On Saturday I posted about the sixtieth anniversary of Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea. Originally published in Life magazine, it sold more than five million copies in two days, went on to become a best-seller in book form, and is now considered a classic. It is a perennial fixture on high school reading lists all over the country.
Confession time: I disliked The Old Man and the Sea. An old man and a big fish? Come on. Neither could possibly be considered interesting subject matter for a fourteen or fifteen year old girl. In the end though, I did the required reading, complained bitterly about being bored, wrote the requisite essay, and promptly forgot all about it.
Over the years, I have come to appreciate Hemingway - a handful of novels, some short stories, and, of course, A Moveable Feast - but never returned to The Old Man and the Sea. Saturday's anniversary seemed to be a sign. I pulled the book from the shelf and read,
" 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. In the first forty days a boy had been with him. But after forty days without a fish the boy's parents had told him that the old man was now definitely and finally salao, which is the worst form of unlucky, and the boy had gone at their orders in another boat which caught three good fish the first week. It made the boy sad to see the old man come in each day with his skiff empty and he always went down to help him carry either the coiled lines or the gaff and harpoon and the sail that was furled around the mast. The sail was patched with flour sacks and, furled, it looked like the flag of permanent defeat."Wait a minute. Is this really the same book I read in high school? How did I totally ignore the beauty in the simplicity of Hemingway's prose? Was I not touched by the boy's devotion to the old man? Did I miss the old man's respect for the fish, or have I simply forgotten? And what about the old man and his struggles to overcome physical limitations?
Yes, The Old Man and the Sea is more than just a fishing story. And while it will never be considered a personal favorite, I have a newfound appreciation for this classic Hemingway novel.