When I was in fourth grade, The Old Man and the Sea was required reading. I did not know it then, but I was reading great literature. It was powerful and it made an impression upon my soul that would last a long time. But as a fourth-grader, all I understood was that I felt compassion for the old man and that I admired him for his perseverance. It would remain with me for many, many years.
Then, as an adult, I reread The Old Man and the Sea, but it did not mean the same to me; in fact, I really hated Hemingway's writing style. That was about five years ago. I'll come back to that in a moment.
This week I reread it for a third time for The Old Man and the Sea Read-Along at Edge of the Precipice, and I had a great experience. I am happy to report that Hemingway and I are back on good terms again - well, at least concerning The Old Man. Thinking back to my first reread, I wonder: Did I even read the same book?
This time I considered Hemingway's style and found it unsophisticated, in a good way. The plot and characters are simple and plain, and since most of the story is told through the old man's solitude and contemplation, the unsophisticated language works perfectly.
Regarding the Read-Along, Hamlette has a few questions for us, some of which I have already answered; but here are others:
+ Have you read any of Hemingway's other works?
No, and I must read more while we are on good terms. Which one should I read next?
+ Some people say this story is full of symbolism, maybe even an allegory. What do you think things like the old man, the fish, and the sharks could symbolize?
Frankly, if the author says there is no symbolism, I believe him; however, one cannot help looking for things or seeing objects repeat themselves. For example, I noted that "eyes" came up frequently (I thought I was reading The Great Gatsby again):
Everything about him was old except his eyes and they were the same color as the sea and were cheerful and undefeated.
The old man looked at him with his sun-burned confident loving eyes.
...with his eyes closed there was no life in his face.This is not necessarily symbolism, but I thought there were many purposeful, though minor, contradictions in the story, such as the old man and his companion, the young boy; fiction and reality; talking to someone and talking to yourself. The old man thought, No one should be alone in their old age, and yet the old man went far out to sea where there was no one else. And another example, the old man said that "Fishing kills me exactly as it keeps me alive."
Those are stretches, I think.
+ What do you think the main point of the story is? What is Hemingway trying to say here?
Maybe Hemingway did not have a message, but rather wanted to evoke compassion and empathy for the old man and even the marlin. We can feel for the old man through his companion, the boy, and we can feel for the marlin through the words and thoughts of the old man (who has great love for the fish). In fact, it is as if the old man and the fish are one because they often feel and struggle the same. And one more thing: The old man compares man to the beasts and thinks, Man is not much beside the great birds and beasts. They are more noble and more able; man is maybe a little more cunning, but not any stronger.
I believe I know what happened when I reread The Old Man and the Sea the first time. When I read it as a young girl, I was expecting anything as I read with an unfilled heart and untrained eyes. As an adult, I was expecting it to have a deeper, complicated meaning. I made it into more than it was, and I did not enjoy it. I blamed it on Hemingway's writing. But it wasn't his writing; instead, it was my adultish-tendency to expect too much and look too deep and make everything convoluted.