The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

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“But man is not made for defeat,’ he said. “A man can be destroyed but not defeated.”

These famous words come from “The Old Man and the Sea,” a classic examination of humanities’ quest for meaning and achievement written by renowned American author, Ernest Hemingway.

“The Old Man and the Sea” is widely considered to be Hemingway’s crowning achievement as a literary giant. The wild success of the book played an integral role in his win of the 1954 Nobel Prize for literature.

The novella tells of an old Cuban fisherman who hooks the largest marlin he has ever seen and the fierce battle that ensues. It is a strikingly simple plot with no more than three characters worth mentioning. Though the story is straightforward, Hemingway intertwines subtle themes throughout, packing a wealth of meaning into a simple narrative.

The primary character in the story is the old man. The old man has not caught a fish in 84 days and is considered as unlucky as a fisherman can be. Despite his ill fortune, the old man is determined to reverse his luck. In hopes of success, he sails farther out than usual, and on the 85th day of his misfortune he hooks something he did not expect.

The story’s second prominent character is the marlin. The marlin is no average fish. From tail to snout, it measures longer than the old man’s boat. Such a prize would bring food, money and an end to the constant derision from his peers.

The epic two-day battle between man and fish is enough to excite most, but the real significance of the story is found in the deeper meaning behind Hemingway’s characters.

The old man represents humanity, while the marlin signifies achievement or purpose in life. When read with this in mind, the story is revolutionized. Hemingway did not mean to write a story simply about a man and a fish; this heroic struggle was intended to portray every man and woman’s battle for meaning and success in their life. He repeatedly demonstrates humanity’s determination with quotes from the old man. “Fish,” he said softly, aloud, “I’ll stay with you until I am dead.”

The old man’s musings on the roles he and the fish play are both delightfully comical and refreshingly insightful.

“Then his head started to become a little unclear and he thought, is he bringing me in or am I bringing him in?” Hemingway successfully exhibits the struggle to live a meaningful life while raising difficult questions for readers to grapple with.

Using short sentences and clear language for which he is legendary, Hemingway manages to write a captivating novella accessible to all. It is easy to marvel at his ability to communicate clearly with such eloquence and profundity.

“The Old Man and the Sea” is a must-read for all. Hemingway’s style is adept enough to reach both the genius and the neophyte, leaving no viable excuse for not reading this masterpiece.