Old Man and the Sea.pdf

Old Man and the Sea.pdf


Amazon.com Review
Here, for a change, is a fish tale that actually does honor to the author. In fact The Old Man and the Sea revived Ernest Hemingway's career, which was foundering under the weight of such postwar stinkers as Across the River and into the Trees. It also led directly to his receipt of the Nobel Prize in 1954 (an award Hemingway gladly accepted, despite his earlier observation that "no son of a bitch that ever won the Nobel Prize ever wrote anything worth reading afterwards"). A half century later, it's still easy to see why. This tale of an aged Cuban fisherman going head-to-head (or hand-to-fin) with a magnificent marlin encapsulates Hemingway's favorite motifs of physical and moral challenge. Yet Santiago is too old and infirm to partake of the gun-toting machismo that disfigured much of the author's later work: "The brown blotches of the benevolent skin cancer the sun brings from its reflection on the tropic sea were on his cheeks. The blotches ran well down the sides of his face and his hands had the deep-creased scars from handling heavy fish on the cords." Hemingway's style, too, reverts to those superb snapshots of perception that won him his initial fame:

Just before it was dark, as they passed a great island of Sargasso weed that heaved and swung in the light sea as though the ocean were making love with something under a yellow blanket, his small line was taken by a dolphin. He saw it first when it jumped in the air, true gold in the last of the sun and bending and flapping wildly in the air.
If a younger Hemingway had written this novella, Santiago most likely would have towed the enormous fish back to port and posed for a triumphal photograph--just as the author delighted in doing, circa 1935. Instead his prize gets devoured by a school of sharks. Returning with little more than a skeleton, he takes to his bed and, in the very last line, cements his identification with his creator: "The old man was dreaming about the lions." Perhaps there's some allegory of art and experience floating around in there somewhere--but The Old Man and the Sea was, in any case, the last great catch of Hemingway's career. --James Marcus

"'The best story Hemingway has written...No page of this beautiful master-work could have been done better or differently' Sunday Times"

Ernest Hemingway ranks as the most famous of twentieth-century American writers; like Mark Twain, Hemingway is one of those rare authors most people know about, whether they have read him or not. The difference is that Twain, with his white suit, ubiquitous cigar, and easy wit, survives in the public imagination as a basically, lovable figure, while the deeply imprinted image of Hemingway as rugged and macho has been much less universally admired, for all his fame. Hemingway has been regarded less as a writer dedicated to his craft than as a man of action who happened to be afflicted with genius. When he won the Nobel Prize in 1954, Time magazine reported the news under Heroes rather than Books and went on to describe the author as "a globe-trotting expert on bullfights, booze, women, wars, big game hunting, deep sea fishing, and courage." Hemingway did in fact address all those subjects in his books, and he acquired his expertise through well-reported acts of participation as well as of observation; by going to all the wars of his time, hunting and fishing for great beasts, marrying four times, occasionally getting into fistfights, drinking too much, and becoming, in the end, a worldwide celebrity recognizable for his signature beard and challenging physical pursuits.


To a considerable degree, Hemingway was complicit in the formation of his public persona. As a young man living in Chicago and bored by pretentious drawing room talk about art and artists, he rejected out of band the role of the epicene indoor aesthete. If he were to become a writer, it was going to be at the opposite pole from Proust and his cork-lined room. Hemingway had grown up in close touch with the outdoors, and throughout his life he pursued the sports afield and astream that he had learned from his father. In doing so, Hemingway undoubtedly took some pleasure in confounding public expectations about how a writer should look and behave. The Papa Hemingway persona actually served him as a defense, protecting the more complicated person behind that mask. But once the persona took hold, it did not let go, and as a consequence Hemingway dwindled into a celebrity, which is to say a person who is famous for being famous, whose personality has been narrowed down to a few instantly recognizable trademarks. The process had the unfortunate effect of confusing Hemingway's work with his life, or rather with those parts of his life that were lived in open view; it subordinated his literary accomplishment to his personal renown.

Many readers, or would-be readers, think they dislike Hemingway before they have read a word he's written, simply because of his personal reputation. These people include those opposed to killing, whether on the battlefield or in the Gulf Stream or in the bullring. They include many women who mistrust masculine bravado. Although Hemingway is "unquestionably an artist of the first rank." Kurt Vonnegut remarked in 1990, he is also "a little hard to read nowadays," following the ascendancy of the conservation and feminist movements. Yet there is nothing new about the tendency to disparage Hemingway on the grounds of his subject matter and his style. The tendency has been there from the beginning.

