The Old Man and the Sea

Mom had alerted me that she had sent her next selection, but the parcel I received in the mail seemed too small to contain a book.  It was the size of an oversized greeting card.  I tore open the envelope to reveal The Old Man and the Sea.  This is really a fortuitous selection because I had recently been pondering a reread of the book.  My first reading was in junior high school and I remember not caring for it much.  Such was my experience with most of the literature I read in school, though.  Forced consumption of anything tends to sour me.  Having reread The Old Man and the Sea for pleasure now, I found it much more interesting.

I am embarrassed to say this is the only Hemingway novel I have read so I have no clue how it compares to his other work.  Initially, the dialogue caused me to gnash my teeth.  It reads so awkwardly.  When Santiago and the boy speak to each other, it reads like two people who do not speak the same native language but who speak awkward English to each other because that is their only common language.  They speak about “the baseball” and refer to teams as “the Tigers of Detroit” and “the Indians of Cleveland”.  I don’t understand the purpose of this choice.  These phrases make it sound as though the novel were translated from Spanish.  Was Hemingway reminding his readers that the characters are not American or was this just an artistic choice?

I discussed my aversion to the dialogue with mom (my feelings grew worse once Santiago was on the sea alone, talking to himself) and she reminded me that Santiago is a simple man with simple concerns.  Alone on the sea, with nobody to talk to, he speaks aloud to himself so he doesn’t feel so isolated.  After our discussion, I had to admit to talking to myself in times of great stress.  I am sure we all do it.  Perhaps it was just the way it was written that rubbed me the wrong way.

Aside from this, I found myself inspired by and respecting the old man.  He knows his work and he loves the ocean and the fish he is hunting.  Santiago feels a kinship with the creatures of the sea, thanks them when he must kill one for food or bait, much like the Native American people.  He experiences a great amount of physical stress and pain throughout the story, but his determination sees him through to the end and though he comes home empty-handed, he is met with sympathy and awe by his colleagues, not ridicule.  Rather than losing hope and giving up, the old man simply begins making plans for the next trip out.  For me, that is the most amazing part of the whole book:  not the three day battle with the marlin that he could have sold at market for a handsome sum, but the old man’s resolve and his consideration of the whole event as just a bad day at work.  If only we all possessed such strength of spirit.