“The Old Man and the Sea” by Ernest Hemingway Essay
“The Old Man and the Sea” by Ernest Hemingway
The Old Man and the Sea is a story, in my view, about man vs. the elements, individuality, and one man’s obsession to dominate his world. For Ernest Hemingway far more than for most men, the specter of age was a terrible specter indeed, and the virtue of action upon which he had based his art in his life was the virtue of the young. This, I believe, pervaded the legendary figure of Ernest Hemingway as the youthful, virile adventurer, tempered with humility. Hemingway has been notably preoccupied with individualism as well as self-endurance and, in my view, no where is this more exemplified than in his novel The Old Man and the Sea. The Old Man and the Sea is basically a story about an old man who sets out in a small boat on what presumes to be a routine fishing expedition. Unexpectedly, he connected with a very large fish which precipitated a struggle which appeared interminable. The fish was a marlin, and the struggle resulted in the death and capture of this enormous fish. At that point, he secured the marlin and headed home. Unfortunately, along the way, he was besieged by sharks which he was unable to fight off.
The time span in the novel The Old Man and the Sea is relatively short. The old man’s name is Santiago, and he spends all of eighty-four days without catching a fish. After his first nibble from this great marlin, he struggles greatly to hang on to this fish even though every muscle in his body causes him the greatest pain þ and the second night he nibbles on a small fish and sleeps for the first time, whereupon a furious jerk of the line awakens him. It’s during the third day that the great marlin begins to circle the boat and, in almost no time, the sharks (beginning with a mako) begin to move in on Santiago’s catch. Even after Santiago brings in the bare remains of the flesh-stripped marlin, it creates a big stir among the village fisherman, and tourists observe with detached amusement the skeletal remains of Santiago’s three-day battle. They do not understand the nature or significance of Santiago’s experiences.
Hemingway refers to the fishing rod being part of a life-death cycle. While the rod is alone without a fish on the other end, it is dead. However, when there is a fish on the end of the line, the rod becomes a living rod. This life ends, however, when the fish is removed from the line. The struggle for life is aptly presented in this story by Hemingway through describing the struggle of a fish and a man in which the fish struggles to free himself, while the man struggles to maintain him. It is a huge fish and he puts up a great fight. Two Hearted River: Part II þ Summary and Analysis. Another story regarding life and death and the struggle for life was Ernest Hemingway’s short story Two Hearted River: Part II. he warmth and life-giving quality of the sun is mentioned early in the story. In the morning, it is as if the grasshoppers are lifeless. It takes the warmth and life-giving quality of the sun to spring these creatures to life. One grasshopper slowly works its way out of the bottle Nick was holding. It seemed that temporarily this grasshopper had found life. However, as it jumped into the stream, its life was over as a trout ate the small animal and killed it. Another grasshopper was taken from the bottle. It was alive and squirming in Nick’s hand.
Nick then took a hook and thrust it into the thorax and the abdomen of the creature, killing it. Thus, life occurs one moment and death takes over the next. Another struggle is identified by Hemingway in this story. A living trout is hooked by Nick once more. The trout puts up a desperate struggle to free himself from the hook in his mouth. However, the struggle is lost and Nick hauls in the fish. Although he is allowed to live temporarily in a small sack that is filled with water, the fate of this fish is obvious. Nick holds the fish and whacks him against a log. The life in the fish ceases. The wriggling of the body stops as he turns rigid and lifeless. The death of a tree is also mentioned in this story. A huge, living elm had been uprooted by the force of the river, and it was not dead and lifeless. The aforementioned, Two Hearted River: Part II, is a minor work by E. Hemingway. At the same time, I chose this particular story because I felt it had particular significance for the primary subject of this research paper. Published Criticism At this point, I should like to proffer some criticism of Ernest Hemingway þ and at the same time attempt to relate this to the primary topic of choice, i.e. The Old Man and the Sea.
Whether Hemingway every achieved an ultimate solution to the dilemma of his approach to age, virtue and boyishness is not for us to judge, although the circumstances of his death indicated that he could not and would not abide a final weakening of those powers which were so important to the protagonists of his stories. In the last decade or so of his life, however, Hemingway did find a way to cope with the fact of his own age. He would dramatize what he could not avoid. “Because of his absolute youthfulness, he regards old age as an utter and complete tragedy, as it is of course the only true tragedy, and he is not going to degrade himself by maturing or anything absurd of that sort. All the same, since he has a sense of costume, he will emphasize his decline in all its hopelessness by sprouting a white beard and generally acting the part of Senex.” To a large extent, I believe that this critique has to do with the old man who has to give up on catching this fish. Similarly, in my mind, there is strong metaphysical evidence in terms of the old man and his refusal to give up on a struggle which he personally acknowledges is particularly difficult due to his old age þ but yet he refuses to capitulate to this inevitability.
Why is it that Ernest Hemingway pursues such thematic material with such drive and vigor? I believe that the answer may be found within the man himself. It has been acknowledged by critics þ almost unanimously þ that much of his thematic material reflects the man himself as, in my view, do his novels and short stories, as already indicated. To this extent, I should like to offer some biography on Ernest Hemingway which may serve to illuminate this belief. Hemingway was the second of six children of Clarence and Grace Hemingway. Upon graduation from Oak Park High School in 1917, he chose journalism instead of college, and spent seven educational months as a cub reporter for the Kansas City Star. Hemingway secured a part-time job as a feature writer for the Toronto Star and, in the fall of 1920, he became contributing editor of a trade journal in Chicago wherein he met one, Hadley Richardson, whom he married in September of 1921.
Together they sailed for France and, for nineteen months occupied a walk-up flat in the Latin quarter of Paris. Hemingway’s serious writings began tentatively with the Paris publication in 1923-24 of two slender books of pros and poetry, yet his name was still little known in the U.S. Subsequently, he divorced Hadley and moved to Key West, Florida in 1928. He remained there for twelve years and completed A Farewell to Arms. There is much to be said about this man, and his experiences in Spain represented an entire chapter unto themselves. In Cuba in 1945, Hemingway began a romantic novel of reminiscences, including The Garden of Eden which, to date, to my knowledge, remains unpublished. Considering Hemingway’s passion for the sea þ where he spent much of his life þ and fishing, the thematic content of The Old Man and the Sea, to me, underscores the thematic content of individualism, struggle against the elements, and the refusal to bend to the challenges of time and old age.