Otázka: The Old Man and the Sea
The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
About the author
The author of this well-known novel, Ernest Hemingway, was an American writer and journalist, born in 1899 in Illinois, USA. He is a Nobel Prize holder, as many of his works are considered to be classics of American literature. Some pieces of his work were published posthumously but during his life he published seven novels, six short story collections and two non-fiction works.
Ernest Hemingway experienced war himself, when he enlisted with the World War I ambulance drivers. He then set off to the Italian Front but was wounded in 1918 and had to return back home. Despite his wounds, he carried an Italian soldier to safety and for this he received an Italian Silver Medal of Bravery. This experience gave ground to his well-known piece of work – A Farewell to Arms, published later, in 1929.
After spending a few years in Toronto and Chicago, he met his first wife, whom he married and together they returned to Europe in 1921. They moved to Paris, where he got strongly influenced by the modernist writers and the community of the ‘Lost Generation’. His very first novel was published in 1926 and was called The Sun Also Rises. He spent several years with his first wife, who gave birth to his first son but later met his second future wife in France and together they returned to the USA, where their son was born.
In the early 1930s he spent the winters in Key West and summers in Wyoming and sometimes travelled to Europe or Cuba. His third son was born in 1931. Two years later, he went on a safari to Africa, together with his wife, which was inspiration for his work – The Green Hills of Africa or The Snows of Kilimanjaro.
In 1937 Hemingway left to Spain where he worked as a journalist during the Spanish Civil War. He again utilized and described his experienced in the novel For Whom the Bell Tolls. This Spanish stay influenced not only his literary world but also his personal life, as he met Martha Gellhorn, a woman who was to become his third wife. Together they bought a property in Cuba and Hemingway left his family to live with Martha. This relationship did not last long, however, as he returned to Europe (London) in 1944 and here he met Mary Welsh, his fourth and last wife. He was present in the Normandy landings and the liberation of Paris in 1944, even though he had a concussion and was wounded.
When World War II ended, Ernest Hemingway was awarded a Bronze Star for the bravery shown in this war. The following years were not very happy for him though, as he and his family had numeral injuries and accidents and what is more, many of his literary friends died. After these events he started to have health problems, which may have also been a result of his heavy drinking. In the 1950s, he travelled to Venice and then to Africa again. Before heading to Africa, he wrote the famous novel The Old Man and the Sea, which became an immediate success and brought Hemingway the Pulitzer Price. The mentioned African trip was crucial for him, as his plane crash landed into a bush. This, however, was not the end of the tragic events; when he and his wife were trying to get to safety by seeking medical care, they boarded another plane which exploded and Hemingway was burnt. He had quite severe injuries and never fully recovered from them.
Hemingway travelled a lot for his whole life and never stopped until the end of his days. He remained at Cuba until 1960 when the regime was not that pleasant anymore. In that year he returned to Idaho with his wife and here he died- he committed suicide in 1961, just like his father, his sister and even his brother.
The plot of the novel
This novel is about an old fisherman called Santiago who has been very unsuccessful in his endeavors at the sea. For eighty-four days, he was not able to catch a single fish. He is considered to be very unlucky -“salao”, because even the young apprentice Manolin had left him to fish with more successful fishermen. Manolin was at the same time his only friend, as Santiago is a loner. He, however, does not consider himself being a lonely person. Manolin´s parents did not wish him to stay with the old man but Manolin like Santiago and every night he visits him in the old shack and brings him food.
One the 85th day, he is so brave to sail onto the sea far from the coast, in order to break his unluckiness and return with a fish. He is lucky and on the very first day, around noon, a great fish pulls his bait. He is sure that it is a marlin but is not able to pull the great fish in. Instead, he finds himself being pulled by the fish. The big fish pulls him for two days and two nights and this ‘adventure’ is tiring for both the man, and the fish. On the third day, Santiago is worn out and the fish starts to circle around his small boat, which is a sign that it is exhausted too. This is an opportunity for the old fisherman. He stabs the great fish with a harpoon.
