This was the book chosen for me for the Classics Spin. For the most part, I was relieved, because this book is so short and easy. But on the other hand, I've already attempted to read it twice now, and neither time did I successfully make it to the end of the book.
Well, I started out fairly similar to how I started out before. The book seemed almost too simple. It's all about a fisherman trying to catch a big fish. All by himself. In a little boat out in the middle of the ocean. I don't know anything about fishing, and it doesn't particularly interest me. I kept finding myself thinking, Just CATCH the stupid thing, already! (I'm not really proud of that.)
But this time, finally, about halfway through, I started to see something much more to this book than just a simple fishing story. Probably since I had just read The Paris Wife, I started questioning why Hemingway himself was so emotionally invested in this story. I actually first compared the fish to his marriage to Hadley (probably, again, because of The Paris Wife). The fish was actually too good for Santiago, the fisherman; it was so big and so wonderful that he couldn't protect it, and lost it before he got to shore. But then I arrived at what is probably the most common interpretation, which is that the fish could represent Hemingway's own success in writing--a rather miserable thought, actually. Hemingway was getting along in years himself when he wrote The Old Man and the Sea, and he may have begun to think that he had tried to go too far out to sea by being a writer, and that he wasn't good enough or strong enough to write his own ideas. The supposed "irony" of this (according to the introduction) is that the book won a Nobel Prize, but I'm not sure that's actually ironic. Hemingway probably felt just the same about his writing pre-Nobel Prize as he did after it.
Since I'm an aspiring writer myself, I found a deep appreciation of this book for myself, as well (although I really think you could feel that way about this book no matter what your dream or passion is). I think every person who tries to pursue their passion probably feels very much like Santiago at some point in their lives (if not at many, many different points). We have so many big dreams that we begin to think that maybe they're too big for us. But in the end, as Santiago says, it is what we were meant to do. He was born to be a fisherman, so that's what he needs to do.
I think it's interesting, though, that this is not some kind of inspirational tale of a man who beat all odds and achieved something huge. Santiago does not get to keep the fish. By the time he gets to shore, the fish is little more than a skeleton, and Santiago gets no reward for all his labors. According to Santiago, he was beaten not because he didn't work hard enough, or wasn't a good enough fisherman.
And what beat you, he thought.
"Nothing," he said aloud. "I went out too far."
I think this may be one of the saddest lines in the book. He did his best, but he decided his own defeat when he chose to go out too far and do something bigger than he could have.
I ended the book loving it. The simplicity of the story no longer bothered me; now I can see the genius in its simplicity. The beauty of this book, like so many classics, is that I know I will probably read it at least once more, in several years, and see something entirely different in it than I do now. I can finally see why this book is considered Hemingway's crowning achievement.