This is a reread. Sometimes I have to come back to the classics to not only visit old friends but to remind myself how the masters did it. What can I possibly say about this iconic novel that hasn't already been said before? It's more a short story than a novel. The protagonist is an old man and the antagonist is life itself, or the sea as its metaphor. The protagonists struggle was real, yet there was beauty in how he kept going on. It's as if his struggle with the marlin was the manifestation of his struggle with life and more widely of our own struggle with life and death.
It's hard not to think of "Moby Dick" because every tale of a guy at sea and a quest for a fish makes one think of Melville, though Melville was likely influenced by Shakespeare.
On the surface, the story is simple enough for any five year old to grasp. But beneath the surface is a protagonist raging at the abyss. Or perhaps one could say he was accepting the abyss.
The language that Hemingway uses is simple, it masterfully doesn't call attention to itself. There is something so matter of fact about the prose - just as there is about the old man. One has the feeling as one reads this tale that this is what the gods do, they watch us live our little lives with keen attention but nothing more, no rooting or lamenting, just witnessing it all.
Something about the old mans dance with the marlin and then the sharks is so primal. This is the stuff of life, as if there is an ocean all around us where things surface and we are thrown into dealing with them or succumbing to them. And to have this juxtaposed against the old man doing that for the marlin who is likely minding his own business down there as the old man is what the marlin must deal with.
There were these moments in the prose where whatever is currently happening is visited by an eloquent side street to illuminate a truth. These moments don't interrupt the narrative, they rather flow along giving the current action layers upon layers.
The story seems to end where it began. There is a sense of the days we spent with the old man as being representative of his life, the keeping on in the face of whatever life brings, the moxie to live and show up another day.
Thinking about Hemingway, there seems to have been something he saw in that life and death struggle of hunting and fishing. Putting aside my personal feelings about such things, it seems Hemingway or papa as some called him, had an affinity for the life and death struggle. It's too easy to say it was a reflection of his demons, having taken his own life. It's ironic how someone that full of life fought life so hard. It's as if he wanted to soak up every minute in case he decided tomorrow he was going to throw it all away.
The old man could be seen as a manifestation of Hemingway's battle with the will to live or die.
In the end there is something so earthly and so ethereal about this tale. It seems to break life down to its bare bones. I think all stories that pit man against nature or human nature against all of nature make naked all it is to be human. Because of that, this tale is so poignant. None of us knows what lurks beneath our next moment, what surprises it or we might hold. It's constantly astonishing how unique we all are and yet so damn the same. There is something poetic in this and damn Hemingway for not being here to tell us what it is.