Goodreads: The Old Man and the Sea
Age Category: Adult
An older fisherman who has not caught a fish for over 80 days goes farther out into the sea to try his luck; there, he encounters an enormous Marlin, against whom he must test his skills.
The Old Man and the Sea is one of those classics that I always meant to get to and yet never did before now — even though it’s incredibly short. Now that I have read it, I’m glad, though I have to admit this a book that falls squarely in the category of “Would I have enjoyed this as much if I hadn’t been told it’s a classic?”
I will be eagerly awaiting a random man who has never been on my blog before to come along and tell me that The Old Man and the Sea is a masterpiece, and if I don’t give it a raving 5-star review, it’s clearly because I am an idiot who didn’t get its genius. (This happens on nearly all the classic reviews we publish here if we profess any negative feelings about the classic at all. But if you are that random man, allow me to assure you I have an MA in English literature, and I know how to read.)
And I DO get that this books has some interesting themes. They’re what kept me reading. There’s the relationship the old man has with the sea and the fish he catches, the respect he has for the things he kills, the blurring of the lines between man and animal, the sense of contest and near-equality between them. There’s the relationship the old man has with the boy, one of the few people on the island who seems to truly believe in the old man and who sees the massive amounts of things the old man can teach a younger generation of fishers, even if he hasn’t been lucky in catching a fish himself for a while. There are questions of luck vs. skill, and whether the old man is lucky to have caught such an enormous fish, even if in the end he doesn’t get quite what he wants out of the catch. There’s a lot to think about here, and I appreciate that.
On another level, however, this is still a longish story about a man trying to catch a fish. It is told in a lot of detail, which certainly speaks to Hemingway’s knowledge of the subject. But, truly, I ask myself: If someone handed me this story and told me some author I had never heard of had published it last year, would I have given it a chance? Would I have been invested enough in reading about a guy fishing to keep going and see the themes underneath? Or did I only give the book a chance because I know it’s by Hemingway? And I don’t really know the answer. People complain about Moby Dick being too much about whaling, however, (and I like Moby Dick well enough), so I shall reserve the right to point out here that The Old Man and the Sea simply doesn’t have a lot going for it in terms of plot. Certainly Hemingway works to add some excitement in terms of challenges the man faces while fishing, including such things as circling sharks, but I’m not sure I was enthralled.
I like that the story left me with some things to think about, and I enjoyed the two main characters, the old man and the boy. This isn’t going to top my list of favorite classics, however.
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