The Old Man and the Sea Literary Criticism

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A collection of literary criticism on "The Old Man and the Sea" by Ernest Hemingway for a research paper with the following thesis: In "The Old Man and the Sea," Hemingway helps his readers understand their unity with their struggles as a part of the simpler essence humanity by connecting them to an example of one of struggles with perceptual commentary omitted.
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W1(Gurko) A sense of brotherhood and love, in a world in which everyone is killing or being killed, binds together the creatures of Nature, establishes between them a unity and an emotion which transcends the destructive pattern in which they are caught. In the eternal round, each living thing, man and animal, acts out its destiny according to the drives of its species, and in the process becomes a part of the profound harmony of the natural universe. This harmony, taking into account the hard facts of pursuit, violence, and death but reaching a stage of feeling beyond them, is a primary aspect of Hemingway's view of the world.

Expresses that the struggle is beyond the idea of conflict.


W1(Gurko) The greatness of the experience and the inevitability of the loss are bound up together. Nature provides us with boundless opportunities
for the great experience if we have it in us to respond.

Expresses the inevitability of loss, loss being the death of one's Humanity according to Hemmingway.


W1(Gurko) At the bottom of this necessity for solitariness, there is the incurable reliance on the individual which makes Hemingway the great contemporary inheritor of the romantic tradition. The stripping down of existence to the struggle between individual man and the natural world, during the course of which he rises to the highest levels of himself.

Expresses the necessity of the individuality of the experience in TOMATS


W1(Gurko) The mysterious, inscrutable, dramatic Nature into which their heroes plunge themselves in search of their own self-realization supplies Hemingway with the scaffolding for The Old Man and the Sea.

Supports the idea that these adventures are pursuits of one's self.


W1(Gurko) At last, in the drama of Santiago, a drama entirely outside the framework of modern society and its institutions, he was able to bring these possibilities to their first full fruition, and re-discover, in however specialized a context, the hero lost in the twentieth century. Thus The Old Man and the Sea is the culmination of Hemingway's long search for disengagement from the social world and total entry into the natural.

Describing Hemingway's desire for a setting separate from societal influence on his characters' struggles.


W1(Gurko) Because The Old Man and the Sea
records this drama in its most success-
full form, it gives off in atmosphere
and tone a buoyant sense of release that
is new in Hemingway.



W2 (Gurko) In this universe, changeless and bare of divinity, everyone has his fixed role to play. Santiago's role is to pursue the great marlin, "That which I was born for" (p. 44), he reflects; the marlin's is to live in the deepest parts of the sea and escape the pursuit of man. The two of them struggle with each other to the death, but without animosity or hatred.



W2 (Gurko) On the homeward journey, with the marlin tied to the boat and already under attack from sharks, Santiago establishes his final relationship with the fish, that great phenomenon of Nature:
(quote on p106)



Hemingway is prompting us to see the difference between how something appears (and what it might mislead us to believe about a person) and who someone is.



W5(NFS Davis) the novel takes full advantage of the author's widely imitated prose style—a mixture of simple sentence structures, limited adjectives, and spare but suggestive description. As he himself explained in his examination of bullfighting in Death in the Afternoon, good writing should move like an iceberg, only one-eighth of which appears above the water. The writer who truly knows a subject should be able to leave much of the content unstated, and the reader will "have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them."



W5(NFS) More importantly, however, the story of Santiago, the isolated old man who fights a great fish for three days, seemed to bring together all the major elements of Hemingway's life and work. Indeed, it remains a concise expression of what it means for Hemingway to live and act as an individual in the modern world.

Supports the idea that Hemingway wanted to convey his take on life to his reader.


W5 (NFS) In this reading, Santiago the fisherman is more than just a poor Cuban hoping to break his streak of eighty-four days without a fish.



W5(NFS)Santiago must test his own strengths alone and without help. Not even the boy he has taught to fish can be present at such a moment. Like the bullfighter or the soldier in battle, the old man struggles as though against his own death.



W5(NFS) catch his "brother," as he calls him, is not to prove himself better than the fish, only its equal. Indeed, Santiago's failure to save the dead marlin from the sharks serves to reaffirm his limits as an individual and remind him of the need for humility in the face of nature's power.



W5(NFS)Such a deep concern with the quality of Santiago's actions reflects Hemingway's own concern with style, both in writing and in behavior. In much of his work, heroic characters face dangerous and even impossible situations as a test of their devotion to an unwritten code or method of behavior. The more courageous the act, the greater its beauty, clarity, and ethical purity. The same can be said of Hemingway's own prose style, which aims to reproduce the uncluttered grace and control of the bullfighter or the boxer.



W5(NFS)Viewed in light of Hemingway's long-held interest in suicide, The Old Man and the Sea might also be the author's way of thinking through the ethical and philosophical problems of taking his own life. In this respect, the fish, already a symbol of death in general, becomes the representation of the writer's self, his identity as a living thing. To wrestle with and conquer this "other" identity suggests a measure of self-control, a way of reaffirming your strength as an individual. To lose such a conquest to the attacks of voracious sharks under-mines any certainty the individual might have gained from such a victory. Thus suicide, as a method, suggests the ultimate sort of self-control, a removal to safety beyond the mouths of the sharks, an ironic self-taking that precludes the attacks of others.



W5(NFS)It is in the context of such crucial issues that The Old Man and the Sea continues to evoke comments and questions from its readers. It presents a fundamentally human problem in graceful form and language, proposing not an answer to the limits of individual existence but a way of facing those limits with dignity and grace.



W6(NFS Handy)[In] the portrayal of Santiago in The Old Man and the Sea there is no uncertainty of being, no confusion of self and values. The old man is presented from beginning to end as one who has achieved true existence.



W6(NFS) the real story concerns the meaning, in terms of fundamental human values, of human existence.

(after discussing kinds of failure and success)
Supports idea of book portraying life's meaning.


W6(NFS) Had Hemingway continued to present Santiago through the eyes that measure a man's worth merely in terms of his practical success or failure, the novel would necessarily have been a naturalistic one. Santiago's skill, determination, and nobility of spirit would simply have contributed to the greater irony of his finally catching a prize fish only to worsen his lot by losing it.



W6 (NFS) the key to all of Hemingway's major characters is never to be found … in merely what happens to them. Rather it is to be found in what they essentially are.