The Old Man and the Sea

Review From User :

I read this as a young man and was disappointed. It didn't work for me. I thought it was about a crazy old man gone off the reservation, picking a fight with an innocent fish while ranting about the New York Yankees ("I would like to take the great DiMaggio fishing. They say his father was a fisherman...").

I picked it up again, after the passage of some years, and found it incredibly poignant.

It's a simple story. There's an old man, Santiago, who is a fisherman fallen on hard times. He is cared for by a young boy, Manolin, who no longer works on his boat. Santiago goes into the Gulf and engages in the fight of his life with a giant marlin. What follows is a dream-like, stream-of-conscious meditation as the old man matches strength and wits with the great fish.

After 84 days of no fish, Santiago takes his skiff far out to sea. He drops his line and hooks a marlin. He can't pull it in, so he takes hold of the line, beginning the back and forth: when the marlin runs, he gives the line slack; when the marlin is still, he pulls the line in. The old man's hands are cut by the rope. His muscles strain. He has no food or water. Yet he doesn't give up. The obsession has shades of Moby Dick, except at the end of this novel, I didn't feel the need to dig up Melville and punch him in the skull:

I have never seen or heard of such a fish. But I must kill him. I am glad we do not have to try to kill the stars. Imagine if each day a man must try to kill the moon, he thought. The moon runs away. . . . Then he was sorry for the great fish that had nothing to eat and his determination to kill him never relaxed in his sorrow for him. . . . There is no one worthy of eating him from the manner of his behavior and his great dignity. I do not understand these things, he thought. But it is good that we do not have to try to kill the sun or the moon or the stars. It is enough to live on the sea and kill our true brothers.

Eventually, the marlin is hauled in and killed. The old man attaches him to the boat, and begins to row towards shore. Of course, the marlin is dripping blood, so if you've seen Jaws or read James and the Giant Peach, you can imagine that his dreams of hitting it big with this fish are probably not going to come to pass.

Age teaches you a lot of things. You start to realize that you might never be the person you thought you'd be as a child. Days go by, you start to lose more and gain less. I thought about this as I thought about the old man, raging like Dylan Thomas against the night; an old man nearing the end of his days fighting against nature, time, death, a fish, able to boil all things down into one climatic struggle on the high seas. At the end, he did not succeed, at least not in the manner he'd foreseen, but he was, in an inimitable way, victorious.

'You did not kill the fish only to keep alive and to sell for food,' he thought. 'You killed him for pride and because you are a fisherman. You loved him when he was alive and you loved him after. If you love him, it is not a sin to kill him. Or is it more'


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