Chris Ivie 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
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.
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
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