Professor T. Lesko
ENG 102, Section 1AC
08 May 2018
The Old Man and the Sea
The Old Man and the Sea is a fictional story written by Ernest Hemingway about an elderly Cuban fisherman named Santiago, who ventures out to sea to catch fish to sell in the city of Havana. The story takes place after the eighty four day unlucky streak that the old man had not catching fish and being looked down upon by many of the younger fishermen in his village, referring to him as salao, which was the worst form of unlucky. Despite this quickly gained reputation by the younger fishermen in the village, a young boy from the village named Manolin, who Santiago had taught to fish when he was very young, remained loyal to him and continued to greet Santiago each day after returning from fishing, and also helped him carry his gear and sail back to his hut each night. Manolin used to fish with Santiago, but after forty days of not catching fish, Manolin was ordered by his parents to fish on another boat in the village, which was regarded as a “lucky boat.” However, Manolin continued to help Santiago with various duties, such as catching bait, bringing him food, and looking over him each night. In fact, Manolin was so loyal to Santiago that he offered to defy his parent’s orders and fish with Santiago again, in order to help him end his unlucky streak. But Santiago refused his help and told him to remain on the current boat he was fishing on, since it was a “lucky boat.”
On the early morning of the eighty fifth day, Santiago headed out alone to the Gulf Stream waters in search of fish on his small skiff, and ended up fishing farther out than usual and in waters over one hundred twenty-five fathoms deep. Santiago ended up hooking an extremely large Blue Marlin, later found to be eighteen feet long from nose to tail. Santiago was far out-battled by this size Marlin but he was persistent on landing it, due to the high price it would bring at the fish market back in Havana. He also had to get this fish back to the village to prove to all the younger fishermen that he was still a successful fisherman. This battle between Santiago and the Marlin went on for three days and nights before he was eventually able to get the fish alongside the boat to harpoon it and secure it to the skiff’s gunnels. During this battle, Santiago found himself becoming delirious, injured, and extremely fatigued. At times when he was able to sleep, he would continually dream about lions on the beach in Africa, which he also found himself often dreaming about back home as well. This symbolized great internal pride and dignity that he had. He also grew to admire the large Blue Marlin while fighting it, and felt a deep empathy for it, calling it “his brother in suffering, strength, and resolve.”
Santiago was unable to get the Marlin back to port without sharks continually attacking and eating it, due to the fish’s blood leaving a scent trail in the water. Despite him fighting off the multiple shark attacks with his oars, harpoon, knife, and even the boat’s tiller, by the time he made it back on the fifth day, the Marlin’s meat was completely gone and all that was left was the skeleton, head, and tail. That night, Santiago staggered back to his hut and fell asleep, leaving the fish carcass still tied to the side of his skiff, but when he awoke the next morning and was reunited with Manolin, he learned that the other fishermen were all standing around his boat amazed at the size of the Marlin’s skeleton, regaining all of the other fishermen’s respect.
The biographical analysis of Ernest Hemingway and his story of The Old Man and the Sea shows many similarities between the author’s life and career, and the story’s main character, Santiago.
It was reported that Hemingway’s writings were unsuccessful for ten years prior to the 1952 publishing of The Old Man and the Sea. Critics said that he had struggled with his writing and that his best work was behind him. Similarly, the old man, Santiago in the story also dealt with criticism from the local fishermen, who said that, although he was once a great fisherman, he went eighty four days without catching fish and was now regarded as a has-been as well as salao.
Hemingway’s struggle as an author is similar to the protagonist’s struggle as a fisherman. …The Old Man and the Sea is an account of Hemingway’s personal struggle to write his best. The metaphors need almost no translation. Many people thought Hemingway’s best days were behind him…The Old Man and the Sea was published in 1952, after the bleakest ten years in Hemingway’s literary career…and people began to think that Hemingway had exhausted his store of ideas…Hemingway was one of the most prolific and successful writers of the 1920s and 1930s, but in 1950, after nearly ten years without publishing a novel, Across the River and Into the Trees was published, and it was a disaster. According to award-winning biographer James R. Mellow, ‘Across the River and Into the Trees is the worst of the Hemingway novels published during Hemingway’s lifetime'” (Kalbach).
The younger fishermen in the village also made fun of Santiago and called him unsuccessful. The author details the living conditions of the old man’s house as primitive and in poverty conditions. This gave the reader further indication that Santiago was an unsuccessful fisherman. Hemingway was criticized as being unsuccessful as well with his prior novels, which is another similarity between Hemingway and Santiago. “The simplicity of Santiago’s house further develops our view of Santiago as…unsuccessful….His house is very simple with a bed, table, and chair on a dirt floor” (Elizondo).
