[The Old Man and the Sea]: A Review

Hi everyone! Hope your summer is full of ice cream and pool time. I’m definitely enjoying both since they help with this Texas heat a little 😉

Today I am excited to review a recent read of mine, The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway. I decided to include one Hemingway piece on my list for The Classics Club because I felt like I should read more by him. My mom recommended The Old Man and the Sea as her favorite Hemingway. I have read a little bit of Hemingway before (The Sun Also Rises as a high school sophomore and a few short stories in college literature courses). And honestly, I wasn’t super impressed. I thought maybe I just didn’t ‘get’ Hemingway or I just don’t like American literature from this time period.

But then I read this novel. I loved it.

Initial Thoughts:

  • This story is so simple. It’s about a man trying to catch a large fish out in the ocean. But the way Hemingway creates a tapestry of emotional complexities is really gorgeous.
  • I like how short this novel (story?) is because it’s easy to finish. I felt accomplished as I read it in only a few sittings. But it also made me think deeper than I expected.
  • I loved the simple, loving relationship between the old man and the boy. I’m glad the old man had someone who cared about him.

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The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway is considered one of Hemingway’s masterpieces. Goodreads summarizes, “It is the story of an old Cuban fisherman and his supreme ordeal: a relentless, agonizing battle with a giant marlin far out in the Gulf Stream. Using the simple, powerful language of a fable, Hemingway takes the timeless themes of courage in the face of defeat and personal triumph won from loss and transforms them into a magnificent twentieth-century classic.”

The highlight of the book for me was the language–beautiful, raw, and compelling. I never really appreciated his genius until reading this. And I think the bulk of his genius is in his beautiful language. This story isn’t complicated. In fact, it’s rather simple. But the way it is told is fascinating and compelling. I felt that I was in the boat with the old man. His fascinating journey to defeat the fish and the sea is told so brilliantly that it read quickly for me. I was on the edge of my seat waiting to know what would happen. My copy of the novel calls it a fable, a parable, and an epic. All three seem true to me. And it’s the language that gives us multiple layers of meaning that make it read that way for me. 

A few favorite particularly beautiful passages:

“He was too simple to wonder when he had attained humility. But he knew he had attained it and he knew it was not disgraceful and it carried no loss of true pride.”

“But man is not made for defeat, he said. A man can be destroyed but not defeated.”

“Luck is a thing that comes in many forms and who can recognize her?”

The Old Man and the Sea, pages 13, 103, & 117

One of the most fascinating parts of this book is the relationship between the old man and the fish. The old man continually calls the fish his brother and narrates the way he interacts with the fish–respecting the fish on a deeper level as an equal and a friend. I was impressed by the man’s great understanding of his role and the fish’s role in the world and the way they had to work together to survive. I admired the man’s strength and patience as he let the fish pull his little skiff along. And I admired the way he waited to make sure he could kill the fish without pain and suffering to the fish. I was impressed by his respect for the fish even after he is bringing the fish back to shore. They seemed to understand each other on a deeper level. It wasn’t just about a man catching a fish to feed himself or make money. This story is about the brotherhood between the man and the fish and the sea, about the respect and strength needed to build and cultivate that relationship.

Particularly compelling quotes about this relationship:

“He is a great fish and I must convince him . . . I must never let him learn his strength not what he could do if he made his run. If I were him I would put in everything now and go until something broke. But, thank God, they are not as intelligent as we who kill them; although they are more noble and more able.”

“‘The fish is my friend, too,’ he said aloud. ‘I have never seen or heard of such a fish.'”

“You are killing me, fish, the old man thought. But you have a right to. Never have I seen a greater, or more beautiful, or a calmer or more noble thing than you, brother. Come on and kill me. I do not care who kills who.”

The Old Man and the Sea, pages 63, 75, & 92

The emotions of this novel were deep and poignant. I was truly moved by the man’s struggle to win the battle with his prize marlin. I felt fear, hope, sadness, despair, and acceptance with the old man. Most especially, the events that happen after that climactic moment are heart wrenching and raw. The man’s quest to save the fish from the sea is perhaps the most intense part of the entire novel for me. I was rooting for him and for his strength and will. While I won’t give away the ending here I will say this. The ending fits the story, and it’s complexities have me thinking about it still. 

There are so many themes that can be discussed within the context of this novel: strength and weakness, power and failure, brotherhood and respect, victory and defeat. I want to read more analysis of this novel because the potential for discussion and interpretation seems nearly endless. Some questions and insights I want to remember about it:

  • The man and the fish form a brotherhood. How does that relationship change and develop through the story? How does the man change?
  • What could each element in this novel represent–the man, the fish, the sea, the hook, the skiff?
  • How can victory and defeat coexist in one experience? How do they do so here?
  • What is sin? What role does it play in this novel?
  • What is the moral, if any, of this story?

And I have to share my favorite quote from the novel. It’s rather long but I think it captures the beautiful language, complex themes, and epic quality of the novel.

“There are enough problems now without sin. Also I have no understanding of it. I have no understanding of it and I am not sure that I believe in it. Perhaps it was a sin to kill the fish. I suppose it was even though I did it to keep me alive and feed many people. But then everything is a sin. Do not think about sin. It is much too late for that and there are people who are paid to do it. Let them think about it. You were born to be a fisherman as the fish was born to be a fish. . . . You did not kill the fish only to keep alive and to sell for food . . . . You killed him for pride and because you are a fisherman. You loved him when he was alive and you loved him after. If you love him, it is not a sin to kill him. Or is it more?”

The Old Man and the Sea, page 105

Overall, one of my favorite classics read this year. I highly recommend this one.

 

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This novel is my 16th novel finished for my list with The Classics Club! Check out my full list here. For more info on the club, click here.

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8 thoughts on “[The Old Man and the Sea]: A Review

  1. I took an entire grad class on modernism, which the literary period during which this novel was written. I just couldn’t understand anything I read. We covered all these novels by old white men, and I just didn’t care about what they did. All the themes seemed to be cheating their girlfriends back home during WWI, getting STDs and nearly dying from them, depression and disease, and the stock market crash. We read the entire John Dos Passos USA trilogy. What a waste of time. Each book seemed exactly the same. We didn’t read any women or people of color. Perhaps that’s why I have such an aversion to writers like Hemingway.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I usually have a hard time with modernism for those reasons you mentioned. I just don’t connect with the stories and such. And I agree that the “literary canon” is often very one sided with a lot of authors who are white men. And I haven’t loved the other Hemingway I have read. But this one was so different for me. I was really impressed. But I don’t think I am going to start reading all of Hemingway’s novels or anything. Haha. Thanks for your comment!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. pallavi sharma

    Wow ! Great review 🙂 I read this book very recently, the first of Hemmingway’s work that I ever read and I liked it. You have expressed all the nuances of the book so beautifully 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I picked this up again at the Hemingway home in Key West this April. My nine year old was RIVETED. I think I appreciated it more through his eyes than my own when I tried to read it in high school.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This book sounds absolutely amazing. I’ve been interested in this book for a while, but I haven’t picked it up yet. I’m definitely going to now. I really like the way you did this review; you built a lot of interest in the novel and talked about some of the themes and questions it raises, without giving anything away. Definitely sold me on this book. Wonderful review.

    Liked by 1 person

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