something representational or symbolic.  The struggle is a struggle:

He took all his pain and what was left of his strength and his long gone pride and he put it against the fish’s agony and the fish came over onto his side and swam gently on his side, his bill almost touching the planking of the skiff and started to pass the boat, long, deep, wide, silver and barred with purple and interminable in the water.

I think the struggle between Santiago and the fish can be understood as universal which is probably why the novel is considered great; however, for me, the bottom line is that The Old Man and the Sea is a very real story.

And as a side note, I don’t remember from my first reading (which was a while ago) that Santiago was such a DiMaggio fan.  His baseball references were memorable:

But I must have confidence and I must be worthy of the great DiMaggio who does all things perfectly even with the pain of the bone spur in his heel.

 

Henryk Sienkiewicz: The Lighthouse Keeper of Aspinwall

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I first heard of Nobel Prize winning Henryk Sienkiewicz’ “The Lighthouse Keeper of Aspinwall” when Jay at Bibliophilopolis posted about it last year.   This week I drew the Ten of Diamonds which corresponded to this enjoyable story.  My Deal Me In 2014 list can be seen here.  DMI is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

Skavinkski, now an old man, becomes employed at a lighthouse on the coast of Panama.  The lighthouse beckons him from his life of adventure, his world travels, and his childhood in Poland.  It doesn’t appear that he has many regrets in how he has lived his life and he welcomes living out the end of his days in peace and solitude.  He and his routine become one with the landscape and the seascape and the wildlife.

In the midst of Skavinski’s tranquility, he receives a thank you gift from a Polish society in New York City:

The books came in the natural way; but at the first moment the old man could not seize those thoughts. Polish books in Aspinwall, on his tower, amid his solitude,–that was for him something uncommon, a certain breath from past times, a kind of miracle. Now it seemed to him, as to those sailors in the night, that something was calling him by name with a voice greatly beloved and nearly forgotten. He sat for a while with closed eyes, and was almost certain that, when he opened them, the dream would be gone.

The memories and reflections that the gift brings to the old man affects another change in his life.  In certain respects the gift seems an intrusion to his way of life – but not an unwelcomed one.  Is this change for the positive or the negative?  I have my ideas but I love the beautifully ambiguous way the story ends.

It’s interesting that I selected this story this week as I’m currently reading a short novel about another old man and, well, the sea.  I’m enjoying the comparisons and contrasts between the two.  Look for another post about this novel, soon.

Flannery O’Connor: Everything That Rises Must Converge

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When Julian Chestny, college grad in Flannery O’ Connor’s “Everything That  Rises Must Converge”, states that “he is not dominated by his mother”, the reader already has enough information to think “yeah right”.  The tension between mother and son is apparent in their discussion as they board a city bus so she can take an exercise class at “the Y”.

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While the contentions between them are numerous, the one that rears it’s ugly head on the bus ride is racism.  The story takes place just as city buses in the South are becoming integrated.  Keep in mind, though, that this is Flannery O’Connor and I’ve found that it’s not uncommon to find myself laughing hysterically at situations that are also very disturbing.  As several African-American  passengers board the bus, a scene of musical chairs (or seats, rather) plays out as well as anything in a Marx Brothers movie.   It amazes me how brilliant physical comedy can be written in a book.

Julian’s mother says that it is fine for “them” to rise as long as they “stay on their side of the fence”.  That is the closest to the story’s title being mentioned, but a convergence does occur.  Some may want to mistake O’ Connor’s political incorrectness for outright racism.  I would point them to the end of this story as proof otherwise.  I highly recommend this story!

My Deal Me In 2014 list can be seen here.  DMI is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

 

I still like “Gatsby”…

‘They’re a rotten crowd,’ I shouted across the lawn.  ‘You’re worth the whole damn bunch put together.’

Beautiful words describing shallow people.  This seems to be the consensus of many readers of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short novel The Great Gatsby.   They’re not wrong.  His characters of the Jazz Age have major flaws and many are not likeable.  After several decades since reading it the first time; however, Nick Carraway’s above words jumped out at me.  Something about Jay Gatsby makes him great.  Maybe it’s the way he stares across the water at the green dock light.  Maybe it’s his new-fangled yellow automobile.  Maybe it’s his naïve idea that money can buy him love.  Or perhaps it’s just the way he calls everyone “old sport”.  Regardless of the reason, I’m glad Carraway got to say those words to him.

And speaking of Nick Carraway, he’s one of my favorite side kicks.  He’s the quintessential observer – ever so slightly detached that one thinks maybe he’ll get away from Gatsby’s tragic circumstances only partially scathed.  At least one hopes.  His moral compass isn’t completely broken.