Virginia Woolf, in her 1927 review of Hemingway's early work, found fault with the "self-conscious virility" of his fiction and with what struck her as his excessive use of dialogue. Wyndham Lewis, another British writer, took Woolf's reservations further in a 1934 diatribe called "The Dumb Ox," in which he accused Hemingway of creating stupid and insensitive characters and of presenting them in a kind of baby talk borrowed from Gertrude Stein. Both Woolf and Lewis acknowledged Hemingway's considerable skill, but both also assumed that in writing about such violent topics as war, boxing, and bullfighting -- and doing so in the most basic English -- Hemingway was adopting an unrealistically muscular pose. Woolf, in particular, objected to the title of Men Without Women (1927) and to the remark included in the jacket copy that "the softening feminine influence (was] almost wholly absent" from the book. When you warned a reader that this was a man's book or a woman's book, she argued, you "brought into play sympathies and antipathies" that had nothing to do with art. Actually, Hemingway's title was a misnomer, for although most of the stories in Men Without Women concentrate on death and brutality, four of the thirteen deal directly or indirectly with love and marriage gone wrong, including "A Canary for One," about the breakup of Hemingway's first marriage, and the brilliant "Hills Like White Elephants," in which the narrator's sentiments manifestly lie with a woman being coerced by her male companion into having an abortion.

In fact, in several of his stories about men and women Hemingway comes down on the side of the woman. Perhaps the most notable exception is his presentation of the difficult and demanding mother of Hemingway's character Nick Adams, a boy who grows into manhood through a series of psychic shocks recounted in In Our Time (1925), Men Without Women, and Winner Take Nothing (1933). But to assume that Hemingway's fiction is hostile to women generally is to misread his work on the basis of preconceptions about the author and the way his fiction was construed by his earliest, interpreters.

As for his supposedly narrow and limited prose style, here again Hemingway's reputation has suffered from false comparisons between the hairy chested celebrity and the virtually anonymous writer-craftsman laboring in solitude at his desk. Something of that confusion pervades the declaration, on the cover of a 1995 edition of his collected stories, that "Hemingway wrote in short, declarative sentences and was known for his tough, terse prose." Well, yes and no. Here is Nick Adams after setting up camp during his solitary fishing trip in "Big Two-Hearted River," the long concluding story of In Our Time:

Now things were done. There had been this to do. Now it was done. It had been a hard trip. He was very tired. That was done. He had made his camp. He was settled. Nothing could touch him. It was a good place to camp. He was there, in the good place. He was in his home where he had made it. Now he was hungry.

This could hardly be said more simply, or in Lewis' terms, in a more dull-witted and infantile way. All day long Nick has been occupied in reaching his destination and preparing for the next day's fishing. The meticulous process of doing one thing after another has kept him from thinking about whatever it is in his past that has been troubling him -- the trauma of World War I, Hemingway told us in a 1959 essay. The radical plainness of the language of "Big Two-Hearted River" precisely suits the first-this, then-that ritual Nick has been going through to shut down "the need for thinking," just as the staccato sentences reflect the jumpiness of Nick's mind.

But neither Nick Adams nor his creator is a simpleton incapable of lyrical description. At the beginning of the story, Nick gets off the train to begin his hike, and from a bridge he watches some "very satisfactory" trout in the river below, as a kingfisher flies overhead:

As the shadow of the kingfisher moved up the stream, a big trout shot upstream in a long angle, only his shadow marking the angle, then lost his shadow as he came through the surface of the water, caught the sun, and then, as he went back into the stream under the surface, his shadow seemed to float down the stream with the current, unresisting, to his post under the bridge where he tightened facing up into the current.

This passage and the one previously quoted could hardly be more different in sentence structure or length. In the first, there are thirteen sentences averaging just over five words per sentence. In the second, one sentence meanders for seventy-nine words. Moreover, in the camp passage, Hemingway relies on the verb "to be" almost exclusively, so that when a verb with some suggestive value appears (as in the sentence "Nothing could touch him"), it takes on extraordinary significance. The trout passage is far more sophisticated, full of active verbs -- "moved," "shot," "marking," "lost," "caught," "float," "tightened" -- that dramatize the upstream progress of the trout. But both passages employ common adjectives and both are full of repetition: the unashamed reiteration of such nouns as "stream" and "shadow" in the second passage is particularly striking, and the verb "tightened" is powerfully echoed in the brief paragraph that follows that passage:

Nick's heart tightened as the trout moved. He felt all the old feeling.

Watching the trout evokes real happiness in Nick. He shares a certain kinship with the fish: to keep his mind straight, he too must hold against the current.

When critics write about a monolithic Hemingway style, they usually have his early fiction in mind -- the first three books of stories and the novels The Sun Also Rises (1926) and A Farewell to Arms (1929). Yet even within "Big, Two-Hearted River," written during his most experimental period (the Paris years from 1921 through 1924). Hemingway hardly wrote in one discrete fashion. What he wanted to convey dictated the way he wrote: style and content had to work together. Then, his prose changed, as he grew older. Sentences in A Moveable Feast, written in the late 1950s and published posthumously in 1964, average twice as long as those in "Big Two-Hearted River," and many more of them are complex in form. What remained constant throughout his career was a predilection for everyday language. In both "Big Two-Hearted River" and A Moveable Feast, nearly three out of four nouns are monosyllabic.

