Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

The Old Man and the Sea is a short novella by Ernest Hemingway that focuses on one man’s battle against nature and a mythical giant fish.  This was Hemingway’s last major published work and helped him to win the Nobel Prize for literature.  I’ve read many of Hemingway’s novels, but I had never read The Old Man and the Sea so I thought it was a perfect book to add to my Classics Club list.

The Old Man and the Sea is a simplistic story that basically only includes the old nameless man, his friend a young boy, and the old man’s epic fishing adventure at sea.  I loved the bond between the old man and the boy who wanted to learn his craft, but was forced to work with another fisherman by his parents after the old man had a string of bad luck.  I also loved the old man’s determination that his luck would change and his prowess at fishing.  It was inspiring.

I will admit that I was frankly troubled when the old man caught, killed with a club, and ate a dolphin.  I try to tell myself that maybe during this time period, humans didn’t realize how intelligent dolphins were and that killing and eating them is wrong, But there is also a passage about how the old man in the past also caught a female marlin and clubbed it to death with the boy while its mate a male marlin jumped over the boat in splendor to try to find his mate.  I may be getting soft in my old age, but I found this to be very disturbing.  There is a lot of fish death in the story including the big fish of legend and many, many sharks.

Luckily Hemingway must have realized my moral quandary and had a couple of great quotes near the end that explained it and helped me to rationalize it:

“I am sorry that I killed the fish though, he thought. Now the bad time is coming and I do not even have a harpoon.  The dentuso is cruel and able and strong and intelligent.  But I was more intelligent than he was.  Perhaps not, he thought.  Perhaps I was only better armed.”

And my favorite quote:

“I have no understanding of it and I am not sure that I believe in it.  Perhaps it was a sin to kill the fish.  I suppose it was even though I did it to keep me alive and feed many people.  But then everything is a sin:  Do not think about sin.  It is much too late for that and there are people who are paid to do it.  Let them think about it.  You were born to be a fisherman as the fish was born to be a fish.”

That helped me with my troubled thoughts.  The old man is a born fisherman and it is his job and his survival to kill fish.  I can be distressed about the death of the dolphin, but it was a causality of this man’s survival against nature.

Another quote I liked was “No one should be alone in their old age, he thought.  But it is unavoidable.”  Hemingway was aging as he wrote this, I wonder if this was something he pondered on.

I feel a little sad as this is one of my husband’s favorite books and I did not enjoy it as much as him.  It was a good story and straightforward.  It was not my favorite Hemingway, which would be For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Moveable Feast.  What are your favorite Hemingway novels?

Overall, The Old Man and the Sea is a powerful novel of one man’s struggle against the sea, but not my favorite of Hemingway’s novels.

Book Source:  Purchased from The Peninsula Bookman in Fish Creek in lovely Door County Wisconsin.


  1. Laura, I enjoyed your thoughtful review. I never read this but it sounds quite profound, although it may appeal more to men than women (sorry to stereotype!). I think my favorite novel by this author would (also) be For Whom the Bell Tolls, or A Farewell to Arms.

  2. I've reread a lot of books I had to read in high school to see how I liked them as an adult. However, I have never really felt the desire or need to reread this one...until now. I only remember it as being slow but I think the rationalizing of the fish deaths might be thought-provoking for me.

    Good review :)

  3. For me...this is my favorite Hemingway. Btw...I think the dolphin he clubbed and ate was probably NOT the marine mammal, but an actual fish also called Mahi-Mahi. Not sure if that will make you feel any better.