Literature / The Old Man and the Sea
Man is not made for defeat. A man can be destroyed but not defeated.
A 1952 novella
by Ernest Hemingway
that tells the story of a poor Cuban fisherman of Spanish origins named Santiago who has not caught a fish in several months. He goes out to sea where he hooks a giant marlin, which he fights day and night, eventually catching it. He lashes it to the side of his boat and tries to take it home to sell. Unfortunately, it is eaten by sharks, despite the old man's valiant effort to fight them off. Defeated, the old man walks home and collapses in bed (although it can still be a moral victory, since he's proved that he can still catch fish).
Due to the symbolism, relatively easy prose and short length, The Old Man and the Sea
is a mainstay of high school English courses
, and is perhaps one of the most widely-read books in the United States (at least for people under thirty). It won the Pulitzer Prize in 1953 and pretty much sealed the deal on Hemingway's 1954 Nobel Prize in Literature
. It was adapted into a 1958 film with Spencer Tracy
, an Academy Award
-winning 1999 Russian cartoon, and a 1990 miniseries with Anthony Quinn
The Old Man and the Sea provides examples of:
- Badass Grandpa: And how. Santiago, naturally, being a Hemingway protagonist.
- Bittersweet Ending: Santiago still caught his fish, and he promises his apprentice that they will be able to work together again, however he lost his catch to the sharks and it's left ambiguous as to how truthful he is; he may well soon be dead.
- Cool Old Guy: Santiago, of course. A lot of his interaction with his apprentice emphasises how much respect they have for each other because of this (contrasting with the apprentice's new employer).
- Crucified Hero Shot
"Ay", he said aloud. There is no translation for this word and perhaps it is just a noise such as a man might make, involuntarily, feeling the nail go through his hands and into the wood.
- Defeat Means Friendship: The marlin earns Santiago's respect due to its strength and will.
- Determinator: Santiago continuously combated the marlin over the course of two days and two nights without rest, all the while feeling the effects it and age had on his body, including hunger, cramps, and even minor injuries. Even after the fish is caught, Santiago remains determined to protect his catch from sharks, and only stops when he runs out of ways to fight off the sharks (after using a harpoon, and improvised spear made from a knife tied to an oar, a club, and finally the tiller of his boat) and all but the head of the fish has been taken. Keep in mind that this is AFTER going roughly 96 hours without sleep and only a few morsels of fish as sustenance.
- The marlin as well. That's one badass fish to drag the old man that far out to sea.
- Duel to the Death: Santiago comes to realize that this is essentially what his situation with the marlin has become when it starts to circle. He muses why it has to be this way, in one of the biggest Not So Different moments between he and the fish.
- Improvised Weapon: After Santiago loses his harpoon, he makes a new one by strapping his knife to the end of an oar. When the knife breaks, he fights the sharks with a club, until he loses that too. Then, he takes out the tiller of the boat, and beats the last shark to death with it.
- I Was Quite a Looker: Santiago muses about how he used to be an extremely strong and muscular sailor.
- Manly Tears: The boy cries when he sees the old man's injured hands.
- The Mentor: The old man to the boy. Fittingly.
- Minimalist Cast: There are only two important (human) characters, the old man and the boy. For most of the story, it's just Santiago out alone at the sea. A few other people briefly appear at the end.
- Not So Different: Santiago and the marlin, Determinator vs. Determinator. Santiago acknowledges this throughout the latter half of the story.
- By extension of this, the galanos are this to the younger generation of fishermen in some interpretations.
- Real Life Writes the Plot: Of a sort. Santiago for the most part is the standard Hemingway protagonist, i.e. a competent, utterly determined paragon of manliness. But he's also an old man. Hemingway was starting to age around the time he wrote Old Man, and it came right after he wrote Across the River and into the Trees* , a book which got significant bad press. In a way, Santiago is probably something of a reflection upon the way Hemingway felt about himself.
- Shaggy Dog Story: Santiago spends the better part of the book fighting the great fish; he finally catches it, and then it's eaten by sharks.
- Taxonomic Term Confusion: The old man catches a fish known as "Dolphin Fish", and calls it only "dolphin" throughout the book.
- Thank Your Prey: Santiago remembers when he and his apprentice did this. Although it was more along the lines of an apology.
- Threatening Shark: Many of these end up devouring the Marlin after Santiago finally catches it, leaving only the head and the skeleton.
- Worthy Opponent: The marlin.
- The first shark might count too.