When I was in college, I enjoyed reading Ernest Hemingway and was intrigued by his book For Whom the Bell Tolls. Looking back, I tried to put my finger on what was so appealing about his work, and what comes to mind is its simplicity, matter-of-fact nature and unapologetic style.
Recently, I finished The Old Man and the Sea, a short, poignant read, for which Hemingway won the Pulitzer Prize in 1952. The story is crafted as a continuous read, with no chapter breaks, and, not so ironically, reads with the steady cadence of a huge fish pulling a courageous fisherman’s boat further and further out to sea.
“The blotches ran well down the sides of his face and his hands had the deep-creased scars from handling heavy fish on the cords. But none of these scars were fresh. They were as old as erosions in a fishless dessert. Everything about him was old except his eyes and they were the same color as the sea and were cheerful and undefeated.”
With this passage positioned in the second page of the story, it elicits our curiousity about whether we will be reading about a man’s longing to catch that big fish and the delusions that spawn in a fishless dessert. Or, whether we will be seeing the story through the eyes of a courageous, undefeated fisherman who has spent his life traversing the harshly beautiful sea.
A brief book of less than one hundred and fifty pages, it is easy to read it in one sitting to keep with the flow of the story . . .
What I appreciate about the story is the incredible determination exhibited by Santiago, the main character, even in his old age. He defines his purpose in life and knows what he wants. Deliberate in his efforts to pursue this purpose, he persists even as others scoff and pity him.
This exploration of perception has a lesson in it for all of us about how we perceive ourselves and how we perceive others. Which really matters? Which view holds us back? Which moves us forward?
Which direction do we want to go? Do we stay thirsty on the dry, cracked dessert? Or do we sail out into the vast and living sea?