Posted in Fiction

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.


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.


4 thoughts on “The Old Man and the Sea

  1. I was also intrigued by the inclusion of baseball. Back then, spring training was in Cuba, so his familiarity makes sense. But I have to wonder if Hemingway specifically chose baseball as the sport that Santiago and Manolin follow because of all the team sports, it’s the most individual. Yes, you play as a team, but at the same time, it’s one person at bat at a time, them against the pitcher. In that way, i think it’s very similar to one man in a boat working against the fish.

    Anyway, thanks for joining the read-along 🙂

    1. You make a good case for why Hemingway chose baseball! It’s definitely more individualistic. I also think baseball was more popular at the time the novel was written than it is today.

  2. Your comments about the physical world made me wonder if it plays into Santiago’s reaction …….. by having him simply go out day after day and persevere, Hemingway inhibits any emotional reaction that he has towards his bad luck, and that makes the physical elements even more prominent. Hmm …… I’ll have to think about that …….

    In any case, I really enjoyed your review and, of course, the read-along. I can think a few fonder thoughts about Hemingway now. 😉

    1. Thanks, Cleo! I’m glad Hemingway is at least a little more tolerable. I’m a big fan, but I know that around the blogosphere it’s rather divided. In fact, I would say that I run into more that don’t care for him than those who do.

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