The greed that undergirds the bright lights and the big parties can make this a tough book to admire.  By the end of my second reading, I’m convinced Fitzgerald is not attempting to glorify corruption.  He’s taking a snapshot of the world in which he lived.  A world where greed outshines the empty eyes of Dr. T. J. Eckleburg.

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Herman Melville: Bartleby

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Herman Melville’s short story “Bartleby” gives the reader an odd relationship between employee and employer.  While I’m not sure this type of relationship exists in the real world (or at least not the 21st century real world), Melville makes the story work in a most memorable manner.

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The story is narrated by the boss who hires Bartleby as a scrivener for his law office.  Bartleby gets his own little section of the office and before long is politely refusing to do anything requested of him.   In one of my favorite lines (of which there are many), the boss says “Nothing so aggravates an earnest person as a passive resistance.”  The story seems to ask who has more control and more power.  It’s difficult to point to the boss as the answer.

Bartleby embodies the power of this passive resistance.  By doing – or not doing – whatever he wants, Bartleby gives some sort of meaning to his life as strange as it may seem.  This throws the boss for more than one loop.  In spite of the philosophical edge to the story, I couldn’t help but appreciate the humor in the situation.  The poor boss can’t shake Bartleby – even right up to the end.  Something about the story kept reminding me of the movie Office Space.

I’m not sure the idea of passive resistance would be useful to me in my job or career; however, the occasional “I prefer not to” could be helpful in a lot of life situations.

The title of this story in my edition is simply “Bartleby”; however, I have seen other editions (as the one pictured) in which the story is called “Bartleby, the Scrivener”.  I’m not sure which is right but I’m wondering if this could be similar to The Great Hyphen Controversy of Moby-Dick. 

I think I have said this before but it’s worth repeating – Melville is a master.

My Deal Me In 2014 list can be seen here.  DMI is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

 

 

Some ‘Game of Thrones’ thoughts

Here are some random thoughts as I finished  George R. R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones and here is my previous post about this novel:

Tyrion Lannister steals the show, or at least the novel. I haven’t seen any of the HBO series, but I’ve heard Peter Dinklage is great.  I am curious about Tyrion in the subsequent books.  At the beginning of this one, he might have had a little sympathy for some of the Starks but that seems to fizzle out.

I liked the direction Jon was headed at the end – until his friends came along and ruined it.

I don’t understand the situation with Lady.  Will there be more significance to this in subsequent books?

I wanted more wrap-up in this book – especially with Sansa and Arya.  I know, there are more books.

Daenerys still creeped me out and her storyline about her “Atilla the Hun” husband interested me the least, until the final page.

One of the more memorable moments came surprisingly from Catelyn as she played both warrior guide and mother to her son, Robb.  The conflicting emotions were well done.  I would be curious about her portrayal in the series.

Martin is a good story-teller.

The descriptions of battle remind me of the Iliad and the Odyssey:  the arrow entered here and came out here; the sword pierced here; the head rolled here; blood splattered all over here.

If one is a little queasy about violence, one might not want to read this book.

I will probably read the next book in the series sometime – maybe Christmas vacation.

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Ernest Hemingway: Ten Indians

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What do ten Native Americans do on the Fourth of July?  In Ernest Hemingway’s short story “Ten Indians”, they get drunk and pass out on the side of the road just as Nick Adams (a recurring Hemingway character) and his friends drive by.  Hemingway has never been known for political correctness; however, the Americana backdrop of this story makes me think this is more than an offensive stereotype.  The Independence Day setting together with Adams returning to his father after a baseball game via a horse-drawn wagon sets up things for a quaint little story – except for the drunk Indians.  Is Hemingway saying, for various reasons, not everyone celebrates in the same manner?

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Nick’s friends carelessly drive by the men on the road as they drop off Nick at his father’s.  Nick’s father then proceeds to carelessly let him know that he saw Prudence Mitchell in the woods with another boy.  Nick’s infatuation with Prudence (an Indian girl) crosses over into other stories.  Hemingway leaves it up to the reader to determine whether Mr. Adams is purposely trying to hurt his son or doesn’t actually realize Nick’s feelings for Prudence.  Other Nick Adams stories give one the impression that Nick and his father have a love/hate relationship.

I like the coincidence of choosing this story for this particular week.  As I was reading it, I felt as though Hemingway is giving Mark Twain a little nod.  And then Nick is offered a piece of pie by his dad  – “huckleberry pie”.  I did a double take.  Another coincidence?

And finally, the bittersweet ending:

In the morning there was a big wind blowing and the waves were running high up on the beach and he was awake a long time before he remembered that his heart was broken.

My Deal Me In 2014 list can be seen here.  DMI is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis