Saturday, December 14, 2013

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

"But man is not made for defeat," he said. "A man can be destroyed but not defeated." - Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea.

Great quote.

Born (to Clarence and Grace Hemingway) on July 21, 1899, in Cicero (now in Oak Park), Illinois, Ernest Miller Hemingway served in World War I and worked in journalism before publishing his story collection In Our Time. He was renowned for novels like The Sun Also Rises, A Farewell to Arms, For Whom the Bell Tolls (nominated for the Pulitzer Prize), and The Old Man and the Sea, which won the 1953 Pulitzer.

Clarence and Grace Hemingway raised their son in this conservative suburb of Chicago, but the family also spent a great deal of time in northern Michigan, where they had a cabin. It was there that Hemingway learned to hunt, fish and appreciate the outdoors. In high school, Hemingway worked on his school newspaper, Trapeze and Tabula, writing primarily about sports. Immediately after graduation, the budding journalist went to work for the Kansas City Star, gaining experience that would later influence his distinctively stripped-down prose style. ~ While working as a foreign correspondent for the Star, Hemingway made the acquaintance of many of the great writers and artists of his generation, such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound, Pablo Picasso and James Joyce.

Hemingway's first novel, The Sun Also Rises (1926) is widely considered his greatest work, artfully examining the postwar disillusionment of his generation. ~ His celebrated World War I novel A Farewell to Arms (1929), secured his lasting place in the literary canon. ... When he wasn't writing, Hemingway spent much of the 1930s chasing adventure: big-game hunting in Africa, bullfighting in Spain, deep-sea fishing in Florida. In 1951, Hemingway wrote The Old Man and the Sea, which would become perhaps his most famous book, finally winning him the Pulitzer Prize he had long been denied.

In 1954, Hemingway won the Nobel Prize (in Literature) "for his mastery of the art of narrative, most recently demonstrated in The Old Man and the Sea, and for the influence that he has exerted on contemporary style".

The Old Man and the Sea & my twopenceworth: Among Hemingway's later works, the most outstanding is (perhaps) this short novel, The Old Man and the Sea - the story of a Cuban fisherman who refuses to be defeated by nature.

"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. In the first forty days a boy had been with him. But after forty days without a fish the boy's parents had told him that the old man was now definitely and finally salao, which is the worst form of unlucky, and the boy had gone at their orders in another boat which caught three good fish the first week. It made the boy sad to see the old man come in each day with his skiff empty and he always went down to help him carry either the coiled lines or the gaff and harpoon and the sail that was furled around the mast. The sail was patched with flour sacks and, furled, it looked like the flag of permanent defeat."

Though a slim volume, do not expect it to be a breezy read. Reading a classic requires lot of patience; this novella (Hemingway's last major work of fiction and published in his lifetime) packs in a lot... while meticulously chronicling the story of an old fisherman's journey - his long and lonely struggle with a giant Marlin and the sea, and his victory in defeat. [~ Hemingway said, "I was trying to show the experience of the fisherman so exactly and directly that it became part of the reader's experience."]

The Old Man and the Sea is in many ways a deceptively simple tale (especially given Hemingway's use of sparse, straight-forward prose). Santiago, the old Cuban fisherman, has had a significant run of bad luck (i.e., 84 days without taking a fish). "Everything about him was old except his eyes and they were the same colour as the sea and were cheerful and undefeated." Attempting to change his luck, he decides to take his skiff further out than he has ever gone before, "beyond all the people of the world." Eventually, he lands the largest Marlin he's ever seen and the bulk of the narrative details his epic struggle to reel in the fish and get it back to shore. “The fish is my friend too...I have never seen or heard of such a fish.”

"He rested sitting on the un-stepped mast and sail and tried not to think but only to endure."

"Every day is a new day. It is better to be lucky. But I would rather be exact. Then when luck comes you are ready."

... It takes some getting used to - in order to feel a connection to the story and/or be moved by the restrained power of the narrative.

