„The Old Man and the Sea”, by Ernest Hemingway, depicts the epic struggle between an old, seasoned fisherman and the catch of his life. It was the last major work of fiction written by Hemingway, which was published during his lifetime.
Literally speaking – “The old man and the sea”
If we were, to sum up, the action in “The old man and the sea”, we would have a simple story.
At the center, we find Santiago, in his old age, a fisherman by profession. Santiago is not alone in his quest. At his side sits his trustworthy apprentice, Manolin, who remains faithful even after his parents forbade him to go on a fishing ride with Santiago. They even described him as being a “Salao”, which is the worst form of unluckiness.
The short story begins by describing the misfortune Santiago seems to have at catching fish. Even though Manolin fishes with another crew, this doesn’t stop him from visiting the old man every night. Manolin hauls his fishing gear, talks about American baseball, and his favorite player: Joe DiMaggio.
Even though eighty-four days passed since Santiago caught something, he tells Manolin that he will venture far out in the Gulf Stream, north of Cuba. He is confident that his unlucky streak is near an end.
The eighty-fifth day out the sea
Santiago takes his skiff into the Gulf Stream. He sets his lines, and, by noon, a big fish catches his bait. The fisherman is convinced that it’s a great marlin.
Unable to haul the great marlin, Santiago gets pulled by the fish. Two days and two nights pass with Santiago holding onto the line.
Even though he is wounded by the struggle and pain, he expresses compassion towards the fish, describing him as a brother.
The fish’s dignity impresses him so, that he decides nobody shall eat the fish.
On the third day, Santiago stabs the marlin with a harpoon and straps it to the side of the skiff. He can now finally return home. His only thought is the high price that he will get for the fish and the large number of people it will feed.
On his way to shore, sharks are attracted by the marlin’s blood. Santiago manages to kill a great mako shark but loses his weapon. Even though he makes a new harpoon, sharks are increasing in number. Keeping them away becomes a struggle. The only things remaining of the fish are its backbone, tail, and head.
Upon reaching the sore, Santiago struggles to his shack, carrying the heavy mast on his shoulder, leaving the fish’s head and bones on the shore. Once home, he slumps onto his bed into a deep sleep.
A group of fishermen gathers the next day around the boat where the fish’s skeleton is still attached. One of the fishermen measures it to be eighteen feet from nose to tail. Pedrico gets the head of the fish and the other fishermen tell Manolin to tell the old man how sorry they were.
The boy, worried about the old man, cries upon finding him safe asleep. He brings the old man newspapers and coffee. When the old man wakes, they promise to fish together once again. Upon his return to sleep, Santiago dreams of his youth of lions on an African beach.
Figuratively speaking “The old man and the sea”
raises a lot of questions. Reading the story only from the literal perspective would mean leaving aside the much deeper meanings lurking in the background.
The short novel can be interpreted in so many different ways, much as everything in life.
We could wander about the fisherman’s reasons for not letting go of the fish. Many would even argue that his pursuit was a futile one from the beginning. Many would have even given up on him from the start. Others would sympathize with him and understand the boy not wanting to let an old man alone face his old age.
There are so many questions and so many possible answers. I guess it all depends on our own perspective, not only of the book but on life in general.
The old man’s nature was to fish. His meaning was well defined. To him, there is no other option but to catch the fish no matter the consequences. One cannot fight against one’s nature of doing things. Besides, being a fisherman is what he knew all his life. The possibility of him ceasing to be one would have been the end for him. Giving up was not an option. Not after having been used to not giving up all his life. It was as if that meant he was giving up on himself, on his ability and nature. And that would have been the real defeat.
Do what is in your nature as in “The Old Man and the Sea”
Walters Wallace makes a great point in his “The Science of Getting Rich”:
“every day is either a successful day or a day of failure, and it is the successful days which get you what you want.
Every act is in itself, either :
a success or a failure
effective or inefficient.
Each inefficient act is a failure, and if you spend your life in doing inefficient acts, your whole life will be a failure”.
Santiago catching the fish was a confirmation of his ability to succeed. Success is not defined by age or strength, which is what Santiago feels. Letting go of the fish would have meant admitting failure after a lifetime of struggle and victory. That would have been the ultimate defeat.
Santiago did what was in Santiago’s nature. The fish did what was in the fish’s nature. Each one of them fulfilled their destiny: the man and the fish. Both proud and strong, both doing what was in their nature of doing; one respecting the other as we should all do amongst ourselves.
Takeaways from “The Old Man and the Sea”
We cannot change our nature. What we can do is try and build upon it, use its strengths, and reduce the weaknesses.
Succeeding in something we have in our nature to do is the road to success, whatever success means to anybody.
It’s alright if we haven’t figured out what we are good at. While searching, we should do our best every day, in whatever environment we’re in and whatever our position is.
Keep your higher goal in mind, but don’t ignore your daily duties at the job you’re doing. Be a modern “Martin Eden”, fighting and succeeding, not giving up, no matter how impossible to end goal might seem.
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