The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway, 1952

During my trip to the local library last friday, as I was browsing through the shelves, I found that small book that I haven’t read in years (and never in its original language), The Old Man and the Sea. It brought back so many memories of the geeky teenage me spending afternoons at the small public library next to my parents’s place that I had no choice but grab it and dive in it.

No real need to present Ernest Hemingway but a few general facts about him can’t hurt. He is one of the giants of the American literature, of the world literature. His adventurous life took him to Europe during World War I (this was the base for his novel A Farewell to Arms, 1929), to Paris between World War I and the Spanish Civil War, to Spain during the Civil War (which provided the materiel for For Whom the Bell Tolls). He also covered the Normandy Landings and the liberation of Paris. After the publication of the Old Man and the Sea, he went to Africa ( you can see that yearning for Africa in the short story, in Santiago’s dreams). He also lived in Florida and in Cuba.  He killed himself in 1961. He won many awards including the Pulitzer Prize for The Old Man and the Sea in 1953 and the Nobel Prize in 1954.

” He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish”. The first sentence of the story shows the incomparable talent of Hemingway’s writing. In a few words, he gives us all the information we need to know to understand the main character’s tragic situation. The following description of the old man ” Everything about him was old except his eyes and they were the same colour as the sea and were cheerful and undefeated” links intrinsically the old man and the sea. The whole story takes place in Cuba, in a fishermen village. Santiago ( the old man) is helped by his former trainee when he comes back from fishing alone.

“He no longer dreamed of storms, nor of women, nor of great occurrences, nor or 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.” The enumeration of old preoccupations plus the repetition of the adverb nor show how much the old man’s horizon has narrowed. The usual dreams of the young men, the achievements of fishermen, the fame, the glory or even love are not his problems anymore. He’s beyond that. He transcended that first ‘down to Earth’ stage and reached some higher freedom symbolized by the image of the lions on the African beach.

On the 85th day, the old man go fishing further than usual. He hooks a big fish and the fight starts. It will last two days and two nights. The old man is victorious but while taking the fish back to the port, the sharks eat it up. Nothing is left but the head and the backbone. Santiago is assailed by a deep feeling of despair but also some sort of profound wisdom.

The parallels between The Old Man and the Sea and Moby Dick are obvious : the fight between the fish and the man, the obstinacy of the hero, the philosophical path the hero follows. All that makes it even more difficult to talk about in a short review.

Anyway, if you haven’t done already READ IT ASAP!!!

I’d, without one hesitation, give it a 10/10

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