Despite the many hardships and struggles that Santiago faces, or the epic battles he endures on the open sea (what with the elements, sharks and so on), one does not feel sorry for him. One does not pity him. ~ He is simply doing what he loves to do, it gave him purpose and fulfillment in life: struggling with an iron will to accomplish his goal. "I may not be as strong as I think, but I know many tricks and I have resolution."  The struggle is long, hard and difficult... but the reader only feels a great deal of admiration for Santiago. He is thin and gaunt. He lay cramping himself against the line with all of his body. The rope cuts his hands. His muscles strain. He talks to himself. He has no food or water. And yet he does not give up. He never loses hope or faith in himself.

"And what beat you, he thought. 'Nothing,' he said aloud. 'I went out too far.'"

"It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end." - Ernest Hemingway.

The author's writing style coupled with spare dialogue and sparse simple prose can make this one a somewhat difficult-to-comprehend read: one that may not quite stir much within every reader. (~ So you will have to read and decide for yourself.)

However, this story can also mirror man's struggle with challenges (including old age and fading memory), and his indomitable will to win - with resoluteness or pride, no matter the odds. ~ To not be defeated. Come what may.

There's also reminiscing of/for youth and vitality. ~ Santiago is mentor and old age; Manolin, the boy, is pupil and youth. He loves and cares for Santiago. In him, the old man wishes to entrust his skill as a fisherman, and his memory.

Maybe the story in a way (metaphorically) also chronicles Hemingway's own struggle with depression and numerous conditions and ailments... that slowly but surely sapped his burly body and mind - even at the peak of his literary career. ["Most people were heartless about turtles because a turtle's heart will beat for hours after it has been cut up and butchered. But the old man thought, I have such a heart too." - Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea.]

One never knows.

Santiago survives on a bottle of water and on (raw) dolphin fillets and a couple of flying fish (and eventually some of the marlin's flesh to sustain himself)... but ultimately succeeds in hauling the giant Marlin to shore to the collective wide-eyed admiration and awe - of tourists and fishermen alike. Upon his return (to his shack) delirious and exhausted, Santiago dreams of his youth - of lions on an African beach.

Though the great fish is now merely an 18-feet-long skeleton, its flesh eaten away by mako sharks, it is nevertheless a prized catch if there was one. It is the stuff legends are made of; it is (after all) the largest fish the villagers have ever known to come out of the Gulf Stream. It is to become a mute (yet permanent) testimony to Santiago's greatness. "There has never been such a fish." ~ It represents and brings Santiago the intangibles he craves... to give his existence meaning and dignity. It represents perseverance, hard work and also highlights the indomitable nature of the human spirit. ~ The boy, Manolin, too returns, eager to fish together, convinced he has much to learn. He no longer cares about luck anymore, or what his family might say. He professes his faith in Santiago (the old man) and everything he represents. ... And, when Manolin accepts the (marlin's) spear, he truly becomes his legatee; he accepts for all time everything that Santiago wishes to bequeath him.

Does it also symbolize Hemingway's last hurrah amidst his battle with deteriorating mental and physical health? ~ Well, my guess is as good as yours.

The book feels good to hold; hardly any editing errors - and that adds to the reading pleasure. The jacket cover is eye-catching; appropriate but could have been better.

~ Hemingway, known for his brevity and predilection for understatement, had a unique style. Here are a couple of his quotes:

1. "Never confuse movement with action."

2. "Write drunk, edit sober." 

Succinct, right?!

Details of the book: The Old Man and the Sea/ Author: Ernest Hemingway/ Publisher: Arrow Books, an imprint of Random House India/ Binding: Paperback/ Language: English/ Publishing Date: September 2013/ Genre: Fiction/ ISBN-10: 978-0-09-990840-1/ ISBN-13: 9780099908401/ Pages: 99/ Price: INR 110.

Picture: The book jacket cover of The Old Man and the Sea. Courtesy: link.

No comments:

Post a Comment