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Thoughts on ‘The Old Man and the Sea’ – Guest post by Shreedeep Gangopadhyay

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Today’s guest post, as part of the Saturday Specials feature in July, is contributed by Mr. Shreedeep Gangopadhyay. He has previously contributed a few pieces of flash fiction for his earlier guest post in May. This month in Re-living the Classics, Mr. Gangopadhyay deconstructs the classic American novella, The Old man and the Sea.

As I have mentioned in my previous post, this month I am looking for volunteers to review the classics. I still have two spots open, so please feel free to contact me to contribute your piece. To do this, use the contact form given below today’s post, clearly mentioning your name, email and the name of the book that you wish to review.

For next week’s guest post we’ll have Belinda share her thoughts on Madame Bovary. Stay tuned, folks and keep blogging!

Thoughts on The Old Man and the Sea

Guest post by Shreedeep Gangopadhyay


Ernest Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea”: Never accept defeat in life, we can be spifflicated but not defeated. 

The novella The Old Man and The Sea’ is the last major work of fiction to be written by Hemingway in 1952 which ultimately helped to regenerate the author’s wilting career and prompted a reexamination of his entire body of work. Hemingway was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1953 and the Nobel Prize in 1954 for this book. The book was featured in Life magazine on September 1, 1952, and five million copies of the magazine were sold in two days!

It depicts an epic struggle between an old, doyen fisherman and his biggest achievement as a fisherman.  The story begins with the aged Cuban fisherman playing the central character named Santiago who goes on fishing in Gulf Stream with his skiff alone. For the last 84 days, he set out to sea to catch fish only to return empty handed. A boy named Manolin was with him in the first forty days to learn the tricks of fishing. But when the parents of that boy observed the utter failure of the old man in catching fish then they refused him to let fish with the old man as they believed the old man became impoverished and salao (which means the extreme form of unlucky) facing his mortality. So the boy was constrained to fish in another more productive boat which caught three good fishes in the very first week.

The old man wakes before sunrise and does what fishermen do—get in his boat and head out to fish. Every evening, under any pretext, Manolin rushes to the old man when he returns from another unsuccessful fish hunting and helps carry home the old man’s harpoon, sail, accompanies him and brings him food. The old man looks sick and very thin, especially from hunger. The torn sail of his skiff is patched with flour sacks bearing the evidence of the permanent defeat of him. Both of his hands are full of old lacerates and scars created while dragging the heavy fish over the harpoon. ‘But these scars are as old as erosions in a fishless desert’. Everything of Santiago reflects the infirmity and impoverishment lacking the real zeal to live his life to the fullest.

Only his eyes are the exception reflecting the deep blue sea – glittering and invincible too. Just few of these lines can clearly illustrate us a picture of a society. This minute but subtle shade of the lives of the fishermen makes the egoistical interests and inclination clearly visible as motives of their actions and omissions. The central character of the story, battling with the time, has reached to the age of frailty. Yes he struggles for survival, sets out to the Gulf Stream to catch fish. It deftly portrays how the people become isolated from each other when they don’t benefit from someone while struggling to live every day’s life in this capitalist world. At the same time the deep affection and compassion of the boy to the old man establishes firmly that the infinitude of profit and greed never severs immortal bond of humanity among the people.  And as the humanity still refuses to elude, may be people would remain steadfast in fulfilling their dream even in scorching heat and torrential rain. Maybe we keep dreaming of our unfinished dream-even in the feeble hope of reaching the pantheon of the success.  We all can relive the joy of achieving our goal as it is only the humanity and fellow-feeling that serves to play the most crucial role in building up the character, neither profit and neither greed nor the prolonged reign of capitalism does that. The story tells us about a true friendship evolved between two persons having a vast generation gap. We see the boy trying to help the old man regain his confidence and finally, after couple of failed attempts make him agree to hunt for the big Marlin fish. On the morning of the 85th day, Santiago does as promised, sailing his skiff far before dawn on a three-day odyssey that takes him far out to sea.

The story captures the true pictures of the fishermen colony in Kohima which is at 12 mile north from Havana, the capital of Cuba. The fishermen are determining the relations among them according to the financial status. It becomes evident when Manolin is forced to leave Santiago’s boat for his relentless failure.  However what we have witnessed the social and marital life of fishermen and that of the others in Bengali writer Manik Bandyopadhyay’s, Padma Nadir Majhi, is not seen here. In this novella, the character of the society is not nearly as important as the character of the person.  As I’ve already mentioned, this classic is about the story of a person and his indomitable optimism and can-do-spirit. He struggles and dreams of his youth—of lions on an African beach. Literally, Hemingway himself reached his last days when he wrote this novel, last of his four novels in 1952. But that doesn’t make us believe that his age (he was 53 then) stirred up to pen such a globally accepted novel. It was the immense experience that he earned for a long duration helped him illustrate this novel. And finally the story transforms into a metaphorical piece. We have reached near, very near the supreme truth of life sailing aboard Santiago’s skiff.

Finally all his hard work pays off when he snags the ridiculously big fish, bearing tremendous hardship to hook and land that great fish. The story mostly deals with all this struggles of Santiago that lasted for three days. He took the fish as his brother but it didn’t waver his determination to kill the fish after an earth-shattering battle of strength and of will power. Unfortunately the story ends without a happy ending. On the way home, the old man lashes the fish to one side of the boat which is attacked by a Mako shark followed by a group of sharks tearing away lumps of the fish’s flesh. But he fought tooth and nail with his harpoon, club and finally nothing but a simple knife beating them off. However by the time he anchors the boat at the shore, sharks have almost devoured the marlin’s entire carcass, leaving a skeleton. However the old man has regained his lost pride of being a doyen among the fishermen.

Hemingway, in his illustrious life, engaged with the first and second world war including the military insurgence of Spain in 1936. He had been maimed severely multiple times straddling from being hit with mortar shell to plane accidents but still he survived at the end with his sheer perseverance and will power. And that’s why most of his characters were portrayed with this magical power of keeping hope alive even in the extreme adversity. We can think of Santiago as a character whom Hemingway had built with all those qualities to believe his strength and never say die attitude evoking wondrous feeling to the readers.

The first and last word of this novella is all about not giving up the hope of accomplishing goal. We got to keep our hope alive while struggling for survival and struggling for supremacy. The author makes the old man Santiago tell a very witty but thoughtful quote: ‘Man is not made for defeat. Man can be destroyed, but not defeated!’

Last but not the least, I must thank Arpita for giving me this classic novella.

I hope you have enjoyed this piece by Mr. Gangopadhyay. If you’d like your review featured, don’t forget to contact me!