The Old Man and the Sea has a special prominence in the Ernest Hemingway canon. Published as the final complete work before his death, it was met with tremendous acclaim. The Old Man and the Sea was featured in the September 1, 1952 issue of Life magazine. Five million copies sold in only a couple of days. The famously fastidious Vladimir Nabokov was even an admirer. Though he dismissed Hemingway as a writer of “bells, bulls, and balls,” the author of Lolita couldn’t help but admit his appreciation for the “fish story." The Old Man and the Sea won the Pulitzer Prize, and the Nobel Prize committee described Hemingway"s "mastery of the art of narrative” in reference to the novella. What makesThe Old Man and the Sea so great, and what can we learn from it?
Even people who have mild opinions on Hemingway tend to be drawn to this particular book. It’s a short work, running fewer than 130 pages in paperback. Its plot is simple: it is about an old man who wrestles with a massive marlin, loses his catch to hungry sharks, and returns to the Cuban shore. In these few pages, Hemingway was able to imbue his tale with captivating insight and wisdom. Below, we"ve compiled some of the lessons that help makeThe Old Man and the Seaa true classic.
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Santiago does not hate his adversarial marlin, rather, he reveres it. This is the single difference he is able to delineate between fish and the human species: “They are not as intelligent as we who kill them; although they are more noble and more able.” He feels respect for the fish in his fight. The marlin has its powerful virtues, and he has his. Santiago understands that out in the wilds of nature, all life is equal. The sea does not pick favorites. The noble fisherman refuses to designate himself as a righteous overlord over the animals, instead recognizing his grand fraternity with all around him.3.) Some Things Are Meant to Remain a Mystery
Santiago figures that it is unjust to have killed the fish in all his “greatness and his glory.” For who is he to kill this gorgeous, dignified creature? He considers that it may have been a sin to kill the fish, although he did so to feed himself and others. Santiago resolves to set this sense of cosmic culpability aside, deciding to let more qualified people think about matters of sin. He reconciles his actions by saying to himself, “You were born to be a fisherman as the fish was born to be a fish."4.) We Need Hope to Survive Defeat
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5.) Other People Will Not Understand Our Struggles, and That"s Okay
After Santiago arrives on shore, tourists spot the white spine of the marlin “that was now just garbage waiting to go with the tide.” A Spanish-speaking waiter tries to explain the sight, and manages to say “Eshark.” The curious tourists misunderstand, and instead think that the skeleton belonged to a shark, creatures which are, after all, boneless. This episode, which concludes the novella, suggests that language barrier or not, only Santiago and the sea will ever know the truth.
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