Okay, so here’s one from the literary canon. It’s Ernest Hemingway and it’s The Old Man and the Sea. As British newspaper The Grauniad put it: “A quite wonderful example of narrative art. The writing is as taut, and at the same time as lithe and cunningly played out, as the line on which the old man plays the fish.” Pfffft. Stop showboating, Grauniad.
Silliness aside, this is a fabulous novella which entered the literary canon instantaneously upon release in 1952. It pretty much secured Hemingway the Nobel Prize in Literature and rightly so. With his unique yet masculine writing style and thunderous capacity for alcohol, Hemingway promoted the old guard of writing before a new era of progressivism. This isn’t to say he was anachronistic, he merely did his thing with a natural flair for grandiose themes delivered with the utmost subtlety.
The Old Man and the Sea
Famously, Hemingway would only write 500 words a day. He’d do this first thing in the morning. If you’re not a writer this may seem unusual, but it equals some 14,000 words a month. Hemingway didn’t write epic tales on a Solzhenitsyn or Dostoyevsky scale, so he was well on the way to completing a book within six months. Of course, then there’s proofreading. That’s a different story for a different day.
The Old Man and the Sea is essentially a simple tale. It is set in the Gulf Stream (note, not the Golf Stream) off Havana and is about an old man who sets out to sea to capture a giant fish and prove his worth as a man, human, and all round entity. He sets sail onto the ocean and dreams of lions.
Admittedly for us, we weren’t impressed by the first half of the novella. In the second half of the story, however, when adversity kicks in despite a major triumph, the true impact of the story took its toll on Mr. Wapojif’s brain. What a glorious piece of writing it is. Whilst Hemingway may have his critics (“Why couldn’t he use big words? Was he too drunk to pick up his thesaurus?”), The Old Man and the Sea is a shining example of why he was a literary giant. If you’ve not done so yet, get it read.
It would appear the novella is foisted on many youths in literary classes around the world, which is perhaps not the best time for petulant young folks to appreciate the art of reading. Most kids want to rebel, not read stuff by stuffy dead folks. Hemingway, of course, ended his life violently in 1961 and Hunter S. Thompson (on hearing the news) rushed to his house to steal some of his property. Ironically, Thompson would eventually suffer the same fate as Hemingway in 2005.
Anyway, The Old Man and the Sea is a classic and it’s ubiquitous with literature. We should imagine it will be taught in classes for many decades to come, and with good reason. It you read it as a young ‘un and didn’t enjoy, revisit this 100 page novella and rejoice at how one man could turn a tale about fishing into a representation of what it is to be human.