Additionally, Hemingway’s come-back with The Old Man and the Sea and Santiago’s catching of the big Blue Marlin is very symbolic, since Hemingway had to prove that his writing career was not over after his prior failed writings and Santiago had to show all of the younger fishermen that he still “had what it took” and that he too, was still a great fisherman. “With such a long time between novels and his reputation as a great author on the line, Hemingway had to prove himself again, and Santiago also felt that he had to prove himself again… To save their reputations, Santiago had to catch a great fish, and Hemingway had to write a great novel; and Santiago’s quest to catch a great fish is symbolic of Hemingway’s quest to write a great novel” (Kalback). Hemingway’s age and point in his career, where he attempts to publish one more great story in spite of the critics opinions, is also similar to Santiago’s attempt to bring in the great Blue Marlin, in spite of the numerous shark attacks, which were destroying the fish. “Santiago’s marlin is torn apart by sharks, and that is symbolic of critics tearing apart The Old Man and the Sea, which—after the reviews of Across the River and Into the Trees—is probably what Hemingway expected” (Kalback). “Hemingway was the old master at the end of his career being torn apart by—but ultimately triumphing over—critics on a feeding frenzy” (SparkNotes).
It was also documented that Hemingway’s personal life was described as very lonely and isolated, which he even wrote about on occasion. Similarly, Santiago also deals with isolationism and loneliness in his personal life as well as when he is out fishing. “The old man lives his life isolated from most people—especially during his time on the sea. This isolation defines who he is, and emphasizes the unique nature of his character” (Shmoop). Santiago’s wife in the story had passed away and he kept a tinted photograph of her on the wall at one time, but had taken it down, since it had made him feel too lonely when he saw it. “Hemingway was lonely when he wrote The Old Man and the Sea, and his loneliness is apparent in the protagonist’s loneliness and isolation” (Kalback). Santiago mentions more than once how he wished that the boy Manolin was with him on the boat while he was battling the big Blue Marlin, and how much he misses him. He states: “I wish I had the boy” when he first hooks into the fish during the rising action, and repeats it throughout the battle with the Blue Marlin. Hemingway also dealt with failed marriages and rejection in the past, which influenced his writing of The Old Man and the Sea. “When Hemingway was married to Mary, he told a friend that ‘married couples could find themselves on roads that diverged and…it had already happened in his marriage'” (Mellow 555).
Also, at the time Hemingway was writing this book, a teenage girl rejected him. In 1948, Hemingway fell in love with a nineteen-year-old Italian girl named Adriana Ivancich. They kept up a six-year correspondence, and during that time, Hemingway expressed his love and loneliness for her. Adriana, however, was not in love with Hemingway; and she only thought of him as a friend (Mellow 553-554).
Other small details in the story represented symbolisms between Hemingway and Santiago, such as his love for baseball, the New York Yankees, and specifically Joe DiMaggio. Santiago admired DiMaggio, not only because he was a great baseball player, but also because he suffered from pain of a bone spur, and despite this, he still made a great come-back, which Santiago was able to relate to.
Santiago idolizes DiMaggio in part because he (DiMaggio) suffered through the pain of a bone spur to make a great comeback. This idea of struggling and persevering in order to ultimately redeem one’s individual existence through one’s life’s work is central to the conflict of The Old Man and the Sea. As Santiago struggles with the Marlin, he equates his struggle with the pain of DiMaggio’s bone spur and tries to live up to DiMaggio’s example by not giving up on the Marlin (CliffsNotes).
Additionally, the historical analysis about Santiago’s love for baseball in The Old Man in the Sea is a reflection of the love of baseball by Cubans and the country as a whole during that time period when the story was written. “Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea takes place in and around Cuba. The love of baseball began to grow in Cuba during the late 1800s, and by the time of the action in The Old Man and the Sea, baseball had become a national sport and pastime, much like, say, hockey in Canada or soccer (football) in Brazil. So an old Cuban fisherman who talks about baseball is realistic in Hemingway’s setting” (CliffsNotes).
In conclusion, Ernest Hemingway’s struggles in his career and in his personal life mirrored the life and struggles in many ways of the main character, Santiago in the fictional story The Old Man and the Sea. The symbolism between the two are very obvious when compared side by side and analyzed from a biographical perspective. Hemingway’s stories were influenced greatly by his own life experiences and are translations of many events which took place in his life.