I consider myself fairly well read (fun fact: I minored in English Lit in college) but oddly enough I don’t think I’ve read any Hemingway beyond a short story or two. I started remedying that with The Old Man and the Sea, the original fish story about the one that got away. Well, sort of.
One of the first things that struck me about Hemingway’s writing is how expertly he follows the rule of “show, don’t tell.” Over reliance on exposition and explanation are hallmarks of amature writers like myself who can’t find any better way of getting their characterization across. Instead of having a narrator blurt out that Santiago is “extremely proud, highly determined, and an expert fisherman,” Hemingway shows the reader how all of these things are true through action and dialog. The result, at least here, is that Santiago is an extremely deep and nuanced character –a person, even– by the end of the story. It’s very well done.
Beyond that, I get the impression that there’s a LOT going on under the surface in even this short of a novella. One of the things that stuck out to me, though, is the almost existential philosophy inherent in Santiago’s struggle. One of the main tenents of Existentialism is along the lines of “Look, you’re gonna die, but it’s how you deal with that inevitability that matters.” You get the idea that the old man in this book adheres to this adage by the way he just keeps struggling against nature, even though he knows the fight is lost and the outcome inevitable. Lesser men would have just cut the fish loose and sailed home. But in the end, even though he’s ruined, Santiago gains a chance at immortality of a sort through his protoge.
Good stuff. I’ve got another four Hemingway novels already in the queue.