The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

A review of the classic literary novel The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway.

The Old Man and the Sea is Hemingway’s masterpiece. A short novel—barely more than a novella—it tells the story of an old man, struggling to stay financially afloat, who sets out to sea to catch a marlin. He does so without the boy that usually keeps him company, and so when the fish eventually bites he must reel it in alone. He battles the sea and its occupants—namely a school of sharks—in an attempt to bring the fish he grows to respect and love back to the harbour.

Ernest Hemingway was the master of succinct prose. His minimalism is legendary, and his style crisp and without embellishment. The insight he gives into the old man’s mind is wonderfully deep yet delivered in as few words as possible. There is much to be learned from his writing, as more is told through inflection than description.

The narrative is skilfully and deftly told, and the sea is as much a character as the old man, the boy, and the fish. This is bare-bones storytelling at its finest. Hemingway’s mastery of the simplicity of language allows him to strip himself from what could be perceived as a semi-autobiographical tale, and the volume of empathy built in his skeletal prose submerges the reader into a simple and stunning world of banality and wonder. The feelings the old man finds for the fish are echoed in the reader’s mind, and the peril of his situation is amplified by his fatigue. This is a last-ditch attempt to save his own life, and to do so he must take the life of another. The old man and the fish become equals, fighting a stalemate, and as the old man beats the fish, so the sea beats the old man.

Hemingway delivers his greatest lesson as a writer in the Old Man and the Sea. He tells so much with so little. As the fish takes the bait, so the reader is hooked to the story. The brevity adds to the brilliance, as one can travel cover to cover in a couple of hours whilst still savouring the delights and nuance of the narrative and characters. It is an incredible book.

Originally from Thanet, J A DuMairier enjoys writing and long walks in the country.

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