Book Review, Classics

The Old Man and the Sea

…When you’re in the mood for a short, sad classic that will inspire you and help you grow more than any self-development book.

Ernest Hemingway took 13 years to think about how to write this book. Thirteen years of getting to know the village in Cojimar (Cuba) where the story took place in real life. Thirteen years of talking to people there, trying to understand them, their fears and their dreams. He only told us a tiny fraction of everything, but tried to portray them with all their warm heart.

Santiago is an old, unlucky fisherman. His luck is so bad he has gone 84 days without catching anything. His helper, a boy named Manolo, is forced by his parents to leave him and go to another boat. He has to, they are all extremely poor. Alone, in his 85th day, he goes out at sea again. Will this time be different? Most of you know the end, I’m not going to spoil it, even though the ending doesn’t really matter all that much. Not with this story.

What is more important is the old man’s trials. What he is willing to do to succeed. He will die at sea rather than give up. He will relentlessly try again always, no matter what. His will is strong in face of dangers and in face of his body’s weakness. Never have I seen the concept “mind over matter” portrayed better!

We also get very acquainted with what it means to be of old age and extremely poor. Hemingway manages to describe everything in great detail – the good (the boy’s help) and the very ugly (nothing to eat, nor to drink, nothing to cover himself with, all the pain in his body).

When he is out fishing, his hands are sore. When they are badly cut by the fish line, he uses the salted war in the sea to heal them, even though salt on a fresh wound feels terrible. His will to do things even when his body stops listening to him is astonishing.

What is the most heart breaking is how his behavior changed at sea, after the boy stopped coming with him. He felt a deep loneliness and talked with himself for company. To be that alone and still keep going, still go out fishing every day, still find hope is so deeply beautiful it hurts to think about it. I have never read something so powerful before.

I also loved the conflict in himself when he talks about the need to kill (fish, as he is a fisherman) in order to survive. He doesn’t always feel worthy of his prey, but he always feels love and respect for fish and does the killing in spite of that. It rarely occurred to me people who do that for a living remain sensitive to the topic. It always felt as it was something completely out of their minds after the first few days as a fisherman. I suppose the constant presence of death may be humbling in itself.

The way the boy helps him, all the while letting him keep his dignity is what brought tears to my eyes. It is the perfect depiction of a child’s beautiful heart. One can only wish to be loved so dearly in old age. And when others see you useless to society, to find a fellow soul that will see the value in you, who will see you still have a lot to teach and who will want to learn from you is of great solace.

Hemingway was inspired by a real event to write it, but it became a lot more than a great written story. It is a symbol for bravely enduring suffering, old age, difficulties and defeat and never giving up. It teaches us we can do anything, if we put our mind to it.

Instead of a Conclusion – More Questions (perfect for book club discussions)

Here is a list of great discussion ideas for your book club, all starting from “The Old Man and the Sea”:

1. How do you view yourself at an old age?

2. Do you have something that keeps you going, no matter what?

3. How important is luck in your endevours?

4. Do you see the old man as a hero?

5. Do you feel the closeness of death in your everyday job changes you as a person? (If so, does it make you better or worse?)

6. Why does the old man continue in spite of everything?

7. Do you feel the old man is victorious or defeated in the end?

1 thought on “The Old Man and the Sea”

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