The Old Man And The Sea by Ernest Hemingway – Reviewed by Guy Portman
Set in the Gulf Stream off the coast of Cuba, this is a tale about an old man, a boy and a colossal Marlin. The old man, Santiago, is a veteran fisherman, who is on a run of bad luck having been eighty-four days without catching a fish. Refusing to accept defeat he resolves to catch a big fish, and early one morning rows out far beyond the other fishermen in his efforts to find one. A man at peace with nature, but at odds with himself, he curses his lack of strength, talks to his own body parts in the third person and praises the baseball legend Joe DiMaggio.
Eventually Santiago succeeds in hooking a monster Marlin, the biggest he has ever seen. An epic battle ensues lasting several days, before the fish is eventually killed and attached to the side of the boat. Intimately aware of how the sea can be both kind and cruel, Santiago braces himself for the trials and tribulations of the return trip back to land, and his friend and protégé, the young boy Manolin. The journey entails rowing his heavily laden boat whilst trying to stave off the relentless attacks of hungry sharks drawn to the boat by the scent of blood.
This is a story about endeavour, endurance and man’s place within nature, in which both the protagonist and the Marlin are subjected to eternal law – kill or be killed. Death may be the unavoidable force in the novel, but it is our duty to remain defiant in the face of it.
The Old Man And The Sea is a carefully constructed, moving and evocative novella written in Hemingway’s trademark simple, concise, economy of prose style. Rife with symbolism, the book can be viewed as a commentary on masculinity, in which man must prove himself through fighting the inevitable.