This is a short novel or novella about an old man and his experience with an eighteen foot marlin. He has had 85 days without a catch–and now he feels his luck will turn. He finally catches the huge Marlin, so far out that all he can see is sea and sky. He heads back to land, but on his way sharks continually eat at the large fish. By the time he returns to land, he is deathly tired and the fish is nothing but a skeleton. The boy, who used to work on his boat takes care of the tired and injured man upon his return.
What is left after the old man returns with his eighteen foot marlin that has been devoured by sharks? In more general terms, What is left once honor has disappeared?
The reason I ask this is because I am perplexed. The book ends tragically in one sense: after 85 days without catching a fish, Santiago finally catches one, but it gets eaten by sharks. However, as I finished the novel, I did not feel as if it ended tragically, it did not feel sad or hopeless. There was something left after honor was gone.
There is a boy who had fished with the old man previously, but his parents made him work for another fisherman because he was more successful at fishing recently. But once Santiago returns:
He was asleep when the boy looked in the door in the morning. It was blowing so hard that the drifting boats would not be going out and the boy had slept late and then come to the old man’s shack as he had come each morning. The boy saw that the old man was breathing and then he saw the old man’s hands and he started to cry. He went out very quietly to go to bring some coffee and all the way down the road he was crying. (p. 122)
I think in this scene, after glory has left, we get a comic style ending. Once glory cannot be reached, we do not get despair. Instead, we are left with love, something far greater than glory. The love between an old fisherman and a young boy, who needs a father figure, since his is overbearing.
I want to commend Hemingway’s writing. While I love the use of beautiful language (see someone like Thornton Wilder whose sentences just hit me with beauty), there is something refreshing about a writer who gives us the bare necessities with regards to language. Nothing extraneous. Everything is concise, without giving up precision.