American Literature
Dr. Breeden
10/2/96
Many of Ernest Hemingway’s books have had different meaning and all could be interpreted in
different way, but there has never been so much written about his other stories. Well the Old Man and the
Sea had more written about it than any of his other novels and there have never been so many different
types of interpretations about his other novels. The Old Man and the Sea is a book in which can be
interpreted in many different ways. Here you will read what many critics have composed about the story
of a great writer, Ernest Hemingway. Many of the critics have the same outlook on the works of
Hemingway. Hemingway’s work The Old man and the Sea can be looked at in many different
perspectives. All the critics believed that his styling of writing was very defined.
In 1944 Ernest Hemingway went to Havana, Cuba and it was there he wrote a letter to Maxwell
Perkins which states he has a idea on a new novel called The Old Man and the Sea ( Nelson and Jones
139). Hemingway first got his idea for The Old Man and the Sea from the stories that he had heard in the
small fish cities in Cuba by a man named Carlos Gutierrez. He had known of this man for about twenty
years and the stories of the fighting marlins. It was then that he imagined that man under the two
circumstances and came up with the idea. After about twenty years of pondering on the story , he decided
that he would start on the novel of The Old Man and the Sea. The story The Old Man and the Sea is
about a old man named Santiago who has to over come the great forces of nature. Things seem to always
go wrong for him because originally he started out going to fish for some dinner, then he caught the
biggest marlin ever and it pulled him out in the bay of Cuba even more then he was. After he was pulled
out, he hurt his hands and couldn’t risk going to sleep because of the risk of sharks. When the sharks
finally attacked he lost the marlin which had become a great part of him because he knew that no one
would believe him when he told them the size of the marlin. This has to be one of the most memorable
fights in a novel that I have ever seen, but I think that the way he put the novel together was just as good
as that of the fight.
When he put them together it was then that he relized that what he was actually writing about
was a struggle of man vs. nature. He liked the idea of man vs. nature and decided to use it in the struggle
scene with the marlin. Magill wrote,” the book can be seen as a fable of the unconquerable spirit of man,
a creature capable of snatching spiritual victories from the circumstances of disaster and material defeat”
(Magill 4325). Also it is said,” the conflict is of the strength of a ordinary man and the power of
nature”(Magill 4325). I feel that Santiago plays a large role in the novel by being able not to give in and
prove to the element of nature that he would over come them in the long run.
Magill wrote,” The Old Man and the Sea is a direct descendant of Moby Dick”(Magill 4326).
He feels that the struggle between Santiago and the marlin is very much like that of the whale and the
captain in Moby Dick. The similarities between The Old Man and the Sea and Moby Dick are extremely
noticeable after reading both of the stories back to back, but there are differences in the story line. The
main difference is that Santiago never comes out with anything unlike the captain in Moby Dick.
Santiago was left with just a broken boat, a bad fishing pole, and the misery of defeat.
The story could also be interpreted as being religious because of the struggle that Santiago was
put though. Also it is felt by some people to be religious because of the way he only cut his palms( from
the rope), his feet( on the front of the boat) and his head(when the bow hit him in the head). It is often
portrayed as that of Jesus on the cross. I don’t know if I really agree with this interpretation of it being
religious. The reason I don’t agree with this is because if everytime someone got cut on the hands and feet
in a movie or book then I guess that they too resemble that of Jesus on the cross.
This story has many different interpretations to it, but would the interpretations be if the story
contained everyone from the village in it and sowed how the were raised, born, educated, and bore
children. This story could have been well over a thousand pages if the above were included (Plimpton
125). The big question that I ask is though, if all the above were included in the novel, how different do
you think that the interpretation would be? I feel that the interpretations would be so very different
because the whole story be circled around that of the battle between Santiago and the marlin. Also, I
believe that the religious interpretations would be not as strong because of dealing more with the life of
the city people and that of Santiago.
Hemingway is a writer who creates things out of his head. If he wasn’t a genius then how come
did he win a Pulitzer Pride for the story The Old Man and the Sea Hemingway states,” I knew two or three
things about the situation, but I didn’t know the story” ” I didn’t even know if that big fish was going to
bite for the old man when it started smelling around the bait. I had to write on inventing out of
knowledge. You reject everything that is not or can’t be completely true.”(Bruccoli 179) I think that
Hemingway is a genius for writing this novel because in my point of view it shows the battle between
human and nature and that really caught my attention rereading this novel for the third time. I also
caught the moral of the story in my point of view, and that is not everything good that you have is always
going to be there. To me that means alot because that moral also refers alot about your family as well as
friends.
Hemingway is looked upon as one of the greatest writers to ever set foot on this earth in the
twentieth century. He is a writer who is know for leaving very little left unsaid or leave you wondering,
for example, what’s going to happen, is he gonna die or not. As you could see in this novel he got to the
point in a direct manner without leaving anything unsaid and he definitely didn’t leave you thinking about
if Santiago was going to live or not.
Many people do not like the writings of Ernest Hemingway because they feel most everything
that he writes about is unhappy or make believe. Fredrick Busch said at one point in time ,” He didn’t
want to read that of which was unhappy or make believe” referring to Hemingway’s work (Bryfonski
130). Many have said to believe that The Old Man and the Sea
was written about the life of Ernest Hemingway, which in reality it was written about a Cuban by the
name of Carlos Gutierrez. However some of the parts in this story do relate to things Hemingway has
experienced.
In conclusion, The Old Man and the Sea can be interpreted in many different forms, but I think
it isn’t how you interpret it. Don’t get me wrong some people like to read to see how many ways you can
interpret it but , you should read a novel to learn from others mistakes and also for the pleasure of
expanding you knowledge American and English literature. I could name many different books in which
I have read that have actually left a impact on my life in some sort or another.
Bibliographies
Bruccoli, Matthew J. Conversations with Ernest Hemingway.
Mississippi: UP Mississippi, 1986
Bryfonski, Dedria. Contemporary Authors. Michigan: Bok Towers,1984
Magill,Frank M. Masterplots. 8 vols., New Jersey: Salem Press,1976
Nelson, Gerald B., and Glory Jones.
Hemingway: Life and Works. New York: Facts on File Publications,1984
Wagner, Linda W. Ernest Hemingway, Five Decades of Criticism .
Michigan: Michigan State UP, 1974
Wagner, Linda W. Ernest Hemingway, Six Decades of Criticism.
Michigan: Michigan State UP, 1982