Ernest Hemingway: Solitude and Struggle in The Old Man and the Sea

Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea is one of the most critically acclaimed short novella which got special mention when he was awarded Nobel Prize for literature. Unlike his other renowned novels like Farewell to Arms and For Whom the Bell Tolls this long short story is not an epic about an era, war and times with many characters and complexities. This is an endearing fable of one Old man, a young boy and sea life. One can interpret this tale many ways. Like all fables this story has many symbolisms. Critics have even likened the Old man and his struggles to that of Christ. But the book will always remain a tale of solitude and struggle of an Old Man and his endearing relationship with a boy and the sea.

Everyone dreads old age and lonely life. But Ernest Hemingway has found a thread that connects old with the young and transforms loneliness into solitude. In a village by the sea lives old man Santiago. He turns away from sad memories of his wife and past by putting away her picture. He goes far off into the sea everyday even if he doesn’t always get a catch like other fishermen. A young village boy Manolin is his only compassionate companion who comes to check on him every day. The boy is sensitive and understands needs of the old man. He knows what old man lacks and brings him food and even bait for next day’s fishing. He listens to tales of Africa, baseball and believes in Santiago’s heroism even though the old man has returned without a fish for eighty-four days at a stretch and is a butt of ridicule of the whole village. The young boy is not permitted by his father to accompany the old man on his futile deep sea fishing trips. Yet the boy comes every evening. They both share their solitude and tales. Santiago treats young boy as an individual grown up boy and even shares his dreams with him.

On the eighty-fifth day Santiago sets out for another deep sea fishing venture and goes further beyond. A huge marlin fish bites his bait. And the major part of the book is about the deep sea, the life it sustains and the struggle of frail Santiago to bring this giant fish ashore. It is too big for his boat and his strength. He has to fight off sharks and the calm the struggling marlin which injures him badly. By the time he reaches shore the marlin has been eaten by sharks, only skeleton and carcass remains. Injured and tired Santiago returns to his shack leaving behind the catch still tied to the boat. Manolin comes and attends to him, while the whole village marvels at the size of the skeleton of the giant marlin. Santiago doesn’t show any emotion about his catch or its state. He simply feels he got defeated by the sharks. He and Manolin plan to return to sea again. Manolin admires his hero while old tired Santiago sleeps peacefully dreaming about lions roaming on the beaches of Africa.

This story truly redeems human soul by depicting that true longings of human soul are not materialistic things and success. Companionship, a simple purpose, struggle and persistence towards that purpose can beat the boredom, drudgery and loneliness of our everyday mundane existence.

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