He is happy to have won the battle with the fish but he does not know what is to befall his catch. He thinks about the money the fish will bring him at the market and how many people he will feed by it. He ties it to the side of his skiff and heads home. On his way to the shore, however, the dead marlin attracts sharks by its blood and Santiago has to fight with many of them. He loses his harpoon in the fight with the first one and so has to make a new harpoon out of his knife and his oar. He kills many of the sharks and drives many of them away but when he reaches the shore, he is totally exhausted and it seems that his effort came to waste, as what is left of the marlin, is now just a skeleton with the head and the tail. He leaves his skiff on the shore and heads directly to his shack where he falls asleep. His dear friend Manolin is truly happy to see that Santiago is alive and safe at home.
The main characters
Santiago, the main character of the novel, is an old Cuban fisherman who lives in a shack by the sea shore. He is humble, yet exhibits a justified pride in his abilities. His knowledge of the sea, its creatures and of his craft is unparalleled and helps him preserve a sense of hope regardless of circumstance. Throughout his life, Santiago has been presented with contests to test his strength and endurance. The marlin, with which he struggles for three days, represents his greatest challenge. Paradoxically, although Santiago ultimately loses the fish, the marlin is also his greatest victory.
His relationship with Manolin is special- he does not treat him as a small boy, but as an equal human being, he is aware of Manolin´s qualities and moral support and cherishes it.
Manolin, Santiago´s one and only friend, is only a young boy but for Santiago he is the closest person. At first he helps the old fisherman with catching fish but when his parents find out how unsuccessful he is, they no longer want their son to help Santiago and he is forbidden to go fishing with him. However, he is devoted to the old man and even brings him food because Santiago has not caught a fish for so long. He looks at the man as a mentor and because they discuss baseball together, he enjoys spending time with him. Mandolin has to face difficult decisions as well, since he is forbidden to help Santiago by his father, but on the other hand he feels that he has to help the old man by obtaining food for him. He symbolizes fidelity, which we can especially see in the ending of the book. Despite the duty to his father, he swears he would always sail with Santiago and help him fish. Manolin is present only in the beginning and at the end of The Old Man and the Sea, but his presence is important because Manolin’s devotion to Santiago highlights Santiago’s value as a person and as a fisherman.
Even though the marlin may not be considered a character, it has a very important role in the novel. It represents the rival of the old fisherman, who struggles for days to defeat the fish and eventually his determination and physical and emotional strength win over the big fish. The marlin is larger and more spirited than any Santiago has ever seen. Santiago idealizes the marlin, ascribing to it traits of great nobility, a fish to which he must prove his own nobility if he is to be worthy to catch it.
The sea also plays a very special role in Hemingway´s work, as most of the book takes place on the sea and Santiago is frequently identified with it and it its creatures. Santiago refers to the sea as a woman, and the sea seems to represent the feminine complement to Santiago’s masculinity.
My opinion about the text
The novel The Old Man and the Sea may seem as a very trivial piece of work to someone who does not understand the message of the book. In spite of the fact, that almost the whole story takes place at the sea and there are only two main characters, it is very interesting to me. There are hidden messages and meanings throughout the whole book and you have to think what the author meant by concrete things. I really like the relationship of old Santiago, representing experience and young Manolin, full of ideas, hopes and ideals. What they have in common is determination, in my opinion; Santiago is determined not to give in and catch a fish despite his bad luck and Manolin is determined to stay with the old fisherman despite his father´s restrictions. They are both bound by the sea and drawn to it- it´s their life and passion.
Santiago´s respect for the nature is represented by his attitude to the sea and its creatures, as for him they are not only means of getting food but creatures which deserve to be treated with some dignity and respect, even though they are not human beings. I also like the idea of the spirit which lives within Santiago, he hasn´t caught a fish for so long and yet he does not let this fact influence his beliefs and determination and vision of a better future. He believes he will have luck one day and that his time will come- and it does.
I would definitely recommend this book to anyone- I believe that children like it because of the setting and the friendship of Mandolin and Santiago, and adults like it for its metaphors, hidden meanings and experience referring to our lives.