Reading 12 classics in 2015 would be a lot easier if you could knock out each one of them during a flight, like I did this short book on the way home from DC. In order to read some of the longer books I have selected for this task, such as Moby Dick, Midnight’s Children, and The Executioner’s Song, I needed to select some very short works.
The Old Man and the Sea is a delightfully simple plot that I will not rehash here. A warning though, it being such a short book most of the plot will be revealed by merely writing a few paragraphs about it.
While I read this book I thought about chasing goals, the way we chase them, and the people we leave in our wake while we chase those goals. Once the old man, Santiago, commits to catching the giant marlin he has hooked, there is no turning back. However, along the way, on nearly every other page, the old man thinks of the young boy, his apprentice Manolin, who had fished with him in the past and regrets his decision to not take the young boy out with him this day.
Pride and the necessity to make a living pushes the old man out to sea, the catch seeming impossible for hours and then days, but finally the marlin weakens and starts circling the boat. At this point, the old man’s energy and hand strength is somewhat revived. He pulls the marlin in against all odds and lines up the eighteen feet of marlin next to his boat. What a prize! Bask now in the glory of your catch because it will be rotted, decayed, or poisoned by the time you expect to reap the bounty.
Indeed, by the time the old man gets to shore, he has eighteen feet of skeletal remains alongside his boat and the old man himself is nearly dead. Would the ending have been different if the young boy had been allowed to fish with the old man on this journey? I think we are led to think that way. The victory for the old man is that he made it home at all and he can now take Manolin out fishing once again. Together, perhaps, they will catch a big marlin, but the biggest catch of all was lost. Be it pride, stubbornness, or just a foolhardy decision to go for the big prize, the old man did it. Better to try and fail than to not try at all. For if the old man had cut his line after the marlin towed him out to sea for a day, the decision would have eaten at him for the rest of his life.
I revere Hemingway’s writing. It’s the stuff I will aspire to for as long as I write. I will never get there, but it is fun to imagine. I will also never get to the point where I will shoot myself in the head with a shotgun. Exquisite writing and shotgun-assisted suicide I leave to you, Ernest.