The Old Man and the Sea
Battle between hope & despair
Published : Saturday, 9 September, 2017 at 12:00 AM Count : 271
Dreamers, they never see the tide -- the danger -- is coming. But then who can really blame them? Better to sail an ocean of hope than a sea of despair. Never mind what lies beneath: a world without dreamers would be a nightmare. Dominant of such themes, Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea was first published in 1942 which earned the great novelist an overnight international fame.
At first glance, the story appears to be a simple tale of an old Cuban fisherman who catches an enormous fish, only to lose it. But there's much more to the story -- a tale of bravery and heroism, of one man's struggle against his own doubts, the elements, a massive fish, sharks and even his desire to give up.
Santiago, the old man and the protagonist in the novella, is a dreamer. But with age, his dreams have changed, scuffed and sanded down by decades of fishing the Gulf Stream: no longer does his sleeping mind drift to the great events throughout his life but instead just to a place, a childhood memory: lions playing on an African beach. And he wonders: "Why are the lions the main thing that is left?"
Santiago is a simple man. Fishing is his life, while baseball, the Gran Ligas, is his religion. A New York Yankee, "the great DiMaggio", is his earthly god. But lately the sea has been cruel, and the old man has endured 84 days without a catch. He thinks and speaks of luck but is not prone to superstition. He is reverent but not pious, wary of devotion, although he could waver. When it suits, when hope takes the bait under the deep blue sea, Santiago offers to pray should he require not only strength but fortitude to land his prize: "I will say ten Our Fathers and ten Hail Marys that I should catch this fish, and I promise to make a pilgrimage to the Virgin de Cobre if I catch him. That is a promise."
With his village status of saleo, "the worst form of unlucky", his body racked and gnarled by years of labour but with blue eyes "cheerful and undefeated", he sets out on the 85th day since his last catch and rows the skiff far, away from the deep wells that have offered no reward, towards "the schools of bonito and albacore" where he might fare better: "My big fish must be somewhere."
He is not wrong. But it is then, with his quarry hooked, that the true test begins. Day becomes night, night becomes day, and with little or no sleep the old man loses track of time and islands of Sargasso weed drift by. Eating raw bonito and dorado to maintain strength, while slowly sapping the marlin's will, Santiago regrets his poor planning: "I will never go in a boat again without salt or limes." But his words are laced with hope that he will return to the sea.
The old man eventually succeeds, then fails and then wins again. Thus The Old Man and the Sea becomes a beautiful tale of our vicissitude in life, awash in the sea salt and sweat, bait and beer of the Havana coast. Hemingway's words, in this slim volume, are consistently affecting, as steady a comfort as a lighthouse beam. It tells a fundamental human truth: in a volatile world, from our first breath to our last wish, through triumphs and pitfalls both trivial and profound, what sustains us, ultimately, is hope.