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The Old Man and the Sea ()

Nobel Prize Winners (1954)

If he had been able to deal with his desire for men, instead of eating a shotgun (either oblivious to, or beyond caring about, the obvious symbolism of his act), Ernest Hemingway might be celebrating his 100th birthday today, July 21, 1999.  While one has to acknowledge that stylistically he was one of the most influential authors of the Century, it seems to me that his literary reputation really rests on Old Man and the Sea and the Nick Adams stories, everything else is just psychosexual, faux macho, posturing.  That said, you could do a hell of a lot worse careerwise than produce one of the best novellas and several of the best short stories ever written.

The Old Man and the Sea is another one of those texts that you were assigned in 8th or 9th grade, largely as a function of the author's stature and the brevity of the book (see also Of Mice and Men, Orrin's Grade: A+).   And, of course, your teacher analyzed all the Christian symbolism, from the bleeding palms to the marlin carcass as Cross.  Allow me to take a little different tack.

I recently had the great displeasure of reading The Affluent Society (John Kenneth Galbraith)(Grade: F).  Mr. Galbraith argued that as Western society reached the novel stage of being affluent, that is producing enough goods to meet the subsistence needs of every member of society, we would inevitably rebel against the notion of work, our work hours would dwindle, people would demand four or even three day weeks and many would opt out of the workplace all together.  We now realize of course that this was the idle prattle of an effete twit.  Instead, the past fifty years have seen the massive entry of women into the workplace (as a form of liberation no less) and folks working well past retirement age and the past five years have seen the government demand that even the chronic unemployed get jobs or lose benefits.  How could Karl Marx and Galbraith and all those liberal thinkers have been so wrong about what motivates people?  It is quite simply a function of their dependence on materialism.  This blinded them to cultural and spiritual influences on mankind and they failed to reckon with these forces.

Hopefully, nobody who has ever read The Old Man and the Sea could possibly fail to understand that, for most people, doing a job well, even, or especially, a physically taxing job, provides an abiding sense of gratification and self worth.  Most of us are not alienated from our labor, we are challenged by it.  Because of the dignity and grace that the old fisherman, Santiago, demonstrates in rising to face the challenge--his exhibition of hard won skill and his determination in the face of overwhelming odds--this book reaffirms the indomitable human spirit and reminds us of the possibility of encountering the sublime in every day life and in the most lowly of labors and laborers.

There is more insight to the soul of man in the scant 127 pages of this book, than in all the volumes of Marxist/Socialist pablum spewed forth in the past 100 years.  It is a fitting tribute, on the Centennial of Hemingway's birth, that we remember him for this great tale.


Grade: (A+)


Dear Orrin,

I first read "The Old Man and the Sea" when I should have, as a sophomore in high school. It was 1952 and I recall Life magazine ran it in its entirety. I was already an old Hemingway hand, having read the first forty-nine stories before I was twelve. I was a little put off by Hemingway's Spanish-ized narrative style, but thought it was a good yarn. As a pretty old guy myself now I can read a lot more into it, but it's still a good yarn, and your A-plus rating is well deserved.

What's not well deserved is your facile assumption that Hem took it in the chops in a sort of symbolic fellatio. Whatever Hemingway's sexuality, which was surely complex, he was aware of the implications of his final act and placed both barrels just above eyebrow level. See Carlos Baker's account of Hemingway's final moments, rendered, perhaps unconsciously, in the style of the master himself.

I am dependent on your book reviews, especially the stuff I shoulda read by now.



- Dan Deadwyler

- Jun-29-2004, 22:58