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The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

Posted by RB Kollannur on July 15, 2012


Note: This review is part of a weekly book review column that I write for City Journal, an English newspaper based in Thrissur, Kerala.

Published on 30/06/2012

Publisher – Random House; Year of Publication – 1952; Pages – 99; Cost at the time of purchase – Rs. 110

“The Old Man and the Sea” is a book that holds some unpleasant memories for me. It features a passage that I had to battle in a tough tenth standard board exam. But it remains one of Hemingway’s most famous works and paved the way for a Pulitzer and a Nobel.

Santiago, an aged fisherman, left destitute after a long run of no fish, has to sail out into the ocean all alone in search of prey. For many days a boy, who was his apprentice and learned the ways of the sea from Santiago when he was five, kept him company as Santiago navigated the waves with his small skiff. But now even he has been made to leave Santiago for better luck.

There is an inevitability of doom in the near future for the elderly fisherman. But as he sets out to the sea, the breeze rekindles his fading mind. He becomes the master of the sea that he was in his youth and sets in wait for prey. But the fishes continue to elude him.

Until he comes across an 18 foot marlin swimming deep in the ocean.

Now the battle starts. First he has to capture his prey, but the prey is huge, larger than even his boat. And then, even if he manages to be successful in this feat, there is still the matter of carrying his bounty through the hazardous sea back to land.

The story is about a battle and one of the oldest known to men – the one between the fisherman and the sea. The author portrays the struggle for victory with an inevitability of failure. Hemingway is able to extract the contradicting emotions pretty well. It is also the last hurrah of a dying soldier. Santiago, once a capable and successful fisherman, is now struggling to catch anything and is now left for dead. The marlin in the ocean offers redemption for his commitment to his profession.

In many ways we can draw a parallel to the life of Hemingway from the book. Hemingway had thrived as a writer in 1920s and 1930s, before withdrawing from writing during the Second World War. Suffering from writer’s block and shelved projects he finally came out with a novel in 1950. Unfortunately it failed to elicit the interest of his readers and fell flat. The Old Man and the Sea was written in response to his critics and became his own last hurrah as a writer. He would suffer from depression and paranoia in the subsequent years before killing himself in 1961.

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One Response to “The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway”

  1. […] – Published on 16/06/2012 15)   Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer – Published on 23/06/2012 16)   The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway – Published on 30/06/2012 17)   The Ghost Writer by Robert Harris – Published on 07/07/2012 […]

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