Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Classics Club 39: The Old Man and the Sea

The Old Man and the Sea tells the story of Santiago (the old man), a poor, down-on-his-luck, Cuban fisherman. This short novel takes place mostly at sea as he attempts to first find, then reel in, and finally return safely to port with, a large fish.  The classic man against nature (and also man against self) conflict is relayed to the reader primarily via the old man talking and thinking to himself.

The text is very sparse, and this sparseness mirrors the sparseness of Santiago's life. The sparseness, shortness and seeming simplicity of the novel make it a quick and easy read. Yet the simplicity is deceptive and there is much more to the story than an old man trying to catch a fish. The reader can ponder the process of aging, consider the extent to which they could emulate the  Old Man's admirable qualities, (he never complains, remains mostly optimistic and upbeat despite adversity, seems grateful for everything he has - even when he has nothing) and think about the way they could reach out to the marginalised in their community (the way the boy did to Santiago). The Old Man has a great respect for nature, and even though he makes his living from killing he does not do so in an indiscriminate manner. I couldn't help thinking the world would be healthier place if more people had a similar respect for nature today. I was also left pondering the extent to which the Old Man (and by extension the reader, whoever he or she may be) was the author of his own misfortune. Was he honourably persevering through difficulties bought on by bad luck or was he too stubborn and proud to change his ways/accept the help and advice offered?

The ending was depressing  - Santiago did not successfully return to port with his big catch, despite his Herculean physical and mental efforts. However, I was left in no doubt he will try again, as should we whenever, life gets the better of us.


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