The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

“He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish.” The first sentence of The Old Man and the Sea is Ernest Hemingway at his best. The sentence is crisp and clear, and it sets the tone for the entire novel. Hemingway wasn’t old when he wrote The Old Man and the Sea, but the story is told by a mature author and by a man who had seemed knocked out after Across the River and into the Trees, the not so great comeback novel of 1950. Hemingway got up on “Nine” and in The Old Man and the Sea, he was once again writing a spare, complex story that had a measurable and profound impact on literature.

Long gone were the paragraphs of his youth, paragraphs that seemed plain on the surface but that were quite involved and the work of an ambitious modernist, and exorcised was the period of heavy writing that seemed hung-over. Hemingway once said that all he ever wanted was to write well, and in The Old Man and the Sea, he did just that.

And the story is so straightforward and poignant that it seems near-archaic – it has the authority of myths and legends while it is also deals with the realities of the fisherman’s life in an awe-inspiring manner. The world may be brutal and bleak but life can still be lived with dignity. “Everything about him was old except his eyes and they were the same color as the sea and were cheerful and undefeated.”

When Hemingway finally decided to publish The Old Man and the Sea in 1952, the manuscript had been ready for almost a year. The author had been hesitant to publish it, as he believed it to be part of the great (never realized) Sea Book that he could not quite make right. But the tale had been part of the Hemingway’s life since the 1930s, when he had heard the real-life story of “an old man fishing alone in the skiff far out of Cabanas.” In a piece for Esquire in 1936, Hemingway described how a great marlin pulled the skiff far out to sea, and two days later “the old man was picked up by fishermen sixty miles to the eastward, the head and the forward part of the marlin lashed alongside.”

The Old Man and the Sea turned out to be the final novel published during Hemingway’s lifetime. It was a worthy ending.

Find and reserve this book in the catalog.


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