Thu. Apr 18th, 2024

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway depicts an aged fisherman named Santiago in his novel, The Old Man and the Sea, who has gone without catching a fish for eighty-four days. His former apprentice, Manolin, used to accompany him on fishing trips, but his parents now consider Santiago lousy luck and make Manolin work on another boat. However, Manolin still supports Santiago and provides him with supplies for his fishing trip. Santiago goes alone on his boat to fish far out in the sea the following day.

During his fishing trip, Santiago faces a fierce struggle with a marlin, sustaining injuries. Eventually, he harpoon the fish, ties it to the boat, and starts heading home. However, sharks attack the marlin, leaving only its head, tail, and backbone. Santiago gifts the marlin’s spear to Manolin and the head to Pedrico.

Hemingway’s stories often draw from his experiences, and The Old Man and the Sea reflect various aspects of his life. The novel can be seen as an allegory of Hemingway’s career struggles, and his feelings of loneliness are mirrored in the protagonist’s isolation. The negative portrayal of women in the book stems from Hemingway’s troubled relationships with women, including his mother. Furthermore, the novel’s protagonist’s struggle as a fisherman reflects Hemingway’s struggle as a writer. After a decade of literary decline, some believed that Hemingway’s best days as a writer were behind him, as demonstrated by the criticism received for his novel Across the River and Into the Trees.

Santiago’s Initial Struggle and Isolation

In The Old Man and the Sea, Santiago, the protagonist, was once a successful fisherman but is now considered a has-been due to his 84-day fishing drought. The state of his sail, patched and symbolizing permanent defeat, reflects his unsuccessful status. His simple house further emphasizes his need for more success. Hemingway’s ten-year gap in publishing a successful novel mirrors Santiago’s struggle to catch a fish. Both Hemingway and Santiago feel the need to prove themselves again, with Santiago’s quest to catch a great fish symbolizing Hemingway’s quest to write a great novel. As Hemingway may have anticipated, Santiago’s marlin being torn apart by sharks symbolizes critics tearing apart the book. Despite his confidence in the novel, Hemingway expected criticism, given his previous experience with Across the River and Into the Trees.

Loneliness and Relationships

Hemingway’s loneliness is evident in Santiago’s characterization and external conflict in the story. Santiago’s wife is deceased, adding to his feelings of isolation. His former companion, Manolin, is no longer allowed to fish with him, further contributing to Santiago’s sense of solitude. Loneliness is emphasized as Santiago battles the marlin in isolation on the vast expanse of water. Hemingway’s negative attitude towards women is also apparent in the novel, influenced by his failed marriages, rejection by Adriana, and strained relationship with his mother, Grace. This personal experience shapes his portrayal of females as lacking self-control. On the other hand, Santiago views males as having self-control, as evidenced by his identification of the marlin as male. Hemingway’s emphasis on male behavior diminishes the depiction of females in the story.

Femininity and Deception

In The Old Man and the Sea, Santiago associates femininity with deceptiveness. When he encounters a Portuguese man-of-war, he refers to it as “agua mala,” meaning “you whore,” symbolizing negative associations with femininity. He further links deception with femininity, describing the man-of-war’s iridescent bubbles as “the falsest thing in the sea.” The story includes only one woman, a tourist, whose brief appearance is significant. She mistakes the remains of Santiago’s marlin for a shark’s, reflecting the theme of women’s incapacity to appreciate Santiago’s masculine quest and achievements.

Hemingway’s life greatly influenced the writing of The Old Man and the Sea. The striking similarities between Santiago and Hemingway highlight their shared struggles—Hemingway’s decade-long battle to write a successful novel and Santiago’s 84-day fishing drought. Both needed to prove themselves again. Santiago’s marlin being torn apart by sharks symbolizes critics tearing apart Hemingway’s work, which he may have expected based on his previous experiences. Hemingway’s loneliness, stemming from failed marriages and rejection by Adriana, is mirrored in Santiago’s isolated and lonely character after his wife’s death. His negative experiences with women also shaped his portrayal of females in the story, depicting them as lacking self-control, being deceptive, and unable to recognize male greatness. The Old Man and the Sea serves as a reflection of Hemingway’s life experiences.

Symbolic Representations

The Old Man and the Sea is a multifaceted work of literature. On one level, it is an engaging and realistic story of Santiago, an old fisherman, and his epic battle with a giant marlin, which Hemingway believed was based on actual events. However, the novella also fits into the category of allegory, with deeper symbolic meanings. Santiago and Manolin’s characters transcend their individuality to represent broader aspects of human existence. Santiago embodies the wisdom of old age and acceptance of the natural order, while Manolin represents youth and learning.

From this perspective, Santiago assumes the role of a mentor figure, and his battle with the marlin symbolizes the universal human condition. He embodies living by one’s principles, accepting the natural order, enduring hardships, and passing on wisdom to the next generation.

Readers of varying ages and comprehension can discover inspirational elements as they explore the novella. Just like the tourists who marvel at the magnificence of the marlin’s skeleton, multiple readings of the novella can unveil more profound layers of meaning and provide uplifting insights into the human experience.

Triumph Over Adversity

The Old Man and the Sea is a powerful and memorable novel that leaves a lasting impact on readers, whether they love or dislike it. It portrays a tale of hardship, perseverance, and the unconquerable nature of the human spirit. The book delves into themes of suffering and accepting it as an inevitable part of life. As readers progress through the novel, they experience a rollercoaster of emotions—moments of profound sadness followed by triumphant victories. The story of Santiago’s quest to end his 84-day fishing drought does not unfold as planned, much like the unpredictability of life’s challenges.

Furthermore, just as this novel serves as a metaphor for Hemingway’s life, it can also be applied to any reader’s struggles. These challenges may not be as physical as Santiago’s, but they can be equally trying. The Old Man and the Sea is now considered one of the finest examples of American literature from any period.


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