Friday, December 07, 2007

Reflections on Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea

I finished Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea yesterday (or was it the day before yesterday?) after about three days of much reading, having begun it during training for Royals but never getting very far since.

It's a great book, although 'great' depends on whether or not you like Hemingway's simple, disarming style. He's not much for style, but he's a great storyteller. To me, what's most amazing about this book is that it really is about the old man and the sea. 75 of the 99 pages in the Vintage Classics edition are dedicated to the old man's adventures in the open sea.

Take away picturesque settings (it's endless ocean and sky), intriguing characters (the most exciting characters are the sharks and, of course, the giant fish), engaging dialogue (the old man talks to himself... and the fish) and dynamic plot (it's basically a cat and mouse game, only worse: the old man has already hooked the fish, but he's chasing it in order to reel it in when it's weaker)... and what do you get? I don't know how Hemingway squeezed 75 pages out of this barrenness, but that is exactly what he did!

And to top it all off, it was a page-turner and read like any exciting thriller. The following are some of my favourite quotes/excerpts:

* * * * *

... the fish's eye looked as detached as the mirrors in a periscope or as a saint in a procession.

p. 74

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

p. 80

(This is my favourite, and I think it sums up what the whole story is about:)

Then his head started to become a little unclear and he thought, is he bringing me in or am I bringing him in? If I were towing him behind there would be no question. Nor if the fish were in the skiff, with all dignity gone, there would be no question either. But they were sailing together lashed side by side and the old man thought, let him bring me in if it pleases him. I am only better than him through trickery and he meant me no harm.

p. 76

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