The Old Man And The Sea, 1952
Ernest Hemingway was born in Illinois, in 1899. Hemingway later fictionalized his experience in Italy in what some consider his greatest novel, A Farewell to Arms. His novels The Sun Also Rises (1926) and A Farewell to Arms (1929) established him as a dominant literary voice of his time. After leaving Paris, Hemingway wrote on bullfighting, published short stories and articles, covered the Spanish Civil War as a journalist, and published his best-selling novel, For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940). In the 1930s, Hemingway lived in Key West, Florida, and later in Cuba, and his years of experience fishing the Gulf Stream and the Caribbean provided an essential background for the vivid descriptions of the fisherman?s craft in The Old Man and the Sea. In 1936 he wrote a piece for Esquire about a Cuban fisherman who was dragged out to sea by a great marlin, a game fish that typically weighs hundreds of pounds. Sharks had destroyed the fisherman?s catch by the time he was found half-delirious by other fishermen. This story seems an obvious seed for the tale of Santiago in The Old Man and the Sea.
A great fan of baseball, Hemingway liked to talk in the sport?s lingo, and by 1952, he badly ?needed a win.? Critics, however, disagreed and called the work the worst thing Hemingway had ever written. Many readers claimed it read like a parody of Hemingway. The huge success of The Old Man and the Sea, published in 1952, was a much-needed vindication. The novel won the 1953 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. It cinched the Nobel Prize for Hemingway in 1954. It was cited for particular recognition by the Nobel Academy. It was the last novel published in his lifetime.
Although the novel helped to regenerate Hemingway?s wilting career, it has since been met by divided critical opinion. The more compelling interpretation asserts that the novel is a parable about life and in particular man?s struggle for triumph in a world that seems designed to destroy him.
Despite the soberly life-affirming tone of the novel, Hemingway was, at the end of his life, more and more prone to debilitating bouts of depression.
The Old Man and the Sea is the story of an epic struggle between an old, seasoned fisherman and the greatest catch of his life. For eighty-four days, Santiago, an aged Cuban fisherman, has set out to sea and returned empty-handed. So conspicuously unlucky is he that the parents of his young devoted apprentice and friend, Manolin, have forced the boy to leave the old man in order to fish in a more prosperous boat. Nevertheless, the boy continues to care for the old man upon his return each night. He helps the old man tote his gear to his ramshackle hut, secures food for him, and discusses the latest developments in American baseball, especially the trials of the old man?s hero, Joe DiMaggio. Santiago is confident and he resolves to sail out farther than usual the following day.
On the eighty-fifth day of his unlucky streak, Santiago does as promised, sailing his skiff far beyond the island?s shallow coastal waters and venturing into the Gulf Stream. He prepares his lines and drops them. At noon, a big fish, which he knows is a marlin, takes the bait that Santiago has placed one hundred fathoms deep in the waters. The old man expertly hooks the fish, but he cannot pull it in. Instead, the fish begins to pull the boat.
Unable to tie the line fast to the boat for fear the fish would snap a taut line, the old man bears the strain of the line with his shoulders, back, and hands, ready to give slack should the marlin make a run. The entire time, Santiago endures constant pain from the fishing line. Although wounded and weary, the old man feels a deep empathy and admiration for the marlin, his brother in suffering, strength, and resolve.
On the third day the fish tires, and Santiago, sleep-deprived, aching, and nearly delirious, manages to pull the marlin in close enough to kill it with a harpoon thrust. Dead beside the skiff, the marlin is the largest Santiago has ever seen. He lashes it to his boat, raises the small mast, and sets sail for home.
As Santiago sails on with the fish, the marlin?s blood leaves a trail in the water and attracts sharks. The first to attack is a great shark, which Santiago manages to slay with the harpoon. In the struggle, the old man loses the harpoon and lengths of valuable rope, which leaves him vulnerable to other shark attacks. The old man fights off the successive vicious predators as best he can. By the time night falls, Santiago?s continued fight against the scavengers is useless.
Knowing nothing of the old man?s struggle, tourists at a nearby café observe the remains of the giant marlin and mistake it for a shark. Manolin, who has been worried sick over the old man?s absence, is moved to tears when he finds Santiago safe in his bed. The boy fetches the old man some coffee and the daily papers with the baseball scores, and watches him sleep. When the old man wakes, the two agree to fish as partners once more. The old man returns to sleep and dreams his usual dream of lions at play on the beaches of Africa.