An old and experienced Cuban fisherman has a run of terrible bad luck and is unable to catch any fish for eighty-four days. His young and devoted apprentice, Manolin, has been forced by his parents to start working with another fisherman. The old man resolves to sail out farther than all the other fishermen and attempt to catch the really big fish. On the eighty-fifth day he succeeds in hooking a marlin with his bait but the marlin is too strong for him and starts pulling the boat. The Old Man and the Sea is the story of the old man’s struggle with the marlin and his later battle against sharks.
Hemingway’s novel is based on real events and it also draws heavily on his own life. He had experience of fishing in the Cuban waters and like the old man he was also a fan of baseball. He worked for the Red Cross during the First World War and was injured by shrapnel when he was in Italy. Hemingway always talks about the need to struggle against defeat or death and how determination and endurance can help one to win in this struggle. The old man is at the end of the novel very near death, but we know that the story of his suffering and loss will live on in the memories of the people of his village. Ultimately his story becomes one of triumph because the tales of his life will live on even after his death. The novel was published in 1952, when people were trying to recover from the mass destruction wrought by the two world wars, and this tale of endurance and ultimate triumph immediately struck a chord with the readers.
Hemingway’s language is simple and pithy. He mostly writes in short and straight-forward sentences and practises an extreme economy in his use of words. This simplicity is deceptive and a reader can read his work again and again and find new layers of meaning every time.
I first read this novel years ago, when I did not understand it at all and was left unimpressed. In spite of this a vivid image remained with me – an old man holding on to his fishing line with the last of his strength. Recently I read this book again and was extremely moved. The formidable strength of the old man’s character, the quiet devotion of the empathetic Manolin and the relationship between the two are heart-warming. Hemingway’s descriptions of the sea and the creatures of the water are beautiful. The marlin fights for its life desperately and it’s hard to know whether our sympathies should lie with the old man or with the marlin. But as the novel progresses the old man and the marlin are inseparably linked because both stand for the same ideals, that is, a noble struggle against destruction.
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