Hemingway's limited diction represented a rebellion against the high-minded but essentially empty rhetoric he had been brought up on. His reaction was very much like that of other modernist writers such as T. S. Eliot, advocate of "the objective correlative...

from The Old Man and the Sea

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.

The old man was thin and gaunt with deep wrinkles in the back of his neck. The brown blotches of the benevolent skin cancer the sun brings from its reflection on the tropic sea were on his cheeks. The blotches ran well down the sides of his face and his hands had the deep-creased scars from handling heavy fish on the cords. But none of these scars were fresh. They were as old as erosions in a fishless desert.

Everything about him was old except his eyes and they were the same color as the sea and were cheerful and undefeated.

"Santiago," the boy said to him as they climbed the bank from where the skiff was hauled up. "I could go with you again. We've made some money."

The old man had taught the boy to fish and the boy loved him.

"No," the old man said. "You're with a lucky boat. Stay with them."

"But remember how you went eighty-seven days without fish and then we caught big ones every day for three weeks."

"I remember," the old man said. "I know you did not leave me because you doubted."

"It was papa made me leave. I am a boy and I must obey him."

"I know," the old man said. "It is quite normal."

"He hasn't much faith."

"No," the old man said. "But we have. Haven't we?"

"Yes," the boy said. "Can I offer you a beer on the Terrace and then we'll take the stuff home."

"Why not?" the old man said. "Between fishermen."

They sat on the Terrace and many of the fishermen made fun of the old man and he was not angry. Others, of the older fishermen, looked at him and were sad. But they did not show it and they spoke politely about the current and the depths they had drifted their lines at and the steady good weather and of what they had seen. The successful fishermen of that day were already in and had butchered their marlin out and carried them laid full length across two planks, with two men staggering at the end of each plank, to the fish house where they waited for the ice truck to carry them to the market in Havana. Those who had caught sharks had taken them to the shark factory on the other side of the cove where they were hoisted on a block and tackle, their livers removed, their fins cut off and their hides skinned out and their flesh cut into strips for salting.

When the wind was in the east a smell came across the harbour from the shark factory; but today there was only the faint edge of the odour because the wind had backed into the north and then dropped off and it was pleasant and sunny on the Terrace.

"Santiago," the boy said.

"Yes," the old man said. He was holding his glass and thinking of many years ago.

"Can I go out to get sardines for you for tomorrow?"

"No. Go and play baseball. I can still row and Rogelio will throw the net."

"I would like to go. If I cannot fish with you, I would like to serve in some way."

"You bought me a beer," the old man said. "You are already a man."

"How old was I when you first took me in a boat?"

"Five and you nearly were killed when I brought the fish in too green and he nearly tore the boat to pieces. Can you remember?"

"I can remember the tail slapping and banging and the thwart breaking and the noise of the clubbing. I can remember you throwing me into the bow where the wet coiled lines were and feeling the whole boat shiver and the noise of you clubbing him like chopping a tree down and the sweet blood smell all over me."

"Can you really remember that or did I just tell it to you?"

"I remember everything from when we first went together."

The old man looked at him with his sun-burned, confident loving eyes.

"If you were my boy I'd take you out and gamble," he said. "But you are your father's and your mother's and you are in a lucky boat."

"May I get the sardines? I know where I can get four baits too."

"I have mine left from today. I put them in salt in the box."

"Let me get four fresh ones."

"One," the old man said. His hope and his confidence had never gone. But now they were freshening as when the breeze rises.

"Two," the boy said.

"Two," the old man agreed. "You didn't steal them?"

"I would," the boy said. "But I bought these."

"Thank you," the old man said. 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.

"Tomorrow is going to be a good day with this current," he said.

"Where are you going?" the boy asked.

"Far out to come in when the wind shifts. I want to be out before it is light."

"I'll try to get him to work far out," the boy said. "Then if you hook something truly big we can come to your aid."

"He does not like to work too far out."

"No," the boy said. "But I will see something that he cannot see such as a bird working and get him to come out after dolphin."

"Are his eyes that bad?"

"He is almost blind."

"It is strange," the old man said. "He never went turtle-ing. That is what kills the eyes."

"But you went turtle-ing for years off the Mosquito Coast and your eyes are good."

"I am a strange old man."

"But are you strong enough now for a truly big fish?"

"I think so. And there are many tricks."

Copyright © 1952 by Ernest Hemingway

Copyright renewed © 1980 by Mary Hemingway


The Old Man and the Sea is one of Hemingway's most enduring works. Told in language of great simplicity and power, it is the story of an old Cuban fisherman, down on his luck, and his supreme ordeal -- a relentless, agonizing battle with a giant marlin far out in the Gulf Stream. Here Hemingway recasts, in strikingly contemporary style, the classic theme of courage in the face of defeat, of personal triumph won from loss. Written in 1952, this hugely successful novella confirmed his power and presence in the literary world and played a large part in his winning the 1954 Nobel Prize for Literature.


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