The Old Man and the Sea ~ Read-Along

7.21.2014


I was so excited to hear about this read-along at Hamlette's blog!  In fact, I got a bit of a head start and made sure to read it this past Saturday.  But that gives me time now to read other people's posts over the course of this week, and I'm looking forward to hearing other people's thoughts.  :)


+  Have you read The Old Man and the Sea before?  If so, did you like it more or less after this reading than you did before?

This was my first time reading the book, but I grew up on the classic film with Spencer Tracy.

As a child, I absolutely loved Age of Sail books and movies.  What I especially liked about TOMATS was the Marlin jump.  It never failed to strike a bit of terror in me - I was right there with the Old Man, thrilled and awestruck by the size of the "Fish."

This made the Marlin in the book sort of anticlimactic.  It was beautifully written and probably would have been exciting had I not seen the film - but it felt short, very short.  I still enjoyed this story; only, that part of it was slightly disappointing.

+  What do you think the main point of the story is?  What is Hemingway trying to say here?

On this first reading, it struck me with themes of old age (of course), pride, and masculinity.  Most of the time I felt Hemingway was talking about the glory of mankind, particularly the male gender, its perseverance, changes, and "complicated" relationship with femininity.

For that reason, the story felt slightly less universal than, say, if it had been written by Melville.  However, there is much to sympathize with and even identify with, closer to the end of the book.

+  Some people say this story is full of symbolism, maybe even an allegory.  What do you think things like the old man, the fish, and the sharks could symbolize?

It was almost as good as stated that the Old Man and the Fish were two sides of the same entity - that is, the Old Man himself sees himself in the Fish at times.  The sharks, then, would be the things that break his strength, such as his aging body and daydreams about baseball.

If you were to base the allegory on and starting with the Old Man himself, there's probably a political/historical symbolism that could be inferred.  But that's reading pretty deeply.

+  In 1952, Hemingway wrote a letter to his friend Bernard Berenson in which he said:  "There isn't any symbolysm [sic].  The sea is the sea.  The old man is an old man.  The boy is a boy and the fish is a fish.  The shark are all sharks no better and no worse."**  Do you think he was telling the truth, or being cagey?  Do you think that sometimes an audience can see more in a story than its author does?

Audiences (myself included) are very good at reading between the lines where there is sometimes nothing to see.  I felt the Marlin was indeed symbolic, but that symbolism - the parallel with the Old Man - was clearly apparent.  For the rest, I think Hemingway was telling the truth.  I was actually hoping for more symbolism to chew on, as in Moby-Dick or Heart of Darkness.  This is not the same kind of book, though, just the same genre.  It's a simpler story, and there's nothing wrong with that.

+  What do you think of the writing style Hemingway uses here?  Do you like it?  How does it add or detract from the story?

The writing style was refreshingly readable.  It fits the story very well.  My only quibble is that sometimes Hemingway uses fragments for no apparent reason.  I don't mind grammatical liberties, but it felt disjointed at times.

+  The Old Man and the Sea is required reading at a lot of high schools.  Do you think this is a good choice for teen readers?  Do you think some other story or book by Hemingway might be a better introduction to his work?

While not a fan of making specific books "required," I actually think this would be a great choice.  It's short and sweet and should appeal to most people (who can't relate to the Old Man on some level?).

The beauty of The Old Man and the Sea is what it says about the Old Man.  It's a character sketch, more like a portrait because it tells us so much about him in nearly every paragraph.  We see him as a young man, a happy man, a depressed man, a weak and a strong man - facing society and the elements single-handedly.  He's not a "Western hero" by definition, but these same characteristics makes the book an American classic.

I could write a post entirely on the Old Man vs. the Boy, or the Old Man vs. the Young Men, the next generation.  But I'll stop here with my favorite quote, which says as much:
He looked down into the water and watched the lines that went straight down into the dark of the water.  He kept them straighter than anyone did . . .  Only I have no luck anymore.  But who knows? . . . It is better to be lucky.  But I would rather be exact.  Then when luck comes you are ready.

5 comments :

  1. Good insights! I've never seen the Spencer Tracy film, but you're making me want to find it.

    I'm intrigued by your mention of a "complicated" relationship with femininity. Could you elaborate on that a bit more?

    And I like your observation that the sharks are related, symbolically, to the other things that cause the old man problems, such as his own age and aloneness. I hadn't thought of that, but certainly the way the sharks attack the boat and steal parts of the fish seem related to the way the old man's hand cramps up, for instance.

    Thanks for participating in the read-along!

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    1. Mainly I was thinking of the bit where it says the young men call the sea "el mar," while the Old Man calls it the feminine "la mar" - "if she did wild or wicked things it was because she could not help it." Similar to the paradox of fishing "killing" / sustaining him. And then that anonymous female character at the end remarks on the fish's beautiful tail, without apparently noticing the immense struggle it (and the Old Man) went through.

      But he also remembers lovingly his wife, and he felt grief over the incident with the dolphin couple, where he had to kill the female while the male dolphin stayed close by. In those instances, there is no longer conflict ("masculine" as defined by Hemingway's times), but sorrow and just that sense of missing someone.

      All that said, this could have just been me looking for symbolism again. ^_^ I did think these were interesting bits of the story that seemed somehow related.

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    2. That's really good! I didn't pick up on that at all, but there's definitely a struggle-between-genders thing going on there. I definitely think you're right, that they're related.

      Hemingway gets labeled a misogynist and a chauvinist a lot, but I think those are very unfair, as his female characters have never bothered me in the least, or his male characters' attitudes toward them. I think this story would be a good example of him showing men as respecting and loving women -- the old man clearly still misses his wife, and the story of the dolphins I think illustrates how he felt when his own wife died.

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  2. Great post!

    I definitely saw that: the old man and the fish were one. They felt the same struggle and hunger and pain and weakness, or so it seemed.

    Regarding the choppiness: it may have been the old man's contemplations and that Hemingway was capturing the way he thought, the way humans often think.

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  3. I saw the parallels between the fish and the Old Man too. I loved how he treated it with respect instead of as a means to make his livelihood.

    I definitely want to re-read it and pay more attention to the choppiness of the narrative. I feel that it's there for a reason but I'm not quite sure why. And I probably need to read more of Hemingway's works to make an accurate guess.

    Great thoughts, Marian. I think I will be pondering them long after I have left your post!

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