Ernest Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea” is a simple yet moving tale which details the struggle of an ageing fisherman with a large marlin far away at sea, and which is anchored by the themes of persistence and perseverance. Despite going 84 days without catching a few (three days after from his record of 87 days), the fisherman Santiago sails out to sea, and in fact manages to get a marlin hooked to end his unlucky streak. Despite being pulled by the marlin for two days and two nights and despite his physical injuries and weariness, Santiago continues to hold on to the line. And despite his eventual success in harpooning and strapping the marlin to the side of his boat, he has to fend off a large number of sharks which are drawn to the marlin’s blood.
The bulk of the plot development happens out at sea across the three days, and Hemingway describes the exhausting experience from the perspective of the fisherman, focusing for instance on his pain and waning strength, his hunger and thirst, as well as his desires to have his apprentice with him and to have various tools or accoutrements to ease his labour or to make his raw food more palatable. Throughout his journey he enjoys little respite, and whenever he has a patch of good fortune – such as his initial success with the marlin – he is again presented with adversity. From a third-person perspective, Santiago’s struggles are articulated through monologues and him addressing the marlin and the sharks, respectively as a “brother” and as adversaries.
A likely critique of “The Old Man and the Sea” is how simple it is (perhaps too straightforward). The likely socio-cultural counter-arguments, in this vein, could be based on the exhausting fishing trade, the hard grunt work associated with it, and its significance in the country of Cuba. Tied to these counter-arguments is the relationship between Man and Nature, premised not only upon the tug-of-war with the marlin (later deemed a worthy opponent) or the battles with the continuous stream of sharks, but also upon Santiago’s characterisation of the sea – as masculine or feminine – and its accompanying tribulations. The old fisherman makes it back to shore, drained, and the reader is left to ponder whether there is